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Newton unveils new green initiative

Posted by Deidre Fernandes  February 29, 2012 05:48 PM

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In a 1940s building that has been equipped with solar panels so that it generates much of its own electricity, Newton Mayor Setti Warren announced today that the entire city would try and reduce its energy consumption by 20 percent by 2020.

Warren unveiled the Energy-Smart Newton program at Chapman Construction Company, where he was flanked businessmen and environmentalists. The program is an effort to get the government, businesses and residences in Newton to become more energy efficient.

The city is partnering with NStar, the Newton-Needham Chamber of Commerce and the Eco-Project, an initiative of Green Decade Newton.

Newton has always prided itself in being an environmentally-conscious community and this effort follows that tradition, Warren said.

The announcement comes as hopes for renewable energy programs statewide have dimmed. For example, NStar’s program that allows customers to buy electricity supplied by a wind farm has only lured less than a 1 percent of the company’s 900,000 customers to enroll.

As part of the Energy-Smart Newton program, the city government, which uses 20 million kilowatt hours of energy annually, is trying to reduce its consumption by 500,000 kilowatt hours a year, said Bob Rooney, the city’s chief operating officer.

Newton also received a $679,000 state grant to renovate the Lower Falls Community Center and make it more energy efficient, through better insulation and heating and cooling systems, officials said.

The Eco-Project hopes to work with more residents to show them how to reduce their carbon footprint, from sealing their house to traveling less, said Jay Walter, an architect and director of Eco-Project.

The organization also helps homeowners navigate the sometimes complicated process of participating in green programs sponsored by energy companies, like NStar.

“It’s a suburb, we drive a lot and live in big houses,” Walter said. “We’re not asking people to change their lifestyle, but to look at the way we live and tweak around the edges.”

Walter believes that lowering energy costs by 20 percent in eight years won’t be as difficult for homeowners as it will for small businesses. Their profit margins are narrow and many business owners who may think that retrofitting their buildings is too cumbersome, Walter said.

The Chamber of Commerce is hoping to change that, said Peter Smith, chairman of the Newton-Needham Chamber Environment Committee.

The Chamber is hosting several programs for its members about financial incentives to become more energy-efficient, Smith said.

Reach Deirdre Fernandes at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com.

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