Massachusetts cities and towns have had remarkable success executing energy projects that range from solar installations large and small to energy management systems in schools to replacing lights in buildings and on streets with efficient LED technology. Still, so many options are available that negotiating the implementation process – with its many regulatory, financial, project management and technical twists and turns — can be daunting.
At the beginning of May, municipalities across Massachusetts trying to master their energy problems found some answers and resources at a day-long conference, “Helping Communities with Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency,” at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The conference, which featured the announcement of two new initiatives funded by the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to assist cities and towns, was devoted to helping Massachusetts municipalities achieve their clean energy goals.
There is no shortage of energy solutions today, but finding and implementing the ones that best address individual cities and towns’ concerns can be a challenge. DOER’s Green Communities Division is already helping Massachusetts cities and towns succeed with the right clean energy programs for them.
UMass Amherst’s conference, presented in cooperation with the Green Communities Division, brought together 90 representatives from 84 communities across Massachusetts and people from state government, academic and private sectors with energy program expertise and resources for one day of questions-and-answers, learning, networking and collaborating. DOER staff members Aimee Powelka, from the Green Communities Division, and Dwayne Breger, Director of Renewable and Alternative Energy Development, were there to talk about available programs in energy efficiency and solar energy. Green Communities also participated in the trade show to provide more resources.
At the conference, Energy & Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick Sullivan emphasized the importance of engaging local communities in adopting clean energy. “I still think that the best decisions are made at the local level,” he said.
Different towns and cities face issues that cannot be tackled with a one-size-fits-all solution. Oftentimes community residents’ responses vary from one solution to another, which can affect the effectiveness of an adopted program. One example discussed at the conference was using LEDs in streetlights instead of less efficient incandescent or fluorescent bulbs. Some towns do not own their streetlights and need to first buy them from the utilities before they can replace the lights with LEDs; other community representatives raised concerns that their residents might not like the color of LED light. Some of the smaller towns indicated they don’t even have any streetlights to begin with. Each of these issues would ideally be solved by towns and cities working closely with local energy solution-providers who understand what the communities need.
Secretary Sullivan announced the UMass Amherst Energy Extension Initiative, which will provide a service similar to the university’s long-standing agricultural extension program. With a $6 million, four-year state grant funded by DOER, the initiative will coordinate research and analysis on clean energy adoption, provide outreach and technical assistance to municipalities, businesses and homeowners, and employ staff to be clean energy agents, who work closely with municipalities on energy issues in coordination with the Green Communities division.
The extension initiative will be provided by the Colleges of Engineering and Natural Sciences. David Damery, associate professor of environmental conservation, who also organized the conference, will manage the initiative. Secretary Sullivan noted that the university is home to the Northeast Climate Science Center, one of only five national climate centers in the country, and has already taken a leadership role in innovative water projects. “UMass has a history of getting the job done,” he said.
At the conference, DOER also announced 36 Massachusetts municipalities that will receive funding offered through the Green Communities Division to employ part- or full-time energy managers. These energy managers can aid efforts to participate in renewable energy programs and energy efficiency programs.
The combined efforts of the Green Communities Division, UMass Amherst Energy Extension Initiative, the energy managers program and UMass Amherst’s conference are examples of how the Commonwealth is helping Massachusetts towns and cities link up with the most suitable renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, making it easier for communities to adopt clean energy.
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