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Energy saving takes hold in South Shore

Posted by dinouye  January 27, 2010 04:36 PM

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By Christine Legere, Globe correspondent

The town of Hull has taken advantage of its breezy coastal location for decades, using the power of the wind to provide energy. Two wind turbines now generate about 11 percent of this community’s electricity. And officials say putting in four more turbines off the coast here would allow the town to eventually generate 100 percent of the energy it needs.

While most cities and towns are far from achieving that level of sustainability, several communities south of Boston, including Scituate, are discovering that they can significantly reduce their expenses on municipal operations through a variety of energy-saving endeavors.

The efforts run the gamut, from major projects like wind turbines and solar energy arrays to simple measures like replacing incandescent light bulbs with more efficient models, said Mark Sylvia, director of the Green Communities Division of the state Department of Energy Resources.

‘‘I don’t think it’s just about the cost savings,’’ Sylvia said, though conceding they can be significant. ‘‘Communities are also motivated because they recognize the environmental value of using renewable energy.’’ And such efforts also open the door to sometimes-hefty governmental grants.

Statewide, 106 communities have signed on to the Green Communities Program, a new initiative that has netted participating cities and towns technical help toward developing long-term energy saving plans. Those signed up include Carver, Cohasset, Dedham, Easton, Hanson, Hanover, Kingston, Lakeville, Marshfield, Milton, Pembroke, Plymouth, Quincy, Rockland, Scituate, and Westwood.

Participants have one year to approve zoning districts for renewable-energy projects, adopt expedited permitting for such facilities, conduct energy audits of their municipal buildings to establish baselines, commit to purchasing only fuel-efficient vehicles for municipal use, and establish building regulations requiring large construction projects to meet certain energy-efficiency rating levels.

‘‘In this first stage, communities are laying the groundwork for long-term energy sustainability,’’ Sylvia said. Those that meet the Green Communities Program requirements will qualify for $10 million in energy grant funding.

The Green Communities Program is just one initiative towns like Rockland are pursuing. That community was awarded a $180,000 grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative last summer to install solar panels at the local high school.

The system, which began operating last fall, is expected to save the School Department about $6,000 a year, said Superintendent John Retchless. The high school has also developed a curriculum around the solar panels, teaching students how they work and are maintained.

Retchless said school administrators have secured a second grant to replace 40-year-old windows at the Esten School. ‘‘We’re being very, very aggressive with grants that are out there, and so is the town’s energy committee,’’ he said.

Dedham was one of three communities to win the Massachusetts 2009 Leading by Example Award, for having constructed the state’s first ‘‘green’’ middle school. The town is also one of just a handful to establish an environmental coordinator’s position and has already conducted energy audits on municipal buildings.

Plymouth has begun a long list of initiatives, including last winter’s trade of a couple of gas-guzzling Ford Crown Victorias for two fuel-efficient Ford Focus models, which produced savings of $1,100 in their first eight months on the road. An overhaul of the public library’s heating and cooling systems last summer has already reduced utility costs for the building by $50,000.

Plymouth may soon be getting another $200,000 annually for leasing municipal land to Solaya Energy, a Woburn-based company, for a wind turbine near its DPW building. O’Brien says construction should be completed by mid-2011. Once the blades start to whir, the town will get a reduced rate on the electricity the turbine generates.

Scituate has struck a similar deal with Solaya for a wind turbine on its water-treatment property off the Driftway. The town has a 15-year contract with Solaya and expects to gain about $300,000 annually under the arrangement.

Cash-strapped municipalities are also using old town dumps for wind or solar projects to turn a profit from previously useless properties.

Plymouth has two requests for proposals for solar fields on two town landfills. Norton and Holbrook also hope their landfills will net them significant revenue for many years to come; both communities have agreed to lease about 20 acres on their capped landfills to Ansar Energy LLC, a Scituate-based company specializing in such projects.

The deals should produce between $200,000 and $300,000 for each of the communities, along with reduced electric rates.

The agreements, though, have not been finalized, said Ansar president Junaid Yasin. ‘‘This would be part of a large statewide project, with 10 to 12 sites,’’ he said. ‘‘We’re still negotiating with National Grid,’’ the regional electric utility.

Christine Legere can be reached at christinelegere@yahoo.com.

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