Monday, January 31, 2011

Next steps underway for Green Community effort

Monday, Ayer's Green Community Committee took the first steps on the latest leg of the town's journey toward becoming a state-recognized "Green Community." If the committee realizes its ambitions -- which, among others, include creating a plan to reduce town energy consumption by 20 percent over five years and garnering voter approval to change key policies to foster greater energy efficiencies across the town -- Ayer will be able to apply for the"Green Community" designation. With that title in hand, Ayer will be in the running for additional state funds to go even greener.

This was the recently-formed committee's first getting-down-to-business meeting with Marianne Graham, a senior associate with consulting firm ICF International. Her technical assistance is funded by a grant the town received in the fall, one of several the state issued to help communities attempting to meet the five criteria required to be considered for "Green Community" status.

Developing an action plan
The five steps towns seeking "Green Community" status must take are:

  1. To adopt "as-of-right" zoning, which means certain locations are set aside specifically for renewable or alternative energy generation, research and development or manufacturing.
  2. To adopt an expedited permitting process -- 12 months application to final answer -- for such projects.
  3. To establish an energy-use baseline and a plan for reducing baseline usage by 20 percent over five years.
  4. To purchase only fuel-efficient cars (provided models are available or feasible).
  5. To require all new residential construction over 3,000 square feet, as well as new commercial or industrial projects to conform to a new "stretch code" designed to minimize life-cycle energy costs.

Graham's role is to determine how far along the town has come toward meeting these requirements and to develop an action plan to complete the process so that the town can apply for the designation. The committee hopes to have worked through each of the criteria in time to be ready to secure voter approval for the portions of the initiative that require it in time for this May's spring Town Meeting. That would put the town in good shape to be prepared for the state's next Green Communities application deadline later in May.

Committee members present included Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand, Selectman Carolyn McCreary; David Maher, director of the town's Department of Planning & Development; and town resident Ted Staples of Reclaimed Energy, who represents the interests of builders and developers. Also on hand was Kelly Brown, the state Department Of Energy Resources' Central Massachusetts regional coordinator for Green Communities.

During this session, the committee worked with Graham to outline what's been done to date on each of the five Green Communities criteria and identified action items and point-people to move the process along.

Some areas well along
As part of earlier efforts to get the "Green Community" designation, Ayer now has in hand an energy-use audit (performed last year by Johnson Controls, whose longer-term hiring voters failed to approve at last spring's Town Meeting) which puts the town well down the road toward satisfying that portion of the state's requirements. The Green Community Committee will need the approval of the Board of Selectmen for the energy baseline and reduction plan.

The committee plans within the month to begin coordinating its efforts with Ayer's Energy Committee. This will ensure that projects like the recent lighting overhaul of town buildings and the $150,000 grant the town recently received to update its wastewater treatment plant will be taken into consideration as part of the Green Community requirements.

Warming up to tackle the stretch code
Persuading the town to adopt the stretch code is expected to be among the more complex tasks the committee faces. While Harvard -- named a Green Community near the end of last year -- adopted the stretch code, Devens recently rejected it. With that in mind, members agreed to form a subcommittee charged with learning about and in turn educating residents, and especially the builder and developer community, about the benefits of the new high energy efficiency building standards which the town must adopt as part of the Green Communities criteria.

With Graham's assistance, the committee is arranging a Q&A session with Mike Berry, another IFC consultant with expertise in the stretch code. The committee also plans to dedicate space on the town Web site to communicating about the code and its significance. In addition, the committee is conferring with Eric Broadbent, a member of Harvard's Energy Advisory Committee, who was instrumental in securing Harvard's adoption of the stretch code.

DOER's Kelly Brown took a realistic, but still optimistic view of the road ahead for the committee: "You have some work to do, but [some other] towns have been able to get ready and get approved in this time span."

Monday, January 17, 2011

Green goings on

Recycling Committee meeting, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 7 p.m., Town Hall 2nd floor

Topics on the tentative quarterly meeting agenda include planning for "A Cleaner Ayer," the annual townwide cleanup day, in April, and working with the schools.

"A Farm for the Future" screening and soup, Friday, Jan. 21, 7 p.m., Harvard Unitarian Universalist Church Fellowship Hall (off Elm St.)

The latest offering in the Community Food Film Series (a joint effort of the UU Green Sanctuary Committee, the Harvard Farmers' Market, the Congregational Church of Harvard, and Harvard Local), this film features BBC wildlife photographer Rebecca Hosking considering her family's farm in Devon with nostalgia and an eye to one possible future, contemplating how the farm might fare in a low-energy future. Hot soup, tea, cookies, and conversation to follow.