A committee in Yarmouth is exploring the possibility of building a municipal solar array like this one in South Portland. Courtesy ReVision Energy

YARMOUTH — The town’s new Renewable Energy and Sustainability Committee is looking into the feasibility of placing a solar array on municipally owned land.

The concept has received an initial review by the Town Council, which will discuss the proposal in depth at its Aug. 5 Operations Meeting.

One possible location for a municipal solar array would be Yarmouth’s capped landfill off East Main Street. Contributed

Benefits of a municipal solar project are expected to include reducing the community’s overall carbon footprint while leading to more predictable energy costs and long-term savings.

Town Manager Nat Tupper this week said some of the questions councilors have include the initial cost to the town, how a Solar Power Purchase Agreement works and how much energy the town and the School Department are using annually.

Heather Abbott, chairwoman of RESAC, said the biggest hurdle her committee faces is putting enough data together to make it “irrefutably clear to the council that this project will be feasible
and eventually save the town money.”

She said the committee has set its sights on a municipal solar project as one of its first ventures due to the strong interest in the prospect, not just by RESAC members, but from the public, too.

“We hope to reduce Yarmouth’s carbon footprint and take a bold step in being responsible citizens that work to leave our planet in better shape for future generations,” Abbott said.

Without dedicated staff support, she said much of the work in researching a solar array has fallen on committee members.

Abbott said David Ertz, a committee member and renewable energy expert, has taken the lead and “done a great job in putting this project together.” She said he has already created a list of potential sites with pros and cons for each and is working on finding out more about the costs involved.

In the initial presentation to the council in June, Ertz said the energy consumption needs of the town and schools could be met with an array that provides about 1.9 million kilowatt hours of solar power per year. Such a facility would require a site of 6-8 acres and encompass more than 3,000 solar panels, according to Ertz.

Proposed sites include the town’s capped landfill or the 75-acre Frank Night Forest, both off East Main Street; a spot on Sligo Road that’s adjacent to a Central Maine Power Co. pole yard, and municipal land off Grist Mill Lane. Ertz told councilors issues with these sites include the acreage available, current zoning rules and, in some cases, the parcel being located in a flood zone.

Ertz said a municipal solar project is “very tangible,” especially since solar panels have already been installed at Frank Harrison Middle School and the town garage. What RESAC wants is to provide “opportunities to generate more clean energy.”

Town Councilor April Humphrey said RESAC was established in 2018 as a compromise after she proposed a solar initiative that failed to gain traction with a majority of the council. The committee was initially given one year to make recommendations on how Yarmouth could be more energy-conscious and environmentally-friendly, but she’s hopeful RESAC will be given more time to work.

“Eventually,” Humphrey said, “I would love for the committee to develop a comprehensive plan for the town to reduce our carbon footprint in all sectors, not just municipal, but including the commercial and residential sectors.”

For now, Abbott said RESAC is focused on the municipal solar proposal and with other successful municipal solar arrays already up and running, such as one in South Portland.

The committee is “very hopeful that the council will see the importance of this project,” Abbott said.

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