ORONO – A town councilor in Orono wants to see solar energy run municipal buildings, but some locals and other councilors raised questions about the way the idea has come about.
“I believe it’s time for Orono to create a bold, new vision,” said Laurie Osher at a press conference held by her just before the council meeting.
Osher spoke to Orono residents and fellow town councilors Monday night, trying to rally support to look into solar energy for town buildings.
At Monday’s council meeting, Osher was the only councilor to vote in favor of the proposed town council order. Osher proposed to supply three solar tech companies with town info needed to determine by February how much it would cost to convert.
“We wouldn’t do it if it was a net loss,” said Osher. “The whole reason to do it is because it’s a net gain, in other words it would save tax payers money, and we would become one of those towns in the state that’s leading on this.”
After lengthy discussion, some councilors felt Osher’s proposed order asked staff to skip over steps they would normally take for ideas like this. Others had concerns about taking out bonds, sentiments echoed by some local residents.
“It’s nothing against solar power, believe me that’s not the issue,” said Orono resident Judy Sullivan. “I’m just concerned as a taxpayer about how much money we outlay.”
Osher said investing in solar to power municipal buildings would eventually reduce electricity costs and Orono’s carbon footprint. According to her, two solar installers were provided with some electricity data from the town, so those estimates can still be looked into at some point.
She brought the council the names of more than 250 residents she says support researching solar.
“Our grandchildren are going to look back at us and say ‘why in the world didn’t you do something'”, said Bucky Owen, a supporter of solar energy.
Some Orono residents have gone solar in their homes.
“In April 2017, we were paying just over one hundred dollars a month, by April 2018 it was down to twelve bucks,” said Elizabeth Johns.
Other locals were concerned about timing, and the overall process of how the idea was being approached.
“We have a lot of senior citizens in Orono that are on fixed incomes, simply can’t afford this,” said Sally Brooker, an Orono resident. “And we have an upcoming $28 million school repair, I think the school takes a priority over solar panels.”
While the councilor’s order was voted down, she says it is free to get a solar cost estimate. Since some town data has already been given to two solar installers, staff can continue looking into solar power, just not as quickly as originally proposed.