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Ben Hellerstein highlights the work Pittsfield has done in renewable energy use.
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Pittsfield's Renewable Energy Work Highlighted

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Ben Lamb from 1Berkshire said renewable energy is not only good for the environment but it is good economic development.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city is still looking at what it would take to create a new micro-grid for energy in the city's downtown.
 
Supported by a $75,000 states grant, a feasibility study has been ongoing to create the grid that would connect key buildings, including the Fire Department, Berkshire Medical Center, the senior center and senior housing units, and downtown businesses to power in case of an emergency.
 
And, it will increase the capacity for renewable energy sources.
 
But that is only one step the city has taken in recent years around the issue of energy. The city changed all of its streetlights to LED, joined a municipal aggregation program to competitively bid energy sources for residents and businesses to lower costs and get more from renewable sources and, in 2017, turned on a new 2.9-megawatt solar array built on a former capped landfill.
 
"A lot of the most innovative work with clean energy is happening at the municipal level," said Ben Hellerstein, state director of Environment Massachusetts.
 
The advocacy group released an updated report that includes highlighting that work being done in Pittsfield and in other communities across the state. The report, available online here, will be given to various lawmakers and municipal officials to promote the options in renewable energy.
 
Hellerstein said the organization wants the state to adopt policies that go big on renewable energy just as many cities and towns have been doing.
 
"Across Massachusetts, cities and towns are leading the way to 100 percent renewable energy. As officials at the state level consider clean energy policies, we hope they follow the example set by communities like Pittsfield in going big on clean energy," He said.
 
Hellerstein was joined by Mayor Linda Tyer, state Sen. Adam Hinds, Berkshire Environmental Action Team Executive Director Jane Winn, and 1Berkshire Director of Economic Development Benjamin Lamb to highlight what's being done.
 
"It takes powerful networks to have significant change that impacts community life on a lot of levels. The environment is one of those. I'm proud to be leading a city that has really put a stake in the ground when it comes to investing in renewable energy," Tyer said.
 
The microgrid is eyed to create more resiliency in cases of a natural disaster. Climate change has led to more severe and more dangerous weather and the microgrid will provide a way to ensure that key pieces of the city remain powered. 
 
In 2017, the city opened the new solar array at Downing Industrial Park, adding to the amount of solar-generated power. 
 
"It is landfill property that's been capped and is a solar producing project. It will be saving the city of Pittsfield $140,000 annually in our utility costs," Tyer said.
 
The municipal aggregation program is serving some 16,000 residents and businesses who are in turn saving money on utility costs and getting the power from a company with more renewable energy in its portfolio than residents who opt-out and stay with another provider. And the new street lights are expected to produce savings for the city.
 
"We want to continue these efforts. At the same time, we also want to make sure we are protecting our agricultural lands and our residentially zoned areas because I believe there is a way to continue expanding our solar energy facilities without impacting agricultural land and residential neighborhoods," Tyer said.
 
In 2010, the city became the first to have a Green Community designation, which it has maintained.
 
Meanwhile, Winn highlighted the state's Greening the Gateway Cities Program, which provides free trees to Pittsfield residents, particularly in low-income and urban neighborhoods.
 
"We've planted over 2,000 trees in the center of Pittsfield. The residents who want trees can get free trees and they are fairly good-sized trees, professionally planted," Winn said. "The goal of this program is to increase tree cover in these areas 5 percent and reduce energy use by about 5 percent."
 
The additional trees help lower temperatures and thus reduce cooling costs in the summer. They also serve an ecological benefit by soaking up water and they make the city more appealing.
 

The large solar field is estimated to save the city $140,000 per year.
BEAT is also having interns go door to door in the West Side and Morningside neighborhoods with information on programs such as MassSave that can subsidize the costs for some energy-saving projects for homeowners.
 
"Over 50 percent of the people didn't really know about MassSave and are really thrilled to be connected with programs like this," Winn said.
 
BEAT is also working on helping connect low- and moderate-income families to solar panels and heat pumps.
 
Hinds said while Pittsfield is doing a lot for the environment, the federal government seems to be going the other way by such things as getting out of the Paris Accord on climate change. But, he doesn't want that to deter anybody.
 
"If you are like me, you are deeply concerned where we are headed as a country and our environment and with climate change. It should give us all pause. The bottom line is, we are too late. We need to act now and we need to act boldly. And we have to act in significant and big ways," Hinds said. 
 
"On the state and local level, we need to do what we can."
 
Hinds said the state will soon be working on an omnibus renewable energy bill and there is a heightened focus on trying to get the state to eventually be 100 percent renewable energy. He said there is particularly going to be work needed in the transportation realm.
 
"We need to make sure we keep our foot on the pedal," Hinds said.
 
Lamb said the push is not just for the environment but makes business sense. When municipalities save money on energy, that can be invested in other services. He highlighted businesses that have taken environmental projects and how the savings help them grow. And Lamb said the green energy industry employs some 117,000 people in Massachusetts.
 
"These are high-paying jobs in an industry that has seen huge growth potential," Lamb said.
 
By highlighting the local work, Hellerstein hopes state lawmakers develop policies that will support and continue the work that places like Pittsfield have begun.

Tags: green communities,   municipal solar,   renewable energy,   

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Review: 'Fall Springs' is a Musical With a Message

By Nancy SalzGuest Column

Can a musical comedy convey a serious message?
 
"South Pacific" addresses race relations and WWII while also making us smile with "There's Nothing Like A Dame" and "Honey Bun."

Combining two approaches is the difficult goal of the promising new musical "Fall Springs," which is having its world premiere at the Barrington Stage. And they manage to pull it off. Not perfectly, but well enough to provide a very entertaining evening in the theater.

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