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UMass funded to offer clean energy services

AMHERST — With a $6 million state grant, the University of Massachusetts will develop an extension service that aims to promote clean energy projects in local communities.

The four-year grant is part of Gov. Deval Patrick’s effort to lower greenhouse gas emissions in the state. It will create the UMass Amherst Energy Extension Initiative, a service similar to the long-successful agricultural assistance program offered by UMass that will provide technical assistance, research and economic analysis, pilot projects and marketing for programs involving thermal, solar, wind and other renewable energies, as well as conservation.

The initiative will work with local cities and towns, businesses, colleges, other organizations and homeowners to develop clean energy projects.

Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard K. Sullivan made the announcement Thursday at the opening of a day-long conference at UMass for municipal leaders on energy issues. The event drew 90 representatives from 84 communities across the state including Amherst, Northampton, Hatfield and Whately.

“UMass has a history of getting the job done,” Sullivan said. He pointed out that UMass has one of only five national climate centers in the country, has taken a leadership role in innovative water projects and takes an interdisciplinary approach to environmental issues.

“I’m a very big believer in the way you get your policies implemented and see results is to implement them on the ground,” he said. “That’s what UMass does and that’s what this model will do for clean energy and energy efficiency.”

Amherst Town Manager John Musante, who noted that his town became a state-designated “green community” two years ago, said he expects to rely on the new extension service as Amherst seeks to reduce its energy consumption by 20 percent over the next few years. The initiative, he said, “is another example of how the university’s impact goes way beyond the borders of the campus.”

The extension service, provided by the colleges of engineering and natural sciences, will be housed in the existing Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. It will be managed by David Damery, associate professor in the department of environmental conservation and assistant director of the university’s building and construction technology program.

Damery said the idea is to coordinate research and innovative approaches, like the Green Communities Act, and provide assistance to cities and towns in getting them adopted. He said it will also provide help to industries, campuses and even homeowners in the areas of renewable energy production, or measures to reduce energy consumption.

A third of the grant will be used for an extension service in heat and power offered by the department of mechanical engineering which provides help in the areas of heat and power technology for maximizing energy efficiencies, Damery said.

Damery said the purpose of the UMass Amherst Energy Extension Initiative is similar to Thursday’s “Helping Communities with Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency” conference: to identify problems that cities or towns are having and quickly connect them with resources whether that be government, academic, private sector or peer help.

Sullivan said the UMass grant is another in a series of steps Patrick has taken to promote energy conservation and the development of clean energy sources in the state. Those include the Global Solutions Act passed in 2008 aimed at lowering greenhouse gas emissions in the state, the Green Jobs Act, the Ocean Management Act and the Green Communities Act, which has 123 municipalities pledging to take a certain measures to reduce energy consumption.

Sullivan said when Patrick took office in 2006, 3 megawatts of solar energy were being used in the state. Today, he said, that is up to 490 megawatts, exceeding the governor’s goal to see 250 megawatts deployed by 2017. “That’s an unprecedented increase in a short period of time,” he said. The goal is now 1600 megawatts by 2020.

Patrick’s leadership on energy issues has spurred “significant” investment in renewal energy in the state, Sullivan said. He said the state is a leader in the nation in energy efficiency with 5,500 companies employing 80,000 workers in the state doing business in the clean energy field. The employment figure represents double-digit growth in that workforce over the past three years, he said, a trend expected to continue.

“Today a full 2 percent of all the people working in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are in the field of clean energy,” he said. “It’s a growing, vibrant and exciting field for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

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