Winchester “now identifies itself as a town that saves energy,” according to Energy Conservation Coordinator Susan McPhee.
Organizing an energy committee is a key step for cities and towns seeking to implement more effective clean energy and energy efficiency improvements. The energy management committee for this town of about 21,000 is a case in point. McPhee said that her town established the committee in 2005 because the energy portion of the municipal budget was “getting out of control.”
Winchester’s energy management committee includes 11 people – four staff (including McPhee) and seven volunteers from the community. The committee’s many initiatives have resulted in annual savings to the town of $643,000. These initiatives include a unit air conditioning policy, idling reduction policy, computer use savings measures, and an energy efficient building policy.
When I interviewed her, McPhee emphasized the importance of communication to the success of the Winchester energy management committee. The committee, McPhee told me, has kept the Winchester community informed of energy initiatives through an annual “touch-base” with the other committees in Winchester, and through local TV and newspaper coverage. Quantifying energy savings in dollars, and sometimes characterizing those dollars in terms of teachers’ salaries, has proven an effective means to win public support for the work of the committee, according to McPhee.
For other Massachusetts cities and towns considering establishing an energy committee, DOER has several recommendations. First, ensure that the energy committee consists of both municipal officials and people outside of government. Integral team members may include: an experienced energy specialist or engineer; representatives of the facilities maintenance department, finance department, local utility, mayor’s office, Board of Selectmen, city/town council, and/or municipal manager’s office; interested citizens. Government members and energy specialists may provide essential information, expertise, and training. Individuals from outside of the government can contribute diverse perspectives and help the committee to engage the broader community.
Experimenting with the structure of an energy committee may enhance its effectiveness. For example, Winchester reduced the size of its committee, allowing it to function more effectively. Establishing an energy committee can help municipalities to realize their local clean energy potential. DOER’s Green Communities Division and its regional coordinators are here to help towns and cities take this important first step.