By Gary Friedmann, Special to the BDN
Bangor Daily News op-ed
What do you love about living in Maine? The ocean, our beaches and pristine lakes, the clean air, our wildlife and fisheries, our community of friends and family, the opportunity to make a living in a beautiful and safe setting?
The University of Maine, in its “ Maine’s Climate Future: 2015” update, has documented how climate change threatens all these things. If we do not act quickly, Bar Harbor’s mean annual temperature will increase by 4 degrees within 30 years. We’ll have more than 13 days when the temperature exceeds 95 degrees.
Lyme disease will rise dramatically, according to the projections. Two-thirds of Mount Desert Island’s plant and animal species are at risk from the introduction and expansion of exotic species and potentially invasive diseases and pests.
The number of more frequent and intense storms will double, polluting our lakes and streams, exacerbating pine needle blight and threatening farms, winter recreation and local roads and stormwater systems. In Bar Harbor, sewer ratepayers are facing a $9 million system upgrade to handle extreme stormwater runoff. Divide that by 1,425 ratepayers, and that averages $6,316 for each one of us.
Ocean temperatures will rise by 0.41 degrees per year, causing shifts in marine populations, loss of species and ocean acidification. Sea level will rise by three feet by 2050, causing beaches and salt marshes to disappear, flood zones to move inland and rising insurance premiums.
We all must do what we can to slow or stop these dangerous trends. On June 2, Bar Harbor voters have an exciting opportunity to take a step toward putting the brakes on climate change. Article T on the town meeting agenda authorizes leasing town land and roofs as part of Community Solar Farms and Power Purchase Agreements for the purpose of providing power to the municipality.
The solar farm proposed to be mounted on the public works salt shed would supply electricity for up to nine Bar Harbor residents to showcase the viability of photovoltaics and community solar projects. This pilot project would give residents who do not have good solar exposure the opportunity to demonstrate how solar alternatives work technically and financially.
Low-cost financing is available to help make participation available to most residents. Our hope is that more than nine will be interested in participating, and these residents will be directed to future projects contemplated by the town, College of the Atlantic and others.
Passing this solar warrant will directly reduce carbon emissions, employ Maine residents, slow the flow of our energy dollars to distant fossil fuel producers, enhance our image as a green tourist destination and save money. Each one of the nine residents in the solar farm will be removing 2.5 tons of carbon from our skies every year.
This project could be just the beginning of a movement to generate home-grown solar power in our town. Approval of this article would allow other properties to be developed for solar power, such as the abandoned Gray’s gravel pit off Route 3, now owned by the town.
This site has been vacant for 40 years. The disrepair of the old access road restricts most potential uses at this time. But it could easily host enough solar panels to power hundreds of homes and businesses. Article T will allow the town to turn this forgotten parcel into a solar asset.
It would be easier to shrug our collective shoulders and say, “What difference can a few of us in tiny Bar Harbor make anyway? Why bother?”
Well, the change starts here and now. With our prominence as a popular tourist destination, Bar Harbor has an outsize influence on the rest of the state and the nation. By voting for this article we are saying that we care, that we can make a collective difference.
A 2012 NYU-Yale study revealed that every solar installation in a community increased the likelihood that others would follow suit. This is our chance to get the ball rolling.
Gary Friedmann of Bar Harbor is vice chair on the Bar Harbor Town Council.