Town Shows Leadership in Sustainability

Sustainable Belmont has been greatly impressed with the generous and thorough collaboration on the parts of our Town Administrator, David Kale, and Director of Facilities, Gerald Boyle in preparing for an application to become a Green Community. Belmont Light Department staff Lauri Mancinelli and Ed Crisafi have provided critical documents and information to the application. Superintendent John Phelan has expressed his support and appreciation of the application as well.

Much has been invested for this application; not only the extensive research, coordination and preparation over the past year, but the thoughtful engagement of many community members whose goals are to save Belmont money, conserve energy, and reduce harmful impacts on the environment. As a community, we pride ourselves not only on our fiscal prudence, but also on our high moral standards in caring for people, our facilities and the environment. The opportunity to become a Green Community represents the best of what Belmont stands for.

The Green Communities Application and grants process is complex in its many details and unique processes and vocabulary. Here are a few key ideas that have come up through the process:

In proposing the 20% reduction plan, it is common to include measures that reduce energy consumption through behavioral changes – such measures may account for up to 5% of the total 20%.

These are practices individuals are expected to adopt to save energy. A great example of the success of behavior changes is the recent Green Cup Energy Challenge, in which Wellington Elementary School reduced their consumptions by 13% in 6 weeks and won 2nd place nationally. Such measures do not cost anything and when adopted as policy – they actually reduce!

While a formal competitive bid for Criterion 3 (the Energy Reduction Plan, including Level 1 Audit) was not required, the working group (comprised of Town Administrators Gerry Boyle and David Kale, Sustainable Belmont volunteers, Energy Committee members) felt strongly that it should perform a review of potential vendors and solicit proposals from them.

Four contractors were interviewed at length and no less than 6 were requested to submit proposals. All those vendors have worked with other Green Communities and are known to DOER.

Belmont is uniquely challenged for these projects because we have a municipal utility, such that many of the cost savings potentials are simply not there as they would be for a town served by an investor-owned utility. Furthermore, the margin of profit for these companies is quite low, about 2%, so their profits are strongly tied to scale and direct purchasing. Belmont is a small town relative to other cities and towns in Massachusetts, which contributes to the challenge for a vendor to make it worth their up-front costs.

In our interview process, it was also evident that the towns that did not contract with qualified contractors rarely received competitive grants.

Why? They simply could not keep up with the tracking and engagement necessary to apply for these grants. The exceptions were those towns that hired Energy Managers, such as the employee that Arlington and Bedford share. While we could have chosen the path of contracting with a vendor for a Level 1 Audit alone, the actual dollar cost as well as the cost of labor on the part of municipal employees to participate made this a more costly choice. By rolling the audit work, administrative work for the application and subsequent grants, and energy reduction work to one qualified contractor, Belmont gains in efficiency and does not need to stress staff resources for the administrative procedures. We are pleased with the Town’s selection of Guardian Energy as a well qualified, efficient, and hands-on contractor.

As a Green Community, Belmont will be qualified to apply for additional competitive grants to support energy efficiency and achieve cost savings.

Based on our research of other Towns’ use of the grant funds, we note significant energy savings associated with many basic energy efficiency measures. For example, the Town of Arlington has reduced its streetlight energy use by 25% between 2010 and 2013 by replacement with LEDs (equivalent to a potential savings of $12K from the baseline amount in 2010, assuming a constant energy rate over time) – the funding for these replacements (and other energy efficiency improvements) came from a 2010 Green Communities grant from DOER for approximately $200K.

Sustainable Belmont is greatly indebted to Belmont native, Rebecca Rosen for her leadership and contributions throughout this process. Becky is a former environmental project director as well as US EPA scientist who has brought many towns, cities, and counties through similar processes.