Whately finds way to earn Green Community status

WHATELY — Whately has figured out a way to save enough energy to join 17 other communities across Massachusetts to earn the status of Green Community this year.

Selectman Paul Newlin, who is also a mechanical engineer and physics professor, has been hard at work checking light bulbs, investigating HVAC systems and analyzing town infrastructure. He found that by switching the 20-year-old dual fuel boiler at the Whately Elementary School to a condensing natural gas boiler, the town could reduce its energy use by 19 percent in five years. The fuel won’t change, but the boiler will be more efficient.

Although the Green Communities criteria are to reduce municipal use by 20 percent, the selectmen believe the state is taking into account that the town started reducing its energy use before the grant program was implemented in 2008.

By Oct. 30, the town intends to apply to the Green Communities Division — the branch of the state Department of Energy Resources that runs the program and helps municipalities reduce their energy bills.

Green communities this past July became eligible for a part of $2.75 million in grants.

Four Franklin County towns — Conway, Gill, Northfield and Sunderland — were awarded the designation and money. Conway received $139,650, Gill $139,900, Northfield $143,750 and Sunderland $146,450.

The downside is that the town’s application will come five months after the May 29 deadline for grants, making it ineligible to receive any money this year. A municipality can receive the designation any time of year, but to receive money it has to meet the May 29 deadline. The town can apply for state dollars next year.

Receiving the designation is a hurdle the town has jumped since it received its first rejection from Green Communities in June.

The town had met four of the five benchmarks the state requires: to provide by-right siting in designated spots for alternative-energy facilities, adopt an expedited permit process for these facilities, purchase only fuel-efficient vehicles and adopt the new Board of Building Regulations and Standards Stretch Code to minimize life-cycle energy costs for new construction.

But Whately hit a wall when it tried to make a plan to reduce the town’s energy consumption by 20 percent between 2011 and 2015. Based on an earlier energy audit by Newlin, the town needed to find 983 million kilowatts to reduce, but it could only come up with 450 million kilowatts over the next five years.

The town blamed the setback on its decision to start saving energy before the state created the Green Communities Grant Program.

In 2006, the town received its own energy audit and began improving its facilities, according to Town Administrator Lynn Sibley. These changes include an update to the Whately Elementary School’s air handling system, a switch of the school’s fuel system to natural gas and a change from T8 lighting to the more efficient T12 lighting.

Because the baseline year for the reduction plan is 2011, the savings from these projects cannot be counted as part of the 20 percent.

Despite this, the Green Communities Division, which is tasked with helping Bay State cities and towns decrease energy bills, promised to help Whately join 143 cities and towns across the state to become a energy leaders.

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