A Greener Sutton
Town exceeds five-year goal of efficiency
By Tom Reilly
Town Administrator Jim Smith presented a recap of what the town has done over the last five years in terms of energy conservation and energy efficiency at the Aug. 5 Board of Selectmen meeting.
He said the five-year framework was important because it essentially mirrored the amount of time the town has been a member of Green Communities. This required the town to reduce its energy consumption by 20 percent over five years, Smith said. It did this by using 2008 as its base year and then sending its successful report to the Department of Energy Resources and Green Communities with the town exceeding the necessary 20 percent.
Smith said at the Board’s goals and objectives meeting in August 2008, the selectmen established a goal of pursuing energy conservation and renewable energy. He added that Green Communities was just getting started then and the selectmen knew the only way to save money in this area was to pursue renewable energy.
The first such project came in 2009 when town meeting authorized the borrowing for a new 30-year roof at the Early Learning Center. At the same time, the town undertook a feasibility study regarding installing solar panels on the roof - applying for and receiving $150,000 under the American Recovery and Investment Act and another $20,000 in a technical assistance grant. At the 2010 town meeting, the town authorized $590,000 in borrowing for the new solar panels, with Smith adding that they will be paid off in FY2016 at the conclusion of the five-year borrowing. The 201 kWh system went live in 2011.
Since then, the town has installed additional solar panel systems—Manchaug fire station (44kWh), the sewer treatment plant (27kWh), the senior center (8 kWh) and the proposed middle/high school project (100 kWh) for a total of 179 kWh and 179 SRECs. Smith said when all of this was online, the town would have a total of 379 SRECs at $280 each on the open market for a total savings of $104,225. Smith said the proceeds would ultimately go into local receipts.
The town administrator said the Board met in August 2010 and endorsed the goal of becoming a green community. Within one year, all five of the necessary criteria was met. He added that by 2013, the town had achieved a 25 percent reduction in energy consumption. Smith said he was out on sick leave much of that period and credited town planner Jen Hager for doing much of the work.
Smith said the town received over $300,000 in Green Communities grants to lower its energy consumption and to investigate alternative energy. He added that the initiatives in Sutton’s 2014 grant are estimated to lower its energy consumption by over 117,000 kWh and nearly 4,000 gallons of oil, saving over $31,000 annually.
The town administrator said under the town’s capital plan energy policy, the goal is to invest in energy conserving and efficient projects that lower its long term operating costs and also to benefit the environment. Smith said that once the town hires an energy manager, it plans to commit at least 3 percent of its annual capital plan toward energy conservation and efficiency projects. He said in the FY2015 budget, the capital plan sets aside $10,000 for LED lighting.
Smith said under a proposed bylaw, all new town buildings must have stateof the-art energy efficiency systems, solar or otherwise. Smith noted the desire to install LED streetlights, something he thought was talking about with National Grid. Smith said this was potentially a huge savings on the town’s energy bill.
The town administrator said the bottom line was to create a win-win situation where the town saves money and the environment at the same time. He called it a combination of financial and environmental sustainability. He hoped this would be “the sweet spot for the town.”
Selectman Michael Chizy said the selectmen in 2008 were firmly behind the energy plan and saw no difference with today’s board. If nothing had been done, the town’s energy expenses would be a lot more than they are today, Chizy said. He praised the cooperation of all the selectmen over the years and the hard work of Smith and Hager. “It’s gone beyond my wildest dreams,” Chizy said.
Selectman John Hebert said he has been educated lately on the streetlight program and has been looking at how other towns have handled this issue. He said that he had been in West Boylston recently and that the lights there are brighter than the ones they replaced. He recommended them not just for cost and efficiency but for safety as well.
Selectman David Hall said energy efficiency has changed a lot even since the construction of the new school began and today’s buildings are much more efficient than the buildings they replaced. In answer to a question, Smith said much of the town’s savings had been through improving infrastructure.
Selectman Paul Maynard said anyone wanting to see the value of solar should go down to the Manchaug Fire Station and watch the meter and compare it to what the solar is doing. Smith said under net metering, the meter is actually going backwards. Maynard asked if there was any progress on hydroelectricity and Smith said the town hired a company to look at Manchaug Dam and Stevens Dam but the payback period was greater than 20 years and was probably not worth proceeding. He said he felt the $14,000 spent on the feasibility study was “money worth spent.”
Selectman Ken Stuart said there was no doubt energy costs were going up and anything the town could do to curb those costs was great. He said everything at the school was based on energy efficiency as the state offered incentives for coming into compliance with those regulations.
He praised Chizy’s “early vision” and added the town was committed to this effort.