Sarah Gardner of William College's environmental studies program said the biggest challenge is not capacity but the political dispute over renewable projects.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A new report being released in two weeks will highlight the city's efforts toward energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.
The Environment Massachusetts Research and Policy Center is releasing the report that will urge municipalities to boost their efforts in moving toward more renewable energies and the Legislature to pass aggressive energy policies to move the entire state to 100 percent renewable.
"Across Massachusetts, cities and towns are leading the way toward 100 percent renewables and as state officials consider major changes to our energy policy, we urge them to follow the lead of communities like Pittsfield and charge full speed ahead," the organization's state director Ben Hellerstein said.
The report highlights more than a dozen communities that have taken aggressive steps toward clean energy with Pittsfield being one of those.
"We've been very active over the past decade with our work to increase energy efficiency and seek opportunities for quality renewable projects in all areas of our municipal operations — from our vehicle fleet to our public buildings and beyond," Parks and Open Space Manager Jim McGrath said.
McGrath said the city performed energy audits on all of the municipal buildings, leading to numerous heating and cooling system improvements and lighting projects to reduce energy. The city performed a gas conversion project at the Berkshire Athenaeum that saves taxpayers some $45,000 a year in energy costs and similar project was performed at City Hall. In 2011, through the Mass Save program, the city had audits done on a number of downtown buildings that led to clustered projects.
As for renewable sources themselves, in 2012, the city was part of the Clean Energy Center's Solarize Massachusetts program that paved the way for 90 residential homes to have solar panels. At the municipal wastewater treatment plant, an entire heat and power system was replaced and a 2 megawatt solar array was installed.
"Our focus on this facility made true economic sense," McGrath said, adding that the treatment center is the largest energy user.
The city also installed a hydro-turbine in the water system in Coltville to generate energy and soon will be developing a 2.9 megawatt solar array on the capped landfill on East Street. Further, the city has entered a municipal aggregation program with Colonial Power that will not only lead to more inexpensive electricity but also ensure that a greater amount of the energy is coming from renewable sources.
"Although we have challenges, some of these challenges seem insurmountable, the city is committed to become a more sustainable and energy efficient community by embracing the spirit of our green community designation," McGrath said.
Jane Winn, executive director of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, said there is still a lot more work to be done. She suggested having Eversource rewire the downtown to support solar and wind on top of buildings.
"I can remember being in my dentist's office as a child watching the flags on top of North Street buildings blowing straight out for the whole visit. If the downtown were re-wired, we could set up micro-grids so downtown and the hospital would be resilient and keep running when other areas might blackout," Winn said.
Further she said "let's make sure that when we build new buildings like a Dunkin Donuts or potential mega Walmart we require that building to be new-zero energy."
She also highlighted the Greening the Gateway Cities Program, which will plant some 2,400 trees in the city and thus reducing energy costs because of the shade provided.
The city's efforts are something Environment Massachusetts wants to see replicated across the state. The organization is calling for more aggressive measures to move toward 100 percent renewable energy.
"We are experiencing more and more heat waves, more and more extreme weather events. Last month was the hottest June on record as many of the recent months have been. We know that these effects are only going to get worse if we don't take rapid action to get off of fossil fuels," Hellerstein said.
There is a bill currently in the legislative process that could double the amount of renewable energy in Massachusetts, Hellerstein said. The bill also carves out a place for offshore wind and bans using public monies for gas pipelines.
"We urge them to think as big as possible. 100 percent renewables is where we need to get to so now is the time to take big steps and not baby steps," Hellerstein said.
But the political battle over renewable energy projects seems to be the biggest hurdle, according to Sarah Gardner, associate director and lecturer of environmental studies at Williams College .
"One of the hardest things to do in this battle for renewable energy is to actually get projects on the ground. There tends to be a lot of opposition to projects," Garner said.
Gardner is calling on the state to "pull together across political lines" to become a leader in renewable energy. She said more jobs will be created from a renewable economy than will be lost by sticking with fossil fuels and that to reduce carbon reductions significantly, states need to be 100 percent renewable by 2050 — just 34 years away.
"It may sound like a radical idea to have a 100 percent renewable commonwealth but averting the climate crisis isn't really a radical idea," Gardner said.
In order to achieve that, she said a significant portion of the state's power needs to come from wind, which is a hotly debated issue from the Berkshires to Cape Cod. The state has the capacity to be 100 percent renewable if there is a significant push to do so, she said.
"We really need to start embracing wind energy and stop opposing plans for wind in the state and offshore," Gardner said. "There is no possible way to achieve 100 percent renewable if we don't have a lot of wind in the mix."
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