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State environmental chief urges SouthCoast officials to go green

DARTMOUTH – State Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard Sullivan encouraged SouthCoast towns to take advantage of state sustainability programs during a seminar Thursday at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

About 50 officials from towns across the region attended the seminar, which aimed to provide support and advice to communities considering applying for the state Green Communities designation.

“Applying for Green Communities is one of the best decisions a town can make for sustainability at the local level,” Sullivan said. “It encourages people to have a debate in town, take a vote and be vested in the result of the vote.”

While there are 103 Massachusetts cities and towns that have received the Green Communities designation, Lakeville is the only SouthCoast municipality to do so.

The state-run program makes grants available to towns that meet certain requirements toward being sustainable.

The requirements include creating bylaws and an expedited permitting process for siting alternative energy such as wind turbines or solar farms; purchasing only fuel-efficient vehicles; setting requirements to minimize energy costs for new construction projects, and developing a plan to reduce the town’s energy use by 20 percent within five years.

Sullivan acknowledged that many SouthCoast towns that are rich in natural resources like solar and wind have balked at the requirement to expedite alternative energy permitting.

“The thing is there is no decision here that is not controversial. When you’re talking about energy, it can be the littlest thing or the biggest thing that is controversial,” Sullivan said. “No one wants anything near their home but they want the lights to go on when they flip the switch and they want it to be clean energy coming out of it. Something’s got to give.”

Jim Porter, a member of the Lakeville Energy Advisory Committee, also spoke to attendees about the benefits of becoming a green community and encouraged them to at least study the energy efficiency of town-owned buildings, a required step in the Green Communities process.

“Everyone should do that immediately,” he said. “It lets you know where you’re losing money in town from things that can be fixed. Once you know you have money-saving opportunities, people will be much more likely to accept the other parts of Green Communities.”

Porter acknowledged that many towns in the region have also rejected the new building requirements because they are worried about backlash from developers. But, he said, “You just have to get over that. This is what your community needs.”