Reaching the mark set by Criterion 3 for the Green Communities Program may seem like a daunting goal − some municipalities wonder if they can do it. The criterion stipulates that in order for a municipality to be designated a Green Community, it must “Establish an energy use baseline of municipal buildings, streetlights and vehicles, and develop a plan to reduce energy use by 20 percent within five years.”
But despite barriers such as limited staff capacity, a number of communities are well on their way to implementing their plans under Criterion 3. Some have even decreased consumption by more than 20 percent in one or more energy use categories, according to 2012 annual reports.
Take the town of Harvard, which, within the buildings category, achieved 26 percent energy savings in FY 2012 as compared to FY 2009. Improvements ranged from mechanical upgrades at Bromfield High School, to conversion to natural gas from oil and the replacement of two burners at Hildreth Elementary School, to lighting efficiency upgrades in town buildings. Harvard has focused on reducing energy use at the high school because it is the town’s largest energy consumer. Cost savings associated with energy initiatives in the buildings category have been substantial, projected at more than $165,000 annually.
In Easthampton, switching street and traffic lights to LED was an important step forward. The improvement reduced street and traffic light energy use by 20 percent overall for FY 2012 relative to FY 2009. Annual cost savings from the project have been projected at $2,500.
Municipalities can reduce vehicular energy consumption by using smaller vehicles, using electric vehicles, establishing anti-idling policies, and requiring use of tracking and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) for route optimization. A number of towns have already swapped gas guzzlers for fuel efficient vehicles, and the efforts have paid off: Melrose, Acton, and Mashpee achieved 8 percent, 7 percent, and 4 percent vehicular energy consumption reductions respectively in FY 2012 as compared to FY 2009. Cambridge managed a 10 percent reduction in vehicular energy use for FY 2012 over FY 2008, primarily by incorporating GPS into the city’s water department vehicles but also through green fleet vehicle replacements.
Communities employ markedly diverse strategies to meet the Criterion 3 goal. Reducing energy use by 20 percent within five years is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor; for example, vehicular energy use as a percentage of total energy consumption varies dramatically between municipalities, and, thus, vehicular consumption should be targeted to varying degrees.
Criterion 3 sets a challenging goal, but Green Communities have made remarkable progress by pursuing a variety of improvements including initiatives related to buildings, streetlights, utilities, and vehicles. As always, the Green Communities Regional Coordinators are ready to help municipalities with developing and implementing their Criterion 3 plans.