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Panel makes renewable-energy recommendations

PHILLIPSTON – The Montachusett Regional Planning Commission released its regional energy plan for further integration of clean, renewable-energy sources in the area Friday morning at Red Apple Farm, a 100 percent solar- and wind-powered facility.

The event marked the wrap-up of the study, which was a collaboration of the MRPC and Worcester Polytechnic Institute to develop the plan and create the Montachusett Energy Advisory Committee. Funding was provided by a one-year $66,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration.

According to the completed Montachusett Region Energy Plan, the goal is to “promote the reduction of electricity used, energy used for transportation, and nonelectric energy used for heating; replacement of fossil fuels with renewable sources; and reduction of global climate-change emissions.”

To accomplish these ends, it recommends that municipalities form their own energy advisory committees, undergo complete energy audits, and become “green communities” – which means demonstrating a commitment to reducing energy consumption, pursuing clean renewable- and alternative-energy projects, and providing economic development in the clean-energy sector. Of the 22 cities and towns in the Montachusett region, only Athol, Ayer, Gardner, Harvard and Leicester are considered to be green communities by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources.

In order to complete the study, the Energy Advisory
Committee took an inventory to identify renewable-energy projects the region already has, including wind, solar-photovoltaic, geothermal, landfill gas, hydropower and biomass energy.

In partnership with WPI assistant professor of economics Michael Radzicki and his students, a model of energy forecasting was created that allows the user to simulate various prebuilt and input scenarios. Workshops were then held around the region to educate residents and town officials about alternative-energy sources over the course of this year.

U.S. Rep. John Olver and state Rep. Stephen DiNatale, D-Fitchburg, were in attendance and spoke in support of the MRPC’s efforts.

“There are numerous ways that a relatively small investment of money in energy efficiency and conservation can save so much more for the public sector and for municipal governments,” Olver said after the presentation.

“Most of our municipal buildings are using far more energy than is necessary. There need to be building-code changes so that towns don’t build in the cheapest way possible and then spend a lot more on energy because they didn’t insulate as well as they should have. They always want to do everything at the lowest possible cost but they don’t think about the lifetime energy cost,” Olver continued. “Municipal bylaws need to be reworked so we can make sure we’re not perpetuating the consumption of energy beyond what’s necessary.”

In order to do that, he said, it often requires a larger investment to begin with, but the savings over the years would speak for themselves.