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The American Council for Energy Efficient-Economy (ACEEE) selected me to present a paper on the Commonwealth’s Green Communities Program at ACEEE’s Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings. It felt like going to college – the seniors all knew each other, while the freshmen were nervously meeting each other in the dining hall or over coffee in between classes. And, just like college, the lectures were a wonderful format for learning. It was stimulating to hear the latest thinking on energy efficiency and to consider how each technology, program, marketing strategy or evaluation study might be applied to benefit public entities back home in Massachusetts. There were several themes at the August conference that I heard discussed time and again:

  • “intelligent” efficiency: the use of information generated through the rapid advances in information technology and communications to mine data for efficiency opportunities
  • behavioral-based programs: predominantly used in the residential sector, but beginning to trickle over to the commercial sector
  • proposals to regulate and limit carbon emissions: these relate to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Act’s section 111(d)
image of commercial building analytics

Commercial Building Analytics

There was also an interesting dynamic between the traditional methods of designing and evaluating efficiency programs and more recent, innovative means of pursuing energy efficiency. Although both methods have the same goal – to transform the efficiency world into an engine for greenhouse gas emission reductions – there is an increasing desire to allow more creativity through shifts in regulations that control efficiency programs.

It was clear, after learning about municipal assistance models in other states, that Massachusetts is a leader in reducing barriers to energy efficiency actions by public entities. For example, the majority of public sector organizations across the nation still must go through a laborious procurement processes for even the simplest efficiency project. Here in Massachusetts, public entities are able to contract directly with Mass Save® vendors for efficiency measures under $100,000 per building, without going out to bid.

The impressive amount of efficiency work completed by Massachusetts municipalities since 2010 reflects both the enthusiasm and commitment of our municipalities, and the successes of policy changes to enable energy efficiency improvements in the state. My presentation focused on:

  • Green Communities Act: created the Green Communities Designation and Grant Program and mandated the implementation of all cost-effective energy efficiency
  • Green Communities Division: created to serve all public entities in their efforts to pursue clean energy and administer the Green Communities Designation and Grant Program
  • Municipal actions: 78% of municipalities that received a Mass Save incentive in 2010-2012 have completed an efficiency project and cumulatively saved enough energy to heat and power more than 6,000 homes

    Faces of Green Communities

    Faces of Green Communities

While the designated Green Communities play an important role in these savings, it is really the efforts of all Massachusetts’ municipalities that have led to these remarkable results. Of course, even in Massachusetts – rated three years in a row by ACEEE as the #1 state for energy efficiency – barriers remain. Strains on municipal staff time and expertise sometimes limit the efficiencies that can be achieved. And, there are gaps in efficiency programs, such as the lack of incentives for heating system efficiency upgrades in oil-heated town and school facilities. DOER’s Green Communities Division continues working to remove these barriers by providing technical support and grants. For example, to assist a community with oil-heated schools, DOER can provide grant funds to evaluate a renewable thermal energy conversion that could be implemented through support from DOER’s Schools and Public Housing Integrating Renewables and Efficiency (SAPHIRE) program. To help address the challenge of adequate staff time to manage energy projects, DOER has awarded Energy Manager Grants to 36 communities to fund staff to help with project management and engage communities about efficiency through outreach and education.

I’m proud that Massachusetts has a dedicated team – the Green Communities Division – to help all of our public entities pursue their clean energy goals. And I am sincerely grateful that I am able to be part of this team, serving our amazing municipal and state entities.

Written By:


Municipal Efficiency Coordinator

Aimee Powelka is the Municipal Efficiency Coordinator for the Green Communities Division. She works with municipalities and other local governmental agencies to pursue energy efficiency through energy reduction planning and collaboration with electric and gas utility efficiency programs. A former science geek, Aimee received a B.A. from Macalester College in Minnesota and a Ph.D. in cell biology from Harvard University, where she studied recycling (in cells). Her current passions include innovative efficiency programs, waste water energy recovery, gardening with native plants, and anything chocolate.

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