Solar panels are seen at a solar farm at a former landfill site next to the local Tremont town office in this March 9, 2019, file photo. Credit: Bill Trotter

YORK, Maine — A municipal solar farm on the closed Witchtrot Road landfill could be the newest effort in the town of York’s continuing energy sustainability initiatives.

Selectmen on Monday night agreed to move forward on the project, which was brought to them by an ad hoc solar committee of municipal, school, library and town utility officials. This was one of several matters involving energy sustainability on the agenda that night.

Committee member Gerry Runte told the board that the committee looked at several solar options, including rooftop solar arrays, “but the long and short of it, the more [panels] we can get in one place the better the numbers come out.”

The selectmen endorsed the committee’s concept of pursuing a 20-year fixed-price power sharing agreement with a private developer that would install, own, operate and maintain the system on six acres at the old landfill. This is expected to provide about 2.1 million kilowatt hours of electricity. The collective consumption for the committee partners is 4.6 million kilowatt hours, Runte said.

The developer issues a credit that is applied to the users’ bill, with the result that power bills of those users should be about 30 percent cheaper than they are currently. He said likely some combination of schools, sewer district and water district would be the recipients of the power, but that had not been decided yet.

The next step will be the development of a request for proposals, and Runte said part of that RFP “will be to come up with true capacity numbers. Two developers have already walked the site and know what they’re dealing with. Getting real output numbers will allow us to know what the sharing will be.”

Runte said time was of the essence to get selectmen’s approval Monday night, as developers can get a 30 percent federal tax credit if the project qualifies in this calendar year, which means they have to expend 5 percent of the total project cost. Next year, the tax credit will be 26 percent, “not a lot, but enough.”

The committee is moving forward on the Witchtrot Road site, but members also looked at a former landfill on Sewall’s Pasture Road, an open burn site closed in 1975. He said the committee couldn’t immediately assess its viability, because members didn’t know to what extent the Maine Department of Environmental Protection would need to be involved. Witchtrot Road, on the other hand, “provides real possibilities now.”

However, he said, if the Sewall’s Pasture Road site were deemed usable, it is much larger than Witchtrot and could provide up to 4.4 million kilowatt hours of electricity. So the committee is continuing to look at the site.

A number of York Ready for 100 percent members were in the audience wearing their gray T-shirts, and burst into applause when selectmen with little comment voted 5-0 to authorize the project to go forward.

Other sustainability matters also on the agenda include the following:

— Town Manager Steve Burns asked the board to modify its greenhouse gas emissions goals as set forth in the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, which the board voted to join in July. He said order to truly achieve quantifiable reductions by 2030, he is “comfortable” setting a goal of 50 percent reductions for municipal use instead of the 75 percent agreed to in July. He said he believes that a 50 percent reduction could realistically be attained. While he thinks the government could come close to a 75 percent reduction in electricity consumption and heating and cooling systems, he “is not convinced truck technology will be adequate [in the next decade] for us to make a big dent in the transportation portion of our emissions.” Selectmen concurred voting to lower the 2030 goal.

— Two projects were approved using money from the $50,000 sustainability fund created by selectmen and approved by voters in May. The Energy Steering Committee will receive $10,000 for assistance preparing the request for proposals for a Climate Action Plan; and York Ready for 100% will receive $3,701 for a pilot composting program at York High School.

In other business, the board gave its permission to Liz Cooper of the York Parks and Recreation Department to pursue state grant opportunities though the State of Maine Bicentennial Commission. Cooper said the matching grants of up to $500 would allow the town to plan several events during the course of 2020, when the state turns 200 years old.