Greenfield’s energy and sustainability chief returns after Northampton stint

CAROLE COLLINS

CAROLE COLLINS

By ANTHONY CAMMALLERI

Staff Writer

Published: 03-26-2024 5:22 PM

GREENFIELD — Less than six months after leaving her decade-long role as Department of Energy and Sustainability director to serve at the helm of Northampton’s first-ever Climate Action and Project Administration Department (CAPA), Carole Collins is returning to Greenfield on April 8.

Collins, a Northampton resident who had served in Greenfield for about 13 years, was hired by Northampton Mayor Gina Louise-Sciarra to serve as the city’s first CAPA director in September.

When asked about her reasons for returning to her role as the first and only Department of Energy and Sustainability director in Greenfield, Collins said it was simply “a better option,” for her at the current moment, but added that she will stay in contact with her replacement, CAPA’s interim Director Benjamin Weil, to collaborate on projects aimed at reaching the two cities’ common goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on fossil fuels.

“I’m just really excited to jump back in. I worked very hard in Greenfield and I’ve worked really hard with the administration in Northampton as well,” Collins said. “We have someone who’s going to take over in my absence, who’s a great person … and we’ve all talked about how important it is that we do work together. We’re all working on the same goal. It’s a lot of work, and it’s really hard, so we all benefit from working together and I’m really positive that everyone’s winning at the end.”

Under Collins’ leadership at the Department of Energy and Sustainability, the state Department of Energy Resources recognized Greenfield for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 70% since 2008 and achieving a 25% reduction in city-wide energy consumption since 2016.

During her time serving in Greenfield, Collins also lead a number of sustainable projects, such as the design and construction of net-zero carbon emission buildings for the new Post Office, Fire Station, Greenfield Public Library and Department of Public Works office. She also oversaw Greenfield Light & Power, a program supplying renewable electricity to Greenfield utility customers at competitive prices, and worked with the Franklin Regional Council of Governments to draft the city’s Municipal Net-Zero Operations Plan, organizing long-term sustainability projects geared toward helping reach the state’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Of the sustainable energy projects mapped out in the Municipal Net-Zero Operations Plan, Collins said she will prioritize the allocation of Green Communities grant funding from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources to replace the oil-fired heating equipment at the wastewater treatment plant on Deerfield Street with a waste-powered system. The city of Greenfield stated in a written statement that upon completion of this project, none of the city’s municipal buildings will rely on oil.

“It would make use of that waste — when it comes out of everyone’s sinks and drains and everything, there’s some heat in it, and it would take that heat. So it’s kind of like preheating your boiler, in a way, but it’s a heat pump for water treatment,” Collins said. “It’s pretty exciting. When you can use waste to make energy, that’s truly sustainable.”

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As climate change impacts the region with severe weather events, such as floods and heavy rainstorms, Collins said she hopes to implement new climate-resilient infrastructure to make Greenfield more flood resistant. She referenced the 2022 Fiske Avenue pocket park project, in which she oversaw the park’s expansion of green space, planting of native species and relocation of parking from a lot to the street as an environmentally sustainable solution for storm impact mitigation.

“By planting the green space there, the grass, the native species, pollinator plants, that all captures stormwater when there is a storm event, whereas before when it was just this rundown parking lot, it would all run off into the sewer,” Collins said. “Maybe that was a small project, but it’s in the right direction. We need to continue to think like that in all of our projects and make sure we’re thinking about how to minimize the effects of these big storms.”

In a statement, Mayor Ginny Desorgher wrote that she is “thrilled” by Collins’ return to Greenfield, referring to her as an asset for the city’s growth. In a separate statement published by the city of Northampton, Louise-Sciarra commended Collins for bolstering the city’s solar energy capacity, generating more than 170,000 kilowatt-hours of clean electricity annually and her work to help align the city’s fiscal year 2025 capital improvement projects toward climate action goals.

“Carole is invaluable to the growth of Greenfield,” Desorgher said, “and I look forward to seeing how her insights and advocacy will continue to help the city align with state and national sustainability benchmarks.”

Anthony Cammalleri can be reached at acammalleri@recorder.com or 413-930-4429.