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MA Announces Funding For Municipal Energy Managers

Solar Panels

The state of Massachusetts has announced a competitive grant program to support energy managers for the state’s municipalities.

Over the next two years, the commonwealth is making nearly $2 million available for towns and cities to employ a person who’s sole job will be to address municipal energy efficiency. Commissioner Mark Sylvia heads the state’s Department of Energy Resources. He says these grants will build upon the success of existing energy managers.

“In New Bedford the city is deploying 10 megawatts of solar at municipal facilities and the energy manager there has played a critical role in helping to coordinate those activities,” Sylvia said. “You can point to great work that the city of Northampton is doing from an energy perspective. Their energy manager, Chris Mason, has helped to really drive those projects forward, including Northampton’s participation in Solarize [Mass].”

Municipalities can apply for the grants, which offer a maximum first-year amount of $50,000 to support a full-time energy manager or half that for a part-time position. Based on achievements during the first year, the grant amounts decrease. Sylvia says that provides incentive and increases the sustainability of the position.

“The concept there is that those positions very directly are identifying ways to reduce cost and create savings,” he explained. “Some of those savings can help to support those positions in the long-term, which is what we’ve seen in the communities that have energy managers.”

Six Berkshire communities are enrolled in the state’s Green Communities program, which offers grant incentives for towns that address their energy standards. 123 communities are enrolled state-wide. Pittsfield and Lenox are also taking steps to join five other communities in the county in the Solarize Mass program. There are currently no full-time municipal energy managers in the county, though Lenox did previously hire a part-time position. Lauren Gaherty of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission says a regional approach in which up to three towns could share an energy manager is the best option for the county.

“A city the size of Pittsfield might be able to afford to dedicate a staffer just towards energy issues because they have a mass of buildings and a lot of commercial customers in town, so they might be able to justify it,” Gaherty said. “The other municipalities if you focus mostly on their own buildings and maybe some outreach they just don’t have the mass of buildings to really justify a staffer.”

As the Park, Open Space and Natural Resource Program Manager for the city of Pittsfield, energy initiatives have fallen on the desk of Jim McGrath.

“We’ve really come to understand that energy efficiency is a big part of municipal operations,” McGrath said. “Having someone looking at this and working this angle full-time I think really will be beneficial to the city.”

Before applying for a grant, McGrath says the city is working with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission on a feasibility study to determine if Pittsfield needs its own energy manager or if the city could be included in such a regional approach. Here’s Gaherty.

“We are working with a couple of towns that are interested in investigating this whole financial mechanism,” Gaherty said. “So I think the county will be putting in one or two applications. It’s just a matter of getting the towns together and working out the details. So hopefully we will have a couple of energy managers next year in the county and they could be a model for more managers in the future.”

Sylvia says the number of grants will depend on the applications his office receives. Funding for the program comes from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a regional effort of nine states to cap and reduce CO2 emissions. 

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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