YORK — At a time when scientists are predicting significant repercussions if global warming continues unabated, York’s Energy Steering Committee is responding with an “ambitious but achievable” goal of reducing the town’s greenhouse gas emissions by 100 percent by 2050, and 50 percent by 2030.
“That’s not set in stone at this point, but we need to set the mark to start the effort,” said Lucy Brennan, the committee’s Americorps/VISTA volunteer.
What she’s found so far is that, while overall municipal greenhouse gas emissions have dropped over time, there are significant strides to be made, particularly with the town’s vehicle fleet.
Brennan, a Bates College environmental studies graduate, was hired last fall to input and analyze municipal energy use, develop a community model for energy reduction and develop policy recommendations. She will wrap up her time with the town next July, although the committee is seeking additional grant funding to secure her services for another year.
Her first order of business has been to import information from five years worth of paper Central Maine Power bills into a spreadsheet. To date, she has done that work for all municipal departments; by February, she will have that same information for the school department, water and sewer departments and public library.
“We’re really grounded in bench-marking the progress toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Brennan said. “There’s a saying in the sustainability world that you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Collecting data is really the first step to well-informed policies or programs.”
In looking at the municipal data, she said she and the Energy Steering Committee have been “really energized and enthused about what we’re seeing.” Over the years from fiscal years 2011 to 2017, excluding the town’s vehicle fleet, York has seen a reduction in greenhouse gases of 17 percent overall or an average of 3 percent per year.
“As a backdrop, the committee hadn’t looked at the data, because the resources weren’t available” to import those paper bills into a spreadsheet. “So this has been a really great exercise for the committee to see this come to light.”
She points to the York Beach Fire Department as the poster child of energy sustainability in town. “There’s a really exciting story to tell here,” she said. In 2015, the department with committee financial assistance retrofitted the second floor of the building, installed heat pumps and put a solar array on the roof to offset electricity costs.
Data garnered by Brennan prove the cost of heating fuel dropped by 50 percent from 2011 to 2017, with significant reductions in 2016 and 2017. In those same two years, the department generated more electricity from the solar panels than it needed, with the overages used to reduce the bill at Town Hall. She said the committee would like to see the fossil fuel used to heat the building converted to electricity provided by solar panels as well.
“This could be a nice story to continue to tell as this building moves to total net zero energy use,” she said.
However, town vehicle emissions account for 60 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, with building electricity comprising 12 percent; heating fuel, 15 percent; and streetlights, 15 percent. Streetlights will be reduced by 75 percent once the town enters into an LED streetlight contract.
That 60 percent vehicle figure, she said, “is on par with other communities in Maine,” but it has to be reduced in order for the town to meet its goals. Some 50 percent of the 60 percent comes from police vehicles, with all other town vehicles comprising the remaining 10 percent. She said one of the policy recommendations the committee has discussed is a “green vehicle” policy that would govern all vehicle purchases.
Town Manager Steve Burns said more police car manufacturers are “shifting to hybrids. The police are nervous about it because they have to make sure their fleet still works for what they’re faced with. But a hybrid fleet is coming, like it or not.”
As Brennan and the energy committee look to involve residences and businesses, “we’ve talked about doing an evaluation of a single large-scale solar install,” Burns said. Funding for the study is anticipated in FY20. Locations mentioned include the town’s former landfill. “That would be a phenomenal thing if we can do it, and in order to meet those greenhouse gas emissions goals, that’s really the only option.”