Rockland residents turn out to back climate action roadmap

By Stephen Betts | May 20, 2019
Photo by: Stephen Betts Waves crash over the Rockland Breakwater. Sea-level rise is one of the dangers facing coastal communities from climate change.

Rockland — Rockland residents turned out Monday evening, May 20, to give overwhelming support to a city committee proposal to combat climate change.

"This is Inspiring, a great turnout," Nate Davis, chair of Rockland's Energy Advisory Committee, said at the meeting. "This gives me some hope for the future."

City councilors also cited the turnout as giving them the ability to move ahead with the recommendations.

Davis said the primary obstacles to reaching the goals in the climate change plan are social and political. But he said after hearing all the support for the plan, the goals are "within our collective grasp."

Twenty-three people spoke at the start of the Monday evening meeting held solely to focus on the climate change plan. All but three speakers voiced support for the recommendations, with one expressing strong opposition.

The proposed Climate Action Plan calls for Rockland to be carbon-neutral by 2045. By 2025, the city of Rockland should obtain all of its municipal electricity from renewable sources, according to the plan.

City Manager Tom Luttrell has mentioned that if the city keeps its current municipal office building, a new roof will be needed, and that placing solar panels on the roof would be considered.

Lee Humphreys said she has been depressed over the lack of action on the climate at the federal and state levels, but was thrilled with what is being proposed by the Energy Committee.

Abigail Morrison said the recommendations would save money, even in the short run. The plan would also create good, local jobs, she said.

Jesse Watson called the plan "bold and ambitious," which he said was needed because there was no coherent leadership from the federal government. "This is best done at the collective, community level," Watson said.

Two residents spoke out with questions or outright opposition.

Rodney Lynch said any plan should include cost estimates for the recommendations and their impact on taxes.

Sarah Austin, a supporter of the proposal, said she was also concerned about the cost -- the cost of doing nothing.

Michael Marsh said the City Council should be focused on roads and growing the tax base and that its record on those topics was "abysmal."

Marsh said the climate plan was opening the door to having the United Nations dictating to the community how to meet climate change goals. "The hiring of a climate change coordinator or commissar is the wrong way to go," Marsh said.

The Energy Committee's recommendations call for hiring a full-time sustainability coordinator to create, execute and seek funding for programs to help achieve the energy goals; and hiring a part-time staff member to perform marketing/public relations work to support those goals.

Councilor Ben Dorr said the council will need the voices of the people speaking at the Monday meeting if it moves ahead with the recommendations, such as hiring a coordinator, to explain the need for the job as taxes go up.

Councilor Valli Geiger said the small amount to be spent on the position would be recouped, but that she understood how people are frightened by rising property taxes and worried about their ability to afford to stay in their homes.

Councilor Ed Glaser asked whether the committee would support having a city planner serve as a coordinator. The council is considering adding a city planner. Davis said he would want to make sure that the duty was not just window-dressing for a planner, but would be a requirement of the job.

The committee's plan also calls for developing renewable local power generation. A first step would be to transition the city government’s energy needs to renewable sources. A next step would be to use renewable power to supply the entire community’s electricity needs, for example via a municipal or regional utility; and identify areas of the city that could be used for wind, solar or tidal power generation.

To reduce greenhouse gasses and improve energy independence, the plan says, the city should construct efficient buildings and update energy-inefficient buildings, adopt zoning requirements for renewable energy development, create a more walkable, wheel-able city and encourage more people who work in Rockland to live here. Creating a building improvement revolving loan fund via a bond and using this fund to upgrade building efficiency, insulation and heating sources is also one of the recommendations. This would expand the Weatherize Rockland program to include incentives for landlords to weatherize.

The committee said the city could reduce energy consumption by converting city streetlights to LED bulbs, a full audit of lighting needs, employing motion detection where appropriate, and adopting a dark sky policy, which both reduces energy usage and adds to the natural beauty of the city.

The panel also recommended eliminating the reliance on fossil fuels for home heating.This would have to be accomplished through a combination of improved efficiency and replacement of existing nonrenewable heating sources with those that are more renewable (heat pumps, wood, pellets, solar, etc.), according to committee's plan.

The city also should make transportation energy efficient, according to the plan, by implementing a complete streets policy that encourages walking and cycling and is welcoming to wheelchair users, supporting the community bus and helping increase its route and ridership, subsidizing taxi services, and adding electric vehicle charging stations to strengthen the electric vehicle sector. Any new municipal vehicle purchases should meet city-set standards for efficiency and consumption, the committee stated.

Glaser said the public will get to speak more about the proposal when the council places specific items on its agenda to adopt recommendations. No timetable for that was announced.

Comments (4)
Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | May 26, 2019 10:32

Amy I think you are missing my point by a country mile.  I said I was in favor of doing "what we can do" to help improve the environment.  However ,your plan does not appear quite as rosy when I am the one writing the check.  We all appreciate the "volunteer" work you and Nate and all the others are doing.  If you want to buy me a car I will take whatever you want to buy.  If you are asking me to buy the car, don't tell me what kind of car to buy.   I'm talking about spending money we do not have and you use the word "investment".  Well you can't invest $1,000 if you don't have a thousand dollars to invest.  You have many wonderful ideas, but not a penny to back them up. As they say Champagne tastes on a beer salary.  Take your ideas to August there's a lot of legislators up there that are more than anxious to spend our money.

Posted by: Amy Files | May 23, 2019 13:35

Steve -- I'm curious if you were at the meeting or watched it? The presentation by the committee illustrated that they put a lot of work and research into their recommendations -- including information about other cities that have hired sustainability coordinators and the potential short and longer-term payoffs. They also cited Belfast's solar array which has helped the city reach 90% (municipal) renewable energy goals -- it will be paid off within 14 years and within only 3 years is breaking even (if I understand correctly) -- after 14 years the city will see a return of $100,000 a year for the following 26 years, based on today's energy costs. Investments like this can not only make Rockland more resilient and able to thrive despite changing environment and energy costs but also save and even make money and create new jobs. I would strongly encourage you to take the time to review what was proposed before attacking it. The volunteers on this committee put a lot of time and energy into their proposals and took their research seriously. And your statement about not wanting 30 year shingles is great for your own home, but for the planet and our environment, other people need to live here besides yourself and our actions impact youth and children who aren't able to vote or make these decisions that they will have to live with -- we need to be the responsible adults who recognize that our decisions will impact the future and do something about it now.

Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | May 23, 2019 09:10

I'm looking up and seeing lots of pie in those skies.  We can all feel warm and cozy just looking through those rose colored glasses Nate Davis and Rockland's energy advisory committee brought to the meeting and all that cool-aid must have been delicious because most members of council seemed to have drunk all.  Look, I understand we need to focus on the environment and there are many things we can do to help our planet, but let's get our heads out of the flowers and return to reality.  I see many people everyday, not one has said how much they appreciate not having all those plastic bags Hannaford used to hand out, but just about everyone I speak to comments on the horrible condition of our roads.  We need to focus our attention and our dollars on improvements that help our residents today, not maybe some day in the future.  Do you really think our senior citizens struggling to pay their taxes really care about solar panels on city hall ?  When a guy asked me the other day if I wanted the 30 year guaranteed shingles, I said:  " are you serious, I'm 70, give me 10 year ones".

Posted by: Ian Emmott | May 21, 2019 09:02

There is some good stuff in there, but this is an extensive list for a city with many issues. Would love to see the council focus on fostering development on Tillson Ave and working with the school board to fix our funding formulas.

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