Tag Archives: Green Communities

The Energy Challenge – It’s All About You

This month students, faculty and staff of Belmont Public Elementary Schools will be participating in the Green Cup Energy Challenge. The goal is simple: to reduce energy consumption by 5% over a month long period. (So simple you can try this challenge at home!) How will these students and teachers do it?…by turning off lights, unplugging devices and shutting windows and doors.

Last year, one school in Massachusetts reduced its energy consumption by 13.6% and placed 2nd in this national energy competition – that school is Belmont’s Roger Wellington Elementary School. By achieving close to 15% reduction in energy consumption (compared to the same period the previous year), the school conserved 13,280 kilowatt-hours of electricity, reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 14,717 pounds, and saved $$ on its energy bill. If ALL the school building were to achieve this rate of success over a year, approximately 255 TONS of CO2 could be avoided.

One Ton of Carbon Visualized.

One Ton of Carbon Visualized.

This year, the Wellington is being challenged by the Burbank, Butler and Winn Brook Schools. For the Challenge, students, faculty and parent volunteers will be reading their School’s electric meters. From January 14-February 11, the data will be collected locally and nationally on a weekly basis.

In December, the Town of Belmont was designated a Green Community. This competition acts immediately toward achieving the 20% reduction goal set by the designation. The school population – its employees, students and related families – make up a significant portion of our Town. By reducing energy consumption in school buildings, we save money for our schools. We also decrease demand for harmful fossil fuel-based energy. And, through the Challenge we create real-world connections for our students; they will use right-level math concepts and gain an awareness of energy in our lives and environment.

The Green Cup Energy Challenge is sponsored nationally by the Green School Alliance. Locally, it is being coordinated by the Belmont PTA/PTO Green Alliance with support from the Town of Belmont, Sustainable Belmont and Belmont Light.

Congratulations to all of us!

We are officially a Green Community!

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Here are a few links to articles we’ve posted this year and soon to come, a full history of the making of a Green Community!

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Nov 5 Recap: Green Communities & Siting Renewable Energy

Many thanks to Maria Petrova and Gerald Boyle for their presentations and contributions to discussion at our last meeting.

We had an informative discussion on November 5, 2014 on the Green Communities application and requirements of the program thanks to Director of Facilities, Gerald Boyle. Residents may find the Energy Reduction Plan portion of the application most interesting, which can be found online with the entire submission. *Note some elements of the application are still being revised in coordination with the regional coordinator at Mass Department of Energy Resources.

Maria Petrova, Ph.D., a Wellington parent presented her most recent research on siting wind: “Sustainable Communities and Wind Energy Project Acceptance in Massachusetts” (vol 15, Winter 2014; Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology). Three different communities were researched, with most notable differences shown between Hull and Falmouth. With Hull, its success is attributed to several factors: community leadership (one stand-out leader in particular), geographic location of the wind turbine blends with other noises, and extensive community involvement in the process of siting (a 10-year period). With Falmouth, the community has struggled to accept wind energy and has closed down wind turbines. Issues revealed in studying this community include lack of community involvement in educating about wind energy and in siting the proposed turbines, inadequate siting yielding noise problem for residents – as well as a community predisposed to noise sensitivity – and rushed siting, among other issues.

Maria also reviewed the Green Cup Challenge which Wellington participated in last year and won 2nd place nationally. The importance of behavior and education can’t be stressed strongly enough when aiming to save energy consumption and costs. The process, checklists and outlines for approached behavioral programs can be viewed in her powerpoint presentation slides.

Green Communities – Yes!!

The Board of Selectmen voted “Yes” in approval to submit the application to become a Green Community on Friday, October 17th; the same day as the deadline. 8e6d04b0-1933-40fc-9bd2-585346762f4a Read about questions raised in the course of this application process and other writings.

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.

School Reduces Energy Use: Saves $1894 in 5 Weeks

Sustainable Belmont shares a green triumph we can all celebrate.

GREEN CUP ENERGY CHALLENGE: TOGETHER WE HELPed WELLINGTON WIN IN 2014!

One school in Massachusetts reduced its energy consumption by 13.6% and placed 2nd in a national energy competition – that school is Belmont’s Roger Wellington Elementary School. With businesses working to implement renewable energy to power their facilities, towns in Massachusetts applying to become “Green Communities,” and the Obama Administration introducing fuel-efficiency standards, the members of the Wellington School community demonstrate the power of behavioral change.

The school participated for the first time this year in the Green Cup Energy Challenge. By achieving close to 15% reduction in energy consumption (compared to the same period last year), the school:

  • conserved 13,280 kilowatt-hours of electricity,
  • reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 14,717 pounds, and
  • saved $1,894 on its energy bill.

How was this possible and can other schools learn from it?

The Green Cup Challenge is a month-long, inter-school competition that empowers students, teachers, and administrators, and builds community, while raising awareness about climate change and the importance of resource conservation. Students have the ability to see the results of their own conservation efforts by reading the school’s electric meter every week for 5 weeks in January and February and figuring out if the school’s electricity consumption is increasing or decreasing for that week. Although every school is a winner when they work together to decrease CO2 emissions, an almost 15% reduction is an outstanding achievement!

The Green Cup Challenge began in 2003 in one school, expanded to an interschool competition the following year, grew to 40 schools by 2007, and to 187 schools this year. Initially, participating schools were all clustered geographically; in 2014 they were organized into nine regional groups that cover the United States and other countries. Because of the unusually harsh winter, the organizers of the Challenge thought at the beginning that a 5% reduction in energy consumption would be commendable, yet 13.6% is outstanding! The Wellington School, its Green Team comprised of dedicated parent volunteers, the Parent Teacher Organization, and the school administration are all doing a great job of finding venues for decreasing consumption, increasing recycling, and teaching the children to live sustainably. We can all learn from them!

A day before the Challenge started in the middle of January, fourth grade students visited each classroom in the school as ambassadors to inform their fellow classmates about the Challenge, the actions they could undertake to conserve energy, and the importance of saving energy in the long run. They also learned how to read the electric meter and record the numbers indicating energy use in kilowatt-hours. Every day of the Challenge, students from the ages of six to ten enthusiastically reminded teachers to switch off smart boards when not in use, turn off computers and unplug all electronics at the end of the day, and power off all lights whenever it made sense—for example, when no one was in the room or the sunlight was just right. Many students enjoyed working in the natural light from the windows. It should be mentioned that Wellington students have the privilege to study in the “single most beautiful building” built in the metropolitan Boston area in the past 10 years, according to the Boston Society of Architects.

Winning a challenge, especially an energy conservation challenge, takes team effort, dedication, and enthusiasm. Wellington proved to have all three! The most important component was the enthusiasm and dedication of the students, teachers, staff, and administration, as well as the ability of the Wellington Green Team to lead the endeavor. The PTO also helped by sponsoring the participation fee. May the conservation behaviors continue and energy consumption diminish!

By Maria Petrova, PhD, Belmont resident and Wellington parent
Note: Some editing has been made from the original for this publication site.

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.