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Burlington weighs the cost of going green

Posted by Your Town  March 11, 2010 10:34 AM

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While being designated a “Green Community” would make Burlington eligible for state and federal grant funds, town officials say that some criteria may be too costly for the town to take on.

In January, Gov. Deval Patrick announced that Green Communities Grants of up to $1 million would be available to communities that meet at least one of five criteria, including purchasing fuel-efficient cars for town use and expediting permits for renewable energy projects.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs will take applications until May 14 from towns hoping for a Green Community designation.

One of the criteria questioned by town officials at the selectmen's meeting March 8 was the adoption of the so-called “stretch code,” in which towns would adopt more stringent, energy-conscious building codes that will not become mandated by the state until 2012.

Town Administrator Robert Mercier said the town “seems to be moving forward” on a number of the criteria, such as purchasing fuel-efficient vehicles.

However, Thomas Hickey, assistant town administrator, said that if the town opted to impose stretch codes, the cost of building a new home would increase between $8,100 and $10,000, thus forcing an unfair burden on home builders, people doing home renovations, and commercial builders.

Hickey said the fuel savings would be about 20 percent of the current state building code standards. He said that he, Mercier, and Building Inspector John Clancy felt that the move was unnecessary considering the cost. Savings for those who adopt the standards would be “negligible,” Hickey said, estimating about $1,300 a year in savings.

According to Selectman Gary Gianino’s calculations, payback would take about 18 years. “I don’t see the benefit of putting the burden on people right now,” he said.

Board Chairman Ralph Patuto pointed out that the $8,100 to $10,000 would be a one-time payment, so people would “put out a lot more money, but over time we’ll probably save money.”

Selectman Sonia Rollins pointed out that the community could choose not to adopt the stretch code but prove it is making other efforts to go green. “If we’re applying for this, can we prove that Burlington is taking initiatives to be a green community without necessarily imposing the stretch code?”

Hickey said that 120 communities in the Commonwealth have gone forward with trying to qualify for the initiative. “To date, none have been able to make (all five criteria),” he said.

Patuto said that at this point in time, the town should get more information and see if any other towns have gone down this road. According to the Department of Energy, Newton and Cambridge have adopted the stretch code.

“It’d kind of hold us right to the grindstone,” Patuto said. “I’m a fan of having some flexibility, especially in the economic scene we’re in right now. We’ll bring this up at some further date.”



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