Tisbury voters took big steps toward a future less dependent on fossil fuels at Tuesday night’s special town meeting.

A suite of four related articles pertaining to energy conservation and generation measures dominated the 16-article town meeting warrant — in terms of length they made up more than half of it — and also dominated the discussion.

Three of the articles established the regulatory framework for the generation of electricity from large-scale solar voltaic installations, while the fourth changed the building code to ensure future construction was much more energy efficient, and incidentally more expensive.

Debate was vigorous and at times emotional, and in the case of the article relating to the building code changes went to a standing vote, but in the end all passed relatively comfortably.

The outcome paves the way for Tisbury to be accredited under the state’s Green Communities Act, which offers millions in grant money to communities which undertake to cut their energy use and make themselves friendly for alternative energy development.

Speaking to a slide presentation kicking off the debate, planning board cochairman Henry Stephenson said the town could expect at least $125,000 in annual grants, and maybe as much as $1 million, if voters agreed to the proposed measures.

Specifically, the act requires five things from communities that want to participate. They must agree to give as-of-right siting for renewable or alternative energy generation, research and development or manufacturing; commit to expedited permitting for these activities; submit a plan for reducing the town’s energy use by 20 per cent in five years; buy fuel-efficient town vehicles; and adopt the so-called stretch building code, which requires energy savings 20 per cent over the base state code.

Tisbury plans to build a large solar array at the town’s old dump site, large enough to provide for all the electricity needs of town buildings, and three of the four articles related to bylaw changes needed to realize this plan.

Voters overwhelmingly approved the first of them — an epic which ran to three pages on the warrant — setting the ground rules for installation, operation, maintenance, setbacks, design, lighting, land clearing, erosion, habitat, modification and ultimate decommissioning of the planned solar arrays.

The second of the articles provided for “as-of-right” siting of such installations within the business-zoned area along State Road, meaning that solar generation proposals could not be denied approval, although they could be subject to site plan review. That also was approved almost unanimously.

And the third, which guaranteed expedited permitting — within a year of application — went through unanimously.

It was not until the meeting got to the final part of the package, the proposed adoption of the stretch code, that there was any resistance.

The issue was the cost of compliance with the new code.

Various estimates of the amount which would be added to the cost of an average home were aired by proponents and opponents of the measure.

Daniel Seidman of the planning board said it would probably amount to an extra $3,000 to $6,000 on an average house. But he said people should consider the payback through reduced energy costs over 10 or 15 years.

Others put the costs much higher, and doubted that they would ever be paid back in energy savings.

Harold Chapdelaine referred to a recent construction in Edgartown where the extra costs had run to $11 per square foot. No matter how one ran the savings projections, he said, “It’s negative cash flow.”

“There is no saving in this.”

Peter Goodale calculated the cost at $9,000 on a $300,000 home.

Said town assessor Angela Cywinski: “I can’t afford it . . . and I think that goes for a lot of other people.”

The discussion turned to the potential impact on those in need of affordable housing.

Peter Cabana, Tisbury’s representative on the Cape Light Compact, an engineer with a background in energy projects, said new affordable housing already exceeded the stretch code. One such house required no heat in winter to keep the pipes from freezing.

He assured voters the costs would be paid back over time.

“We know the people that occupy [those houses] can only afford them with the reduced energy bills,” he said.

Ms. Cywinski responded: “Yeah, that house cost a half a million dollars, okay, Can anybody else afford a half a million? I know I can’t. They’re subsidized with CPA money and other grants. Mine isn’t. “

Tony Peak, a member of the planning board, said the code was based on an international energy conservation code which was becoming progressively more rigorous. Within a year or two, he suggested, the current stretch code would become the base code.

“It’s basically a long-term commitment to resolving the community problem of too much energy usage.”

The debate occasionally got lost in esoteric details of the building code. It moved through expressions of concern that Island children would ultimately be priced out of the housing market, and references to the various tax credits which might be accessed by homeowners.

It might have gone on much longer, but moderator Deborah Medders called for the vote.

When she declared it passed on the voices, there were rumblings of dissent

“You’re a rough crowd,” said Ms. Medders, who then called for a standing vote.

When the numbers were tallied, the article passed 103 to 43.

There was applause.

The other major point of contention of the night related to two articles put up by the finance committee, which sought to begin addressing the town’s currently-unfunded liability for “other post-employment benefits” — essentially health care costs — for town employees.

The first of these articles asked voters to adopt the policy of assessing an extra $100,000 in taxes each year, beginning July 1 2012, to go toward that cost of funding OPEB for current employees.

The second sought to have an actuarial calculation done of the projected liability for future employees, and to have that amount included as a line item in future town budgets.

The issue split not only the voters, but also town officials. Members of the finance committee unanimously advocated it; the selectmen opposed it.

The arguments grew arcane and many of the assembled voters were clearly confused about the details.

But in essence it came down to the difference between those who thought unfunded liabilities were a snowballing fiscal problem which would only become harder to deal with over time, and those who thought the problem was so big it was best left until the state and/or federal authorities came up with a solution to it.

Along the way, some novel solutions were proposed. Bruce Doten, a perennial opponent of big expenditures, proposed taxing utility poles and imposing a meals tax. He also advocated cutting the entitlements of town employees.

Selectman Tristan Israel, Peter Goodale and others argued that the economic times were just too tight to begin addressing the problem now.

But in the end, the argument which won over the voters was most succinctly put by Daniel Seidman.

The liability, he said, was a “huge number” and was growing like a snowball.

“If we don’t start saving today, we’re going be in a lotta, lotta trouble tomorrow,” he said.

Both articles passed, but not before one of them went to a standing vote, resolved 106 to 42.

Otherwise, the meeting saw pretty smooth sailing. Other articles encouraged considerable discussion. An amendment to town bylaws to allow hefty $300-a-day fines for the owners of inadequately maintained vacant buildings was slightly amended. Another, which upped the penalties for those who failed to clear snow from their sidewalks resulted in some grumbling. But all passed handily on the voices.

Some big decisions were quick and unanimous, like that to rejoin the Martha’s Vineyard Refuse District, from which Tisbury and Oak Bluffs separated years ago.

Likewise the decision to connect the steamship dock to the town sewer system so ferries could pump their waste into it instead of into Vineyard Sound was unanimous.

The evening was originally intended to have been devoted to the annual town meeting, not the special. That plan went awry when not enough people showed up the previous Tuesday, causing a postponement.

By the time the special meeting’s 16 articles had been dealt with, it was 10 p.m.

There was a move to begin on the 37-article annual town meeting warrant, but people began to leave. The meeting lapsed for lack of a quorum before even one could be dealt with.

The annual meeting was rescheduled for the following night.