Tyringham Man at Forefront of Economic Policy

By Nichole DupontiBerkshires Staff
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Steve Cowell with Gov. Deval Patrick last October at CSG's 25th anniversary.
TYRINGHAM, Mass. — From representatives in Washington to small-town homeowners trying to save money, climate control is on everyone's mind. So is the tight economy.

But there is a solution for both in sight, and it is Steve Cowell.

Cowell, a longtime resident of Tyringham, is one of the founders  of  the Home Star Coalition (which boasts 2,100 member organizations around the country) legislation that is currently winding its way through the U.S. Senate and will eventually land on President Obama's desk.

Home Star (which was originally referred to as "cash for caulkers") is a $6 billion program designed to help cash-strapped homeowners defray expenses through a federal energy efficiency tax credit or a rebate of up to 50 percent of the total cost. And that's not all.

"It's this simple: Home Star equals jobs," Cowell said in a press release. "Passing this critical piece of legislation is one of the fastest, most efficient ways our government can do to help our country get back to work. The long-term societal and environmental benefits of Home Star are icing on the cake."

Cowell is no stranger to the effect of energy trends on the economy. As founder and CEO of Conservation Services Group (CSG) in 1984 and for the past 30 years, Cowell has been involved in conservation programs around the country and has successfully advocated for energy efficiency as an electric power supply option.

Under his leadership, CSG has designed and implemented conservation and renewable energy programs for utilities, state agencies and other groups throughout the U.S. and has provided water and power conservation services to nearly 2 million businesses and households. According Lisa Rinkus, spokeswoman for CSG since 1998, Cowell is a pioneer.

"He's been doing this long before it was popular," she said. "He has this anecdote he likes to tell about going to cocktail parties. In the 1980s, he'd tell people that he was in the conservation field and their eyes would glaze over. Of course, when he says that now, people are all ears and very interested."

While Cowell's anecdote is a testament to social evolution as it pertains to energy efficiency, it is also proof that, from the beginning, he has been walking the walk of conservation.

"In the 1970s, he moved to Tyringham and renovated a 6,500-square-foot barn," she said. "It is only $400 a year to run that house. That's dedication."

And it is from this house in the Berkshires (and from his CSG offices in Westborough and across the nation and in Washington) that Cowell continues to push for conservation legislation that will also produce jobs, especially in construction, one of the hardest-hit sectors of the economy. He was recently honored at the annual Affordable Comfort Home Performance Conference in Austin, Texas, for his work in energy efficiency.

"Nothing could be more American than passing this critical piece of legislation. Home Star equals jobs in the USA that can't be outsourced to other countries," said Cowell. "For construction workers, manufacturers, truckers, retailers and others hardest hit by the labor market. Passing this legislation is critical to helping get these people back on their feet."

Updated Aug. 2, 3:32 p.m., for minor edits.

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Pittsfield Looks Forward to New, Improved Streetscape Maintenance

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The state of disarray in downtown medians stemmed from a problem with a contractor who won the bid and then was terminated twice.

Earlier this month, members of the City Council were outraged at overgrown medians and flowerbeds in the downtown area and referred several petitions on city maintenance to Commissioner of Public Services and Utilities Ricardo Morales.

The lack of care was attributed to issues with contracted work, being short-staffed, and weather struggles. The overgrowth has since been cleared and a new partnership between the city and local organizations will take the reins.

On Tuesday, Morales reported that EMS, a property maintenance and landscaping company, won the bid twice and both times did not complete the monthly pruning, weeding and prepping outlined in the contract.

"They were not doing it last year. We terminated the contract. We obviously did not pay them for the work they didn't do and we put out the contract to bid again. They were the only ones that bid again," he explained, adding that they were awarded the contract after an extensive meeting that outlined expectations and when they were not met, the contract was terminated again.

EMS was given until the end of June to get the work done.

"I acknowledge it and it's something that we should have done better," Morales said.

To address the issue in the short term, overtime work from the Highway Department has been arranged. This will allow crews to focus on downtown maintenance, working alongside a different local contractor to address overgrowth and weeds, Morales said.

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