Sutton and Millbury: 2 green towns, 2 different outcomes
By Susan Spencer TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
Sutton town officials were at the Statehouse in Boston earlier this month for the town's recognition as one of six Green Communities statewide to reduce municipal energy use by at least 20 percent.
Meanwhile, at a Millbury selectmen's meeting two weeks ago, Energy Manager Doreen DeFazio, who was recently hired to work part-time with both Sutton and Millbury on energy conservation under the state Green Communities grant, reported that Millbury's reduction in energy use from fiscal 2009 to fiscal 2014 slipped to 3 percent, despite a 14 percent reduction from fiscal 2009 to fiscal 2012.
The communities record all municipal energy use.
Both towns have planning directors and town executives who are passionate about saving energy and they have been working together to promote residential solar energy use.
Their different progress since each received Green Community designation from the state Department of Energy Resources in the summer of 2011 highlights the role that local growth, infrastructure, technical difficulties and awareness can play in reaching environmental goals.
"The biggest factor was probably the commitment of town staff," said Sutton Town Administrator James A. Smith, about Sutton's 21 percent energy-use reduction over the past five years. "They turned off their lights and all that."
Town Planner Jennifer S. Hager echoed the message that top-down commitment from the town was critical to success. She said in an email: "The selectmen are driving this initiative and they have an equally committed driver in Jim (Smith), which makes programmatic and financial funding much easier."
Mr. Smith noted that Sutton, population 8,963 in 2010, was the smallest community and the only one in Worcester County to achieve the 20 percent reduction goal.
The other communities were Arlington, Belchertown, Cambridge, Natick, Palmer and Springfield.
Under the Green Communities Act, signed by Gov. Deval L. Patrick in 2008, money from auctions of carbon emissions permits under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is used to reward municipalities that meet five-year benchmarks, including reducing energy use by 20 percent; adopting as-of-right zoning for clean energy sites; expediting the permit process for clean energy facilities; buying fuel-efficient vehicles; and requiring certain new residential and all commercial construction to meet an energy-efficient "stretch" building code. Green Communities are eligible to receive grants to help them reach their goals.
According to the most recent Green Communities annual report filed by Sutton, the town expects to save a total of more than $114,000 annually when two more projects on control drives and HVAC systems are completed at the elementary school early next year.
Interior lighting upgrades at the school complex have already produced annual savings of more than $68,000.
Sutton has also embraced solar energy production, placing photovoltaic panels on the Simonian Center for Early Learning in 2010, the Senior Center in 2014, the wastewater treatment plant in 2014 and the Manchaug Fire Station in 2014. The new Sutton High School will have roof-mounted solar panels when it is completed in 2015.
The solar energy resources are expected to save the town more than $48,000 annually.
Millbury has put in place 12 energy-efficiency projects since 2009, including interior and exterior lighting improvements, some new HVAC systems and weatherizing. The projects have saved the town more than $16,000 annually.
An additional $53,000 in annual energy savings should be seen from seven projects that were recently completed or are planned for next year.
But total energy use increased in water/sewer and pumping operations and decreased just 5 percent in municipal building energy use over the past five years.
Laurie A. Connors, Millbury director of planning and development, said, "We're disappointed by the number but we're not letting it get us down. It just means we have more work to do."
Ms. Connors said that from fiscal 2009 to fiscal 2014, there was an across-the-board increase in oil and gas consumption related to growth in the town as well as extreme hot and cold temperatures last year.
"Some of it is smoke and mirrors if you just look at the report," she said.
Ms. Connors pointed out that in the past five years the town accepted seven roadways and responsibility for associated street lights.
She said sewer consumption increased 10 percent, owing to three new pump stations, residential subdivision construction and nearly 800 new sewer connections associated with the large-scale town sewer expansion.
The Millbury Police Department increased in size, adding four vehicles to its fleet.
"So it all kind of snowballs," Ms. Connors said.
Also, there was a snafu with a new air-conditioning control system installed at Elmwood Street School in 2013, which wasn't working for the first six months and then it was on all the time. The system has been fixed.
Ms. Connors said that with Ms. DeFazio on board, plans for next year include doing more to educate municipal staff and the public about reducing energy use.
"Does the heat in the Municipal Building really need to be set to 72 degrees? No, it can be set to 68," she said.
Staff will be encouraged to turn off their computers and lights when they're not in use.
The Millbury Energy Advisory Committee is also looking to work with a vendor who can provide one-stop shopping for residents to have home energy audits under the Mass Save program and get help making the changes recommended in the audit.
Ms. Connors added that the town would like to explore producing solar energy through placing photovoltaic panels on town buildings or land.
Millbury currently receives some electricity savings from commercial leases for solar energy in Leicester and at McGrath Road.
Ms. Connors said Millbury received a $247,000 grant last summer for five Green Communities energy projects.