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‘Green’ aid out of reach for some communities

The state is enticing cities and towns with grants in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to encourage them to become more energy efficient, with a total of $27.7 million awarded so far.

But five years after the state launched its Green Communities program, only 11 of 48 area communities have met the requirements; statewide, 110 of the Commonwealth’s 351 cities and towns are participating.

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“It takes a little bit of an effort, and right now we just don’t have the time” to qualify, said Rocco Longo, town administrator for Marshfield.

Longo sits on a state Green Communities advisory committee as a representative of a municipality that has not achieved the designation.

He said Marshfield’s focus has been on the new federal flood maps, union negotiations, annual budgets, Town Meeting, and other day-to-day issues in the coastal town of 25,000 that have left little resources and support to take on the demands of the program.

To qualify for the grants, communities must fulfill a number of energy-conservation requirements. Among them, a city or town must provide locations for renewable-energy generation, research, or manufacturing facilities; adopt an expedited permitting process for energy-generating facilities; and establish an energy-use baseline and develop a plan to reduce municipal energy use by 20 percent within five years. It must also purchase only fuel-efficient vehicles (with exemptions for police and fire vehicles), and set requirements to minimize energy costs for new construction, potentially by adopting new building regulations.

Longo said there was some reluctance from the town’s building inspector to adopt the recommended building standards, also known as the “Stretch Code,” due to concerns about possible additional construction costs.

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But Longo said he sees nearby communities benefiting from the Green Communities program and hopes to revisit the town’s participation.

Area communities that have met the criteria and received state money are Bridgewater, Dedham, Easton, Hanover, Kingston, Lakeville, Milton, Quincy, Rockland, Scituate, and Westwood; Rockland, which along with Westwood earned the designation last December, was praised by the Patrick administration in February when its initial grant of $185,425 was announced.

“Nearly half the Commonwealth’s residents live in a community that has made a conscious decision to become a leader in adopting renewable energy and smart energy use,” Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Mark Sylvia said in a statement at the time. “Becoming a Green Community requires effort, and this grant speaks to the enthusiasm Rockland officials and residents have shown in rolling up their sleeves in support of a clean energy future.”

Town Administrator Allan Chiocca, who has also served as a selectman and a state representative, said Rockland was already moving toward more energy-efficient alternatives and saw the state money as a bonus. He said it took a few years to get everything in place and receive the designation, but he believes it was a good decision for the town.

“We are not as wealthy a community as some others are; we really have to watch our nickels and dimes,” Chiocca said.

Other communities may be putting their focus on other money-saving opportunities, which he quipped is fine with him.

“That means the pool is smaller for extra grants,” he said.

Chiocca said there was some miscommunication with the state about when Rockland could proceed with some of its projects and some time was lost, but he still believes the program is worthwhile.

After communities make progress on their initial grants, they can apply for more. The money to fund the grants comes from alternative compliance payments made by utilities when they do not meet renewable energy requirements, according to Mary-Leah Assad, spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. The deadline for the next round of designation applications is Wednesday.

Easton received its initial Green Community grant after earning the designation in 2010, when it got $168,300 to pay for the replacement of rooftop air-handling units for the police and fire station, a new energy-efficient boiler in Town Hall, and energy-efficient heaters in the Water Division garage, as well as high-efficiency lights in the middle school’s parking lot and the high school gym. The town has received another grant of $250,000 to pay for an insulated garage door at a Department of Public Works and fire facility, and energy-saving LED street lights.

Adrienne Edwards, chairwoman of Easton’s Green Communities Committee and a geographic information system specialist for the town’s Department of Public Works, said the grants save the town the cost of the upgrades, and the town will save on utility bills thereafter.

“It was a lot of work” to earn the designation, but worth it, Edwards said. She spent many hours meeting with department heads to collect data on energy use to come up with a usage baseline, from which 20 percent needs to be reduced over five years. Proposed measures also had to be written up and approved by Town Meeting to get the necessary building and zoning changes.

Edwards said having the support of all involved, including town employees and elected officials, is key.

“That can be the deciding factor,” she said. “If they don’t have that support, it’s tough.”

For more information about the Green Communities program, including a map of the participating cities and towns and details on their grants and projects, click on the Energy & Utilities link at www.mass.gov/eea.
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