Local Communities Seek Green Designation

December 1, 2010 – Several communities across MetroWest are looking to tap into a state energy efficiency program that could qualify them for millions of dollars in grants.

They want to be part of the newest class of “green communities” in the state, a designation reserved for cities and towns that have committed to reducing their public energy consumption and have enacted a handful of energy efficiency measures.

Communities including Marlborough, Wayland, Medway, Harvard and Gardner joined 15 others around the state that applied to become green communities. Municipal officials should learn in the coming weeks if they will join the 35 communities in the state that have already earned the designation.

“This really makes a statement to people that we’re serious about energy efficiency,” said Medway Town Administrator Suzanne Kennedy.

The Standards
To receive the distinction communities must meet five criteria set up by the state’s Division of Energy Resources. Communities must:

– Enact zoning bylaws that allow “as-of-right” building of renewable energy projects.

– Adopt an expedited permitting process for approval of renewable energy projects.

– Commit to purchasing only fuel efficient vehicles for public use.

– Create a baseline for consumption of public power and commit to reducing that by 20 percent within five years.

– Require builders to adhere to more stringent building “stretch codes” that encourage energy efficiency.

Communities across the region had varying degrees of difficulty meeting the criteria.

For example in Medway, where Kennedy led the process, the biggest challenge was getting the stretch codes adopted. Members of the business community, particularly contractors, had concerns about what the new building regulations would mean for construction projects (see previous story here). But Murphy said the town worked with engineering consultants to address those concerns.

“I honestly think it will be much less of a burden than what people anticipate,” she said.

In Marlborough, community officials have been working with utility company National Grid to take an inventory of current energy use and create a plan for reducing consumption in the coming years. Specifically, town officials are targeting improvements in the high school and department of public works buildings, according to Priscilla Ryder, conservation officer for the city of Marlborough.

While meeting the criteria to become a green community has the most direct impact on the municipalities themselves, Bonnie Biocchi, president of the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce, said it’s an important issue for the business community as well.

“In Massachusetts we’re always trying to be on the cutting edge, and this program really represents an opportunity for communities to be at the front of the pack as energy leaders in the state,” she said. “Businesses notice that.”

For example, businesses in the green technology sector may be more inclined to locate in a community that they know is open and encouraging of efficiency efforts. Communities attempting to reduce their energy consumption can also help to reduce energy costs for residents and businesses, she said.

In addition to the applications for the green communities, about a half-dozen communities also received planning grants from the state within the last year to expedite their applications. Those included Framingham, Franklin, Maynard, Medfield, Mendon, Millbury and Plainville. Some of those communities, including Framingham, hope to apply to become green communities within the next year.

Communities in MetroWest that already are “green” include: Acton, Hopkinton, Natick and Sudbury.

Kennedy, the Medway town administrator, acknowledged that as more communities get the “green” designation the amount of money each community receives through grants will be reduced. But she’s not worried about that.

“We’ll take anything we can get,” she said.

Last year the state gave about $8 million in grants to 35 communities, but there is not expected to be a significant increase in the amount of funds distributed next year, only an increase in the number of the communities eligible to receive them.

The state funds the program through proceeds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a program through which utility companies buy credits to offset their carbon dioxide emissions.

This story originally appeared here