October 30, 2014: Belmont to become a “Green Community”

October 30, 2014: Belmont Citizen Herald

When Belmont’s Town Meeting voted to consolidate the buildings and grounds duties of the “Town-side” and “School-side” into one staff position, the expectation was that having a single manager would enhance coordination and result in budget savings. That decision paid off big this week.

Under the leadership of Gerald Boyle, the town’s new director of facilities, Belmont moved to become a “Green Community” this week.  Boyle worked for nearly a year with Sustainable Belmont, the Town’s Energy Committee and Town Administrator David Kale to meet the criteria necessary to earn Belmont a Green Community designation.

The heart of being a Green Community involves a commitment to reduce municipal energy consumption by 20 percent over a five-year period.  The Green Community application requires a specific plan to achieve a 15 percent reduction, with the additional reductions being identified over the five years.

Green Communities is administered by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental affairs.  Through the program, EOEEA not only reviews each community’s energy reduction plan, but also provides funding to help achieve those reductions.  Belmont is expected to receive more than $1 million in state funds over the next five years to help its energy reduction effort.

The Green Communities program exemplifies how different motivations can coalesce to bring about good results.  For example, EOEEA’s stated goal is to help communities “reduce long-term energy costs and strengthen local economies.” Sustainable Belmont is primarily interested in the decreased pollution attributable to energy usage reduction.  Belmont’s municipal officials are most interested in the budget benefits resulting from reduced energy bills.

One need not “believe” in the need to address climate change, in other words, to recognize that everyone benefits by reducing waste in government.

Belmont’s Green Communities application builds on lessons learned from the town’s soon-to-be-completed Energy Service Company contract. Through the ESCO, Belmont hired a third-party contractor to install energy efficiency measures at the contractor’s expense.  The contractor was then paid, in part, through the savings that were generated.

In a similar fashion, the Green Communities program will combine state funding with reinvested savings resulting from reduced energy consumption to support further usage reduction measures.  None of Belmont’s capital budget is ever used. When the program is fully paid for, the entire budget reduction will be available to meet the town’s annual budget.

Belmont’s Green Communities application was based on an “energy audit,” which examined all municipal buildings.  The application said that its work “confirmed the expected conclusion that newer buildings operate more efficiently than older ones.”  The Beech Street Center is more efficient, for example, while Belmont High is less efficient.

In addition, the application continued, “the rapid improvement in LED technology and deep reductions in the cost of retrofitting streetlights with LED makes using high pressure sodium lights very ‘old school.’  Converting to LED in the next five years will result in 50 percent energy reductions in this end use.”

Other simple energy usage reduction strategies include tasks such as identifying computers that don’t need to run all the time; setting up automatic options that place the monitor, hard disk and systems into hibernate mode at a set time; and installing switches that automatically turn lights off when rooms remain unoccupied.

Whether interested in climate change or simply in reducing government waste, Belmont residents owe a debt of gratitude not only to Gerry Boyle and David Kale for their work to make the Green Communities application happen, but also to Sustainable Belmont volunteers, who devoted their considerable technical expertise in support of the effort.

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