Trees are commonly associated with environmental benefits: they’re pleasing to the eye, they purify the air by removing carbon dioxide and adding oxygen, and they reduce water run-off. But did you know that trees can help nearby communities save energy as well? Both energy and environmental benefits brought Energy and Environment Affairs (EEA) Secretary Rick Sullivan, Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Mark Sylvia and Department of Conservation and Recreation Commissioner Jack Murray to Bellingham Hill Park, Chelsea recently to plant trees and celebrate a new Massachusetts tree-planting program.
Announced in early April, EEA is investing $5 million to plant 15,000 trees in Chelsea, Holyoke and Fall River through the “Greening the Gateway Cities” program. “Greening the Gateway Cities complements our efforts to insulate older buildings and has additional benefits of reduced stormwater pollution and treatment and cleaner air,” said Secretary Sullivan. “An upfront investment in tree planting across an urban neighborhood will pay back in energy and water savings for decades as trees grow and mature, as well as make the cities greener and more beautiful.”
The trees are estimated to provide a ten percent increase in canopy cover in the three municipalities, which will benefit around 14,000 households. The increased canopy cover creates shade and reduces heat islands (built up areas of thermal energy in urban spaces), decreasing the need for air-conditioning in nearby households during the summer. In the winter, the trees serve as windbreaks for buildings and help to cut home heating costs.
“The value of urban trees became clear to us when we documented a 40 percent increase in summer electricity usage in a Worcester neighborhood after nearly all trees had to be removed due to the Asian Longhorned Beetle epidemic,” said DCR Commissioner Jack Murray. “We are looking forward to working with our local partners to plant 15,000 trees in Chelsea, Fall River, and Holyoke.” The trees are expected to reduce heating and cooling costs in nearby neighborhoods by approximately 10 percent once they reach maturity. Over their lifespan, the trees are expected to yield $400 million in energy savings for residents and businesses.
“We are proud to invest in trees, which are not only beautiful and uplifting for urban communities, but are long term, frontline allies in meeting our energy and climate goals,” said DOER Commissioner Mark Sylvia.
The 26 municipalities identified as Gateway Cities in the Commonwealth have lower tree canopy than other areas of the state because of their urban character and history of heavy industry and manufacturing. The targeted areas within Chelsea, Fall River, and Holyoke were chosen for tree-planting because of their low tree canopy cover, high population density, high wind levels and older, poorly-insulated housing.
“As one of the most densely populated cities in the country, Chelsea is in great position to benefit from the Greening the Gateway Cities program,” said Chelsea City Manager Jay Ash. Under the program, 5,000 trees will be planted over an area of 125 acres in Chelsea, providing an estimated $2.2 million in annual household savings and 8,000 tons in carbon dioxide emissions reduction from reduced heating and cooling demands once the trees reach maturity.
The full benefits of the trees will only be reached when they mature in 20 to 30 years’ time. But as the ancient proverb goes: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now.”
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