Northampton sets greener path for energy use

NORTHAMPTON — A new city policy aims to get Northampton closer to reaching its goal of making its energy 100 percent renewable by 2050. Mayor David Narkewicz’s executive policy order lays out how the city will transition the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) of municipal buildings to greener options. 

The policy, signed on Sept. 24, requires that in the next three years the city make a plan “to replace the existing HVAC systems with alternative low-carbon systems” in city and school buildings more than a particular size that currently use natural gas, oil or propane. The preferred result, the policy says, is for the changes to eliminate inefficient heating and cooling appliances and burning fossil fuels.

“Really, it’s looking holistically at the energy consumption of the building,” Narkewicz said, “with a particular emphasis on greenhouse gas emission reduction and ultimate elimination. It’s one thing to say we want to be a net-zero, but you can’t just snap your fingers and it’s going to happen. It’s something we’re going to have to work toward and invest in over time.”

The policy applies to most city buildings except for small ones, said Chris Mason, the city’s energy and sustainability officer. HVAC systems are “a major energy user in buildings,” Mason said.

The new policy also says that when an HVAC system or appliance is replaced or added to city buildings of a particular size, the new product should be one that has the lowest lifetime cost —  a measurement the policy says must include factoring in the cost of greenhouse gas emissions. “In other words, put a price on carbon,” Mason said, though the specific price for the emissions has not been set, he said.

Narkewicz said the policy is about investment in the city’s energy goals.

“A boiler is about to reach the end of its shelf life and we’re not going to replace it with the same type of boiler,” Narkewicz said. “Is there a way that we can make a replacement that’s putting on this path of being net-zero?”

Over the summer, for example, a steam boiler had to be replaced at Jackson Street School. “If we had forethought,” Mason said, “We could have put together a plan that very well may have allowed us to not buy a steam boiler and convert to high-efficiency electric heat.”

Mason said that would have required advance planning which the policy hopes to develop. 

“It’s a different mindset than trying to do energy efficiency,” Mason said. “Energy efficiency, you continue to make improvements to your current systems. The city has been doing that for a long time. But here, you’re basically saying we need to transition to new systems.”

He added, “Now’s the time to start putting in the technology that you’re going to be using in 2050.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.

Author: Going Green

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