Belfast councilors debated ways to make city buildings more energy efficient in response to a recent resolution calling on the Maine Public Employees Retirement System to dump its fossil fuel holdings.

The discussion was prompted by a request from Councilor Mike Hurley who cited the recent council supported resolution asking MPERS to remove fossil fuel holdings from its portfolio. Hurley said after councilors supported the fossil fuel divestment resolution, he began to think that rather than just talk about the issue of fossil fuels, the city should also take action to reduce its own consumption.

After pointing out that all of the city owned buildings are heated with oil, Hurley told councilors he had to replace an oil burner in a building he owns that is approximately 20,000 square feet. He chose to purchase a pellet burner and discovered that the money he is saving from not having to purchase oil is more than paying for the loan he had to get to replace the oil burner.

He then stated that he wants Belfast to begin changing city owned buildings from using oil to an alternative heating source, such as heat pumps.

Councilor Roger Lee pointed out that the council's support of the fossil fuel divestment resolution was not done for financial reasons; rather it was done to help the environment. Lee further stated that burning wood or pellets is not as efficient as propane and natural gas.

With that being said, Lee said he could support pursuing options such as heat pumps for city buildings.

Lee also asked that the city look at seeking assistance from an expert source in regards to energy efficiency.

City Manager Joseph Slocum made note of the fact that the city is also looking at replacing a furnace at the fire department.

Lee commented that the city in recent years has been working to insulate buildings and has set aside funds in order to be able to continue that effort. However, he said he feels the city should be moving more quickly with its efforts to make city buildings more energy efficient. To that end, Lee suggested it may be worthwhile to consider taking funds from surplus or pursuing a bond to pay for the work.

In return, he said the savings the city realizes from the buildings consuming less energy would pay for the work in the future.

Councilor Eric Sanders agreed and said any action the city takes to upgrade its buildings should be done so as quickly as possible, but also with the utmost due diligence.

“I'd like to see a combo effect, to Mike's point, of some action, but smart action and quick action,” Sanders said.

Mayor Walter Ash then raised the question of whether it would be possible to bring natural gas into Belfast. Slocum responded that he could pose the question to Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge to investigate the issue.

Discussion ended with Sanders stating there are people available in Belfast who could help with the city's efforts to make its buildings more energy efficient. Hurley also expressed hope that the city would eventually be able to consume little to no oil in the future.

“Be kind of cool to be able to say, yeah, city buildings don't use oil,” Hurley commented.