A grass-roots effort to fight global warming and high utility bills is sprouting in the suburbs, as advocates push for renewable energy in schools and local governments one step or solar panel at a time.
In Lexington and Arlington, members of groups promoting fossil fuel alternatives are urging residents to contribute to the New England Wind Fund to qualify for free 2-kilowatt solar energy systems to be used by the towns’ municipal buildings.
In Medford, solar panels atop Hormel Stadium and City Hall are already saving the city $2,000 a year.
And in Lowell, University of Massachusetts facility managers have invested in wind energy to help power residence halls.
The changes often begin with grass-roots efforts.
Nancy Nolan and Keith Ohmart are two members of Lexington’s Global Warming Action Coalition trying to rally 300 households in town to make donations to the New England Wind Fund by March 31.
The group has already succeeded in getting 150 families to donate money, which means, at minimum, Lexington will receive a 2-kilowatt solar panel installed atop Lexington High School by the end of the year. The total cost of materials and installation is $22,000. With 300 contributors , the town would get two panels.
“I like to call this a wind-wind situation,” said Nolan, a founding member of the coalition and a Lexington resident for 15 years.
“The big picture is that a program like this shows what everyday people can do,” said Nolan.
“This is an opportunity to raise the consciousness of people in town about carbon emissions and alternative energy sources,” said Ohmart, a 17-year resident who hopes the solar panels can also be an educational tool for high school science classes.
Lexington isn’t the only community jumping on the alternative fuel bandwagon. Ten communities – including Arlington, Cambridge, Brookline, and Newton – have signed on to try to make the March 31 deadline.
Lexington’s Solar Challenge is connected to a statewide program known as Clean Energy Choice that promises solar panels to cities and towns. Sponsored by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative , the program is an effort to encourage contributions to the New England Wind Fund , which finances clean-fuel initiatives throughout the region.
To participate, 150 households in a community must pledge $5 per month or make a one-time contribution of $100 . For communities that do not achieve the 150 threshold, the collaborative matches each donation in grants for the communities and clean energy projects for low-income residents.
Janna Cohen-Rosenthal , spokeswoman for the nonprofit Mass Energy Consumers Alliance , said the solar panel program is popular with municipalities.
“Clean energy choices can make a big difference, and this is a way to reward communities for making that choice,” said Cohen-Rosenthal.
In Arlington, the citizen group Sustainable Arlington has mobilized to promote the program. Marc Breslow , who is part of the town’s Vision 2020 Environmental Task Group and director of the Massachusetts Climate Action Network , said the program is attractive for a number of reasons.
” “People can see the goal, a solar system, and can work toward raising money,” said Breslow. “It’s exciting for people and obviously a critical step in stopping global warming.”
Some communities, like Medford, have made a priority of addressing global warming and started using alternative fuel sources years ago.
Patricia Barry , director of Medford’s energy and environmental office, said the city saves upward of $2,000 annually thanks to solar panels atop Hormel Stadium and City Hall. Medford had the panels installed in 1999 with a federal Rebuild America grant.
Barry said Medford was the first community in the state to have a climate action plan and is currently reviewing options to bring wind power to the city.
“Energy prices have skyrocketed , and communities have realized that we need to be more efficient and more independent.”
Barry said significant up-front expense is often the reason strapped communities do not invest in renewable power and is a big factor when trying to do more.
UMass-Lowell physical plant director David Kiser said that despite the higher price tag, the school is an example of how renewable energy can work. UMass has been purchasing renewable energy certificates for three years, Kiser said. That means UMass pays Community Energy Inc. , a Pennsylvania-based company that provides wind energy to consumers, to provide 15 percent of the school’s power. Although the power costs approximately 3 percent more than traditional energy sources, the school realized it needed to offset its impact on the environment.
“We felt that 3 percent was a decent price to pay to become a good neighbor and citizen,” said Kiser. “What we are doing, in theory, is purchasing part of the wind power generated in Pennsylvania. That can make a big difference in offsetting our energy consumption.”
UMass also installed solar panels atop Ball Hall to offset that facility’s electric costs and to determine how much power can be generated through additional panels on campus.
Back in Lexington, global warming coalition leaders believe that by helping the town secure at least some solar panels, officials will follow their lead. Said Ohmart, “There is a very high level of awareness here that something needs to be done.”
By Melissa Beecher
22 February 2007
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding