Greenfield energy department reduces carbon, costs

GREENFIELD — The town’s Energy and Sustainability Department may only be 2½ years old, but it’s already helped Greenfield reduce its carbon footprint and save money in the process.

“It’s a newer department, so it’s kind of taken a while to get to a point, after getting out from under water, to kind of steer the ship and see where we’re going, and it feels like we’re headed in a really good direction,” Energy and Sustainability Manager Carole Collins said.

Greenfield recently surpassed its goal of reducing municipal energy use by 20 percent, and is bringing 100 percent “green” electricity to the community at large through its municipal aggregation program. Collins said the two-person department is also constantly chipping away at the town’s energy efficiency goals by working with other town departments to upgrade existing buildings and ensure that new construction will take advantage of all opportunities for energy efficiency.

“Being able to get a lot of those things implemented, it’s like the next wave in kind of a long-term vision and where we want to be heading,” she said.

The town also has several large-scale projects in the works. Collins said two community solar projects will likely be completed by May, and the Energy Department and the Department of Public Works are also hoping to begin working on an anaerobic digester project that would turn waste into fuel.

The solar projects include a solar farm on the Millbrook Well Field that will supply half the electricity it generates to the town and half to residents.

“That will be an avenue for people in town to — without any out-of-pocket cost — go solar,” Collins said. “Everyone still gets the same electric bill they always got, but they’re getting a credit for their savings, so they get a deposit into their bank account every month — so you actually get paid to go solar.”

The solar array and storage system on the roof of the high school, made possible by a state grant, should also be installed by May.

“Storage is really where the game is going in terms of renewables,” Collins said. “We’ve very excited that we get to be one of the first communities to do that in the Commonwealth.”

She said the anaerobic digester is a big project and will take longer to implement.

“There’s a lot of excitement now, so we’re working with DPW very closely to get that moving,” she said. “That would be an awesome project to see, because then we’re turning our waste into fuel. You can’t get better than that.”

Once the two solar projects are built, the electricity produced combined with the solar farm at the landfill will meet roughly 100 percent of the town’s electricity needs outside of the water/wastewater accounts. Collins said the town is continuously working to reduce the amount of electricity consumed across Greenfield.

And much of the work that’s been done through the Energy Department has been paid for by grants and incentives. According to Collins, the town has been able to implement $5.23 in projects for every dollar it’s spent.

The Energy Department is also taking a number of smaller steps that have resulted in substantial savings. Collins said her department has coordinated with other town departments to improve building operations and streamline procedures, including several of the schools’ energy management systems, which control lighting, heating and other functions.

She said the town has also been swapping out aging, inefficient equipment as it needs to be replaced. The department is currently working on a grant application to replace two steam heating systems with heat pump systems that will be less expensive and more efficient.

“We’ve gotten to a point now where we can look and see the drastic reduction in some of the buildings and where we can still have some opportunities,” she said.

The department also recently finished an audit of the town’s bills and closed several outdated accounts. For example, Collins said the town was still paying a monthly electric fee for a bathroom on the Town Common that was removed decades ago.

“We dug in deep, and it was just a great feeling to clean up the bills,” she said. “It’s not huge savings, but I feel really good knowing what every one of these bills are.”

Going forward, she said the town is saving about $750 a month, and having all the electric and gas bills organized will make it easier to spot any anomalies.

Collins said she believes the department has been successful because of support from both local government and residents.

“A lot of it has to do with the mayor’s vision to even have an energy department in a town of this size. It’s very rare, at least around here,” she said. “Also, there’s just a huge support from the community. People really appreciate it.”

Author: Going Green

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