Energy-savings bug bites towns
Regional agency spurs planning
By Jose Martinez | GLOBE CORRESPONDENT FEBRUARY 12, 2012
The solar panels atop Medway’s high school and middle school show how seriously the town takes its commitment to energy efficiency. With the help of a new regional program, planners hope to enlist residents and local businesses, too.
“I think we have the energy bug here in Medway,’’ said Town Administrator Suzanne Kennedy. “It has infected us here on the municipal side of things and we hope to spread it to our residents and commercial customers as well.’’
The Metropolitan Area Planning Council last week selected Medway, Marlborough, and six other communities to take part in its new Local Energy Action Program to devise long-range energy plans and identify which projects have the best potential to successfully reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.
In Medway, Kennedy said, officials hope to develop - and fund - a commercial loan program to help area businesses pursue projects that will cut their energy use.
Other possible projects include the installation of LED street lights and setting up electric vehicle charging stations, she said.
One plan under consideration involves equipping town vehicles with thermal imaging equipment to perform drive-by energy audits on homes. Kennedy said the town would then provide the homeowners with information on how much energy their houses waste in lost heat, along with programs that could help make them more energy efficient.
But the first step is to come up with a long-term communitywide plan with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council’s help.
During the next two years, Medway and other selected towns will receive technical help drawing up energy action plans, establishing baselines of energy use for the municipal, residential, and commercial sectors, and setting goals for reducing energy use.
Also selected for the energy action program were Medford, Stoughton, and the towns served by the Reading Municipal Light Department - Lynnfield, North Reading, Reading, and Wilmington, said Erin Brandt, energy planner for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.
The Local Energy Action Program, funded through the Barr Foundation, does not provide money directly to towns. However, the planning council’s professional services for the next two years are valued at about $15,000 per community. Towns in turn must provide equivalent staffing time for energy planning.
Twenty-one communities applied for the first round of energy program awards and a second round is expected to be announced by fall.
“Our interest is in helping communities find the right projects to reach their goals,’’ Brandt said. “Energy is a broad topic and people are quick to jump into specific projects. We want to help them step back and determine what is most efficient. It may be a great solar project or it may be making their buildings more energy efficient.’’
In Marlborough, the city already strives for energy efficiency through recent upgrades to schools, City Hall, fire and police stations, and other buildings.
The city has hired a part-time energy manager and is studying the feasibility of putting an electricity-generating solar array on a landfill near the water treatment plant, following the lead of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, which opened a 2,400-panel array at its facility last year.
However, part of the conservation puzzle has been left out, said Priscilla Ryder, Marlborough’s conservation agent.
“We are doing all these great conservation things to retrofit our buildings, but what about the people inside the buildings? Are people leaving computers turned on or not recycling paper?’’ Ryder said.
Marlborough officials say they hope the Local Energy Action Program will help them devise a better plan to change the behavior of workers, teachers, and students, as well as visitors to municipal buildings. “We need to somehow build this out to the community and introduce a social mindfulness into the community about energy,’’ Ryder said.
Lynnfield, Reading, North Reading, and Wilmington applied to the energy program jointly with the Reading Municipal Light Department, recognizing that all four towns and the utility need to cooperate to develop energy-reduction plans. Brandt said.
“We are really excited about that project. One of our key interests is encouraging regional efforts,’’ Brandt said.
Meanwhile, Medway is one of 11 towns working with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council on another project that could lead to sharing an energy manager between communities to split the expense.
“We know money is tight,’’ Brandt said, “and we want to help communities consolidate their resources.’’