Green Communities – Today

Friday, October 17th is the deadline for Belmont to apply to become a Green Community.

The Board of Selectmen have supported the process since presented to them by Sustainable Belmont, the Energy Committee and Town Administration in December 2013.

On Tuesday, October 14th, they declined to vote to proceed with the application, and declined to vote to approve the form of any of the 5 criteria presented. They will determine to move forward or not at 8 AM on Friday at Town Hall.

We are all familiar with the issue of climate change, but often overwhelmed or lost in the myriad of implications and interconnections that this global crisis presents. In applying to become a Green Community, we are taking a significant step to improving our environment. Here is what I tell my young children: Certain types of energy – those that come from petroleum – make the air unhealthy to breathe. We try to make good choices to reduce them, work to eliminate them and to make a healthier earth for all of us…for a long time.

We also try to make choices that promote conservation – of both our natural and financial resources. With the uncertain future of our conventional power sources, the conservative approach is to decrease our consumption of these as much as is feasible.

Why should our elected officials approve this application?

The Green Communities program is a well-trodden pathway to achieving our energy reduction goal – allowing the Town to leverage state monies to achieve it. Residents expect these measures are being taken to reduce energy and related, to convert to clean energy. Town Meeting already adopted the resolution to achieve 80% CO2 emissions reduction by 2050.

What if we can’t reach the 20% reduction in 5 years?

A good question; fortunately, the Green Communities program does not penalize towns for not reaching the 20% in 5 years. No one wants to spend money unwisely. The Green Communities program requires that we outline a plan in the application which attributes 15% to building improvements. Each time a project is proposed towards that goal, the Board of Selectmen would need to review and approve it. Many other towns and cities in Massachusetts face the same financial and resource constraints as Belmont, yet these municipalities have shown their commitment to energy conservation through identifying, implementing, and achieving measures that reduce energy across their municipal operations, often with considerable savings.

What will it cost us?

David Kale, Town Administrator, has outlined a very conservative financial picture to illustrate a path forward. It clearly shows a conservative estimate (by anywhere from 50% to 100%) of cost avoidances that would be reinvested in energy reduction measures. It also reveals the financial challenges of owning our own utility, as the utility incentives are largely unavailable. It also only illustrates the 15.3% proposed (as part of the 20%); the budget does not include the energy reductions from behavioral measures such as turning off lights and monitors at the end of the day that have been shown to account for as much as 18% of the energy reductions over three years, as in the case of Acton. Our own Wellington Elementary School achieved 13% reduction in overall energy use in just a short 6 week program.

The working budget also does not include any other grants that might be made available to either the Town or BMLD for energy efficiency measures (outside of the Green Communities grant program) nor does it account for other measures already under review by the Town (such as capital improvements) that would likely result in significant energy savings and could be substituted for any of the proposed measures for the application. Notably, the budget does not assume any contribution from BMLD to cover replacement of the LED streetlights.

Last, as stated by Gerry Boyle on Tuesday evening, many of these projects represent improvements that will likely need to be undertaken in the near future. This budget wraps them up into the Green Communities package, but these costs should be seen, in part, as representing ongoing operational and improvement costs for the Town.

What do you say to someone who doesn’t believe in climate change?

Well the science isn’t in their favor, but even these folks in Belmont appreciate clean air. 59% of coal burned in Massachusetts comes from Appalachia where water is being devastated and people are suffering greatly and dying young. In Massachusetts in 2009, our coal-fired power plants emitted nearly 50% of total CO2 emissions (Energy Information Administration) from the electric sector for 23% of total electricity.

This application is a roadmap.

This is not a cast iron commitment to ‘X’ amount of dollars or these exact projects. We could achieve 10% of the 20% in behavioral measures alone (a conservative estimate). That is free, especially compared to the approximately $1.67 million spent by the Town in 2014 on energy costs. If we do not take action to reduce these baseline costs, we may only see them grow – gas prices are expected to rise by as much as 25% – such that savings could be greater than the proposed conservative outlook.

We hope elected officials will not hesitate in fear of imaginary numbers that have been tossed out willy-nilly in meetings, but act in good will toward achieving our goals and put Belmont on the “green” map, surrounded by all of our Green Communities neighbors. This is an exciting time for Belmont. We have seen incredible community projects succeed. We can step forward with a conservative approach but with confidence in our values and confidence in our children and peers who are developing these very technologies that improve our environment, and consequently our health and well-being.

We hope that the Board of Selectmen will take this step, not lightly, but willingly in confidence of our Town Administrators and our residents, indeed future residents of Belmont; that the Town strongly supports energy conservation through the tangible commitment to the Green Communities program.