NORTHAMPTON – With the support of a new state pilot program, the city is taking a first step this month in an ambitious effort to develop a clean and renewable energy road map to help guide future energy-efficiency initiatives.
While Northampton has launched many initiatives to reduce community energy use since it adopted its Sustainable Northampton plan five years ago, officials believe the city’s involvement in the new Community Energy Strategies pilot will enable it to identify new clean energy strategies. That, in turn, will help the community meet the goals laid out in its master plan, including reducing energy use and greenhouse gases and shifting toward renewable energy.
“It’s been five years since we’ve had an opportunity to get citizen feedback,” said Christopher Mason, the city’s energy and sustainability officer. “The program will allow us to bring people together and get that input – what are we missing, basically.”
The first part of creating that road map is to cull ideas from citizens about which direction the community should head when it comes to energy efficiency, renewable energy and other clean energy strategies. An initial public forum has been scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 21, from 7 to 9 p.m., at the Northampton Senior Center, 67 Conz St.
The $500,000 pilot program is under the direction of the state Clean Energy Center and the state Department of Energy Resources Green Communities Division.
Northampton is one of three cities selected earlier this year for the program, though other communities throughout the region are participating through regional planning agencies.
Amherst, Easthampton and Hadley, for example, are involved as part of a five-community program under the guidance of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission. In Franklin County, Greenfield, Montague, Buckland and Shelburne are also a part of the pilot through the Franklin Regional Council of Governments.
The initial public forums for the regional agencies are expected to be held in September.
The program will provide technical and financial assistance to help identify, prioritize and create a mix of clean energy improvements that can range from high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment and insulation to wind turbines and solar electricity systems.
The end result will be a concrete plan of clean energy options for each community, depending on its needs and resources, said Matt Kakley, a spokesman for the state Clean Energy Center.
Northampton has created a 15-member working group to help guide the process. Mason said the group of residents represents a diverse segment of the community, from faith and business communities to senior citizens, low-income and individual wards in rural areas.
The initial public forum later this month is designed to solicit a wide array of energy-efficiency ideas from the public.
“I see this as an excellent opportunity for my staff to re-enage with the greater community, bring in new ideas, and to work with our state partners to identify resources that can support our ongoing efforts,” Northampton Mayor David J. Narkewicz said in a press release.
Once that structured brainstorming session is complete, the working group will work with the state to compile a list of concrete ideas that will form the basis for a second public forum in early October.
A final stage involves tapping into state resources to accomplish some of the goals laid out in the plan. Through the program, state officials will introduce and facilitate applications to appropriate state incentive programs.
“My hope is they help us find resources to accomplish this,” Mason said. “It’s a great way to engage the state.”
Mason said the city has significantly reduced its overall energy use since adoption of the Sustainable Northampton plan in 2008. The city has shifted from using heating oil to cleaner fuels, installed several solar arrays on public facilities and adopted policies to promote renewable energy and the use of efficient vehicles and building practices.
The city has also launched programs that help local businesses take advantage of utility efficiency programs and that help residents and businesses buy solar power systems through Solarize Massachusetts.
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