In Massachusetts, there are many ways towns can become energy efficient, deploy solar energy and save taxpayers money at the same time. There are state funding programs, numerous incentives and ways for systems to pay for themselves.

One program in Massachusetts is called the Green Communities Designation & Grant program (GCDG). Started in 2008, “the Green Communities Division of the MA Department of Energy Resources (DOER) wanted to help municipalities become more sustainable, control rising energy costs and incubate the clean energy technologies and practices that will put Massachusetts cities and towns—and the commonwealth as a whole—at the center of the 21st-century clean energy economy. Envisioned as a way to encourage municipalities to make clean energy decisions, the division is mandated to offer grant opportunities to municipalities designated as ‘Green Communities.’” (1)

Some 78 percent of towns in Massachusetts participate in this program. On the whole, the Cape lags behind them in utilizing this program. Andover adopted the GCDG in 2010. Its buildings, burners, water heaters, schools, fire departments, lighting program and more became much more efficient back then. It has been enjoying savings ever since.

Thus far, the following communities have received varying amounts of funding under GC, including funding for projects by town on Cape Cod:

A list of all grants awarded is available at: https://www.mass.gov/doc/map-of-271-gcs-and-grant-summaries/download

Between 2010 and the present, Mashpee has received the following funding for the projects listed below

“The Green Communities Act allows funding of up to $10 million per year for the designation and grant program from the proceeds of Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) allowance auctions and other sources. The Green Communities Division also serves all Massachusetts cities and towns as a one-stop shop for education on the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy. It provides guidance and technical assistance for energy questions and projects. It promotes collaboration through shared best practices among municipalities, and funding opportunities for clean, affordable, and resilient energy projects and initiatives.” (1)

To obtain the funding for GCDG, a town also has to adopt the stretch code, an enhanced energy code for new buildings. Twelve years ago, this code was a stretch. Now, more than a decade later, the standard building code and the stretch code are virtually the same. This is because, as part of the Green Communities Act of 2008, Massachusetts is required to update its building code every three years to be consistent with the most-recent version of the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). Also, existing buildings are exempt from this enhanced code. It only applies to new homes. In Sandwich there are approximately 7,500 existing homes, and approximately 15 a year are new homes. This stretch code is just for new buildings.

This program provides a road map along with financial and technical support to municipalities that:

  1. Pledge to cut municipal energy use by an ambitious and achievable goal of 20 percent over five years;
  2. Pass zoning in designated locations for the as-of-right siting of renewable or alternative energy generating facilities, research and development facilities, or manufacturing facilities;
  3. Adopt an expedited application and permitting of one year at most, under which facilities interested in locating their facility in a designated renewable zone may be sited within the municipality, (Sandwich has this in place already);
  4. Purchase fuel-efficient vehicles for municipal use, whenever such vehicles are commercially available and practicable;
  5. Establish an energy use baseline inventory for municipal buildings and facilities (which can include schools, water, wastewater treatment plants and pumping stations, and open space), street and traffic lighting, and vehicles; and

Adopt an Energy Reduction Plan (ERP) demonstrating a reduction of 20 percent of energy use after five years of implementation.

The singular goal of all of the above actions are to save the town’s use of energy, which also saves money. Saving on energy reduces carbon dioxide emissions, which improves the climate change condition. But, most importantly, there is tremendous financial benefit for towns to adopt this program. Taxpayers need to let their elected officials know about this program and urge them to adopt it.

References:

Ms. Holt is a building, energy management and solar expert with more than three decades of experience. She lives in Sandwich.

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