Northfield Energy Committee chair recognized for ongoing energy reduction efforts

  • Northfield Energy Committee Chair Susan O’Connor next to the Citizen Stewardship Award in Northfield Town Hall. O’Connor was presented the 2020 award in recognition of her years of work focused on protecting the larger environment through ongoing energy reduction efforts. Her name has been engraved alongside previous recipients on the award plaque. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 9/27/2021 3:18:58 PM

NORTHFIELD — The 2020 Citizen Stewardship Award has been presented to the town’s Energy Committee chair in recognition of her years of work focused on protecting the larger environment through ongoing energy reduction efforts.

Susan O’Connor was presented the award, and her name has been engraved alongside previous recipients on the award plaque that hangs in the lobby of Town Hall. The Northfield Citizen Stewardship Award was first given in 2007 and is presented by the Open Space Committee to those who engage in or promote stewardship of the town’s natural resources, helping to achieve the goals of the Northfield Open Space and Recreation Plan.

“The Open Space Committee is so pleased to recognize Susan’s tireless efforts to help the town and its residents become more energy efficient, resilient and sustainable, in stewardship of a healthy and livable environment for all,” said Open Space Committee Chair Julia Blyth said. “While the work of the Energy Committee is not directly on land, water or forestry resources, its work focuses on protecting the larger environment by conserving energy and adopting more sustainable practices in town.”

“It is very nice to get the award,” O’Connor said, “but I feel that it’s really a team effort and I’m accepting it for several other people who are pitching in and who deserve it as much as me.”

Fellow Energy Committee members nominated O’Connor, and submitted a summary of the work she has done. She joined the Energy Committee in 2015, moved by her interest in developing strategies to help Northfield reduce its overall energy consumption and lower its carbon use. She was formerly co-chair of the group, and became chair in 2018.

During O’Connor’s tenure, the committee has undertaken two major Green Communities competitive grant submissions, and two grants were awarded.

According to a statement from the Energy Committee, the first grant from 2018 teamed Northfield with Warwick to work jointly on school building improvements. Northfield secured $244,000 and Warwick’s grant allowed for a combined $500,000 of energy reduction work at Northfield Elementary School, Warwick Community School and Pioneer Valley Regional School. This work is expected to save the school district roughly $80,000 per year in reduced energy costs.

In 2020, a second Green Communities grant of about $160,000 — along with Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding of $135,000 — was awarded to continue work at Northfield Elementary, resulting in an additional $13,000 in savings per year. According to the Energy Committee, this grant will update ventilation in the school, as well as complete changes that are needed to allow for additional systems changes in future years. The grant also includes two smaller projects to help the Dickinson Memorial Library reduce its heating costs and to support the efforts of the Police Department to obtain its first hybrid vehicle.

“In addition to guiding the Green Communities grant process, including contracting for technical support and supporting quality management for the projects, Susan has attended countless meetings with various parties involved in the documentation and data tracking for this work,” the Energy Committee wrote in the statement. “Although she works full-time as an education consultant, Susan has often devoted as many as 15 hours a week to the work of the committee.”

O’Connor has also led the effort to take advantage of programs from Eversource to improve lighting and reduce costs for the schools and town buildings, and spearheaded the effort to make electric aggregation available to the town’s ratepayers. To help the Energy Committee handle the technical nature of its work, O’Connor helped connect the town to expertise through the UMass Clean Energy Extension program, as well as resources through the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG).

Citing the recent release of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report this summer, O’Connor said “nothing could be more important” than continuing to make strides in energy reduction to mitigate climate change. This year, the Energy Committee is continuing a project to install heat recovery ventilators at Northfield Elementary, which O’Connor said will not only reduce energy use, but is important for health safety amid the lasting COVID-19 pandemic.

According to O’Connor, the Energy Committee met in August to begin planning projects for the next couple of years, including installing air source heat pumps and solar panels at Northfield Elementary to move closer to net zero energy use. She also looks forward to recruiting new Energy Committee members as work to use more renewable energy resources continues.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at or 413-930-4579.

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