Tisbury tries again for Green Community designation

Tisbury has come close to being designated a Green Community but needs to fine-tune its application, according to town administrator John Bugbee. The enticement is that designated towns and cities are eligible for funding for energy and renewable energy initiatives from the state’s Green Communities Grant Program.

“We’re almost there,” Mr. Bugbee told The Times in a recent phone conversation. “Hopefully this time next year we will have a grant pending or even in hand that will help reduce energy consumption in Tisbury and reduce energy bills so we can put town tax dollars towards other areas of concerns we’re working on.”

Mr. Bugbee spearheaded Tisbury’s efforts last year to meet the five criteria required for the Green Community designation by the state’s Department of Energy Resources (DOER). He submitted Tisbury’s application in November 2011, in order for the town to be eligible for first round of Green Community grant awards. However, Tisbury was not among the 12 communities newly designated in mid-December 2011, Mr. Bugbee told the town’s selectmen at a recent meeting.

Currently 86 of 351 Massachusetts cities and towns are designated as Green Communities. More than $15 million dollars from the state’s Green Community grants have been applied to energy projects in 74 communities. Another $2 million will go towards projects in the 12 newest designated communities, according to the DOER website.

Back to the drawing board

One of the criteria for designation required Tisbury to establish an energy use baseline and develop a plan to reduce energy use by 20 percent within five years.

“We had to go back to the drawing board and rewrite our energy reduction plan,” Mr. Bugbee told The Times last week. “There were certain things in the plan they weren’t crazy about, in particular, that a large chunk of our energy reduction came from one activity, solar panels. They wanted more diversity and a wider impact area.”

Mr. Bugbee said the town would scale back the solar energy piece of the proposal and offer to make reductions in energy consumption in other areas.

“We’ll get it right in the next month when new applications are due, so that we’ll be ready to apply for grant money come the end of next summer or early fall,” he added. “We will be eligible for the same round of grants. There are two rounds of certification, followed by one round of grants, so we’re not losing anything by waiting.”

Mr. Bugbee said the timing of last year’s application process proved difficult. “Most towns have an energy committee of five, sometimes up to 10 people who work on this 10 to 20 hours a week,” he pointed out. “In our case, our town’s energy committee fell apart at the wrong time. The only people that could work on it and had any time to do it were myself and an intern who was here for a total of two weeks in July and two weeks in August. We did do a lot of work in a short amount of time, with few people.”

Going for the green

As reported previously in The Times, a Green Community must meet five standards. The most stringent requires that the town adopt building regulations to comply with the Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS) “stretch code” for new residential and commercial construction. The code may also apply to major renovations.

The stretch code is a more rigorous permitting and inspection process than the BBRS “base code” now in effect, and DOER projects the stretch code to achieve 20 percent better energy efficiency. The BBRS estimates that the stretch code will increase the cost of new construction by about $3,000 for a typical single family home and by one to three percent for commercial buildings.

Tisbury took several steps to meet the Green Communities criteria. At town meeting last spring, voters approved amendments to town bylaws including a new stretch energy code, a provision to regulate solar-photovoltaic installations, and an expedited permitting process for renewable energy facilities and projects. Last November the selectmen approved a new fuel-efficient vehicle policy for the town as the last step before Mr. Bugbee submitted the application a few days later.

Among other Island towns, the West Tisbury selectmen asked the West Tisbury Energy Committee (WTEC) to begin the qualification process for Green Community designation in January. The WTEC has placed an article on the April annual town meeting warrant that would add the stretch code, additional building inspection requirements, and higher minimum energy conservation standards to the town’s building code.

The State House News Service reported last November that according to Attorney General Martha Coakley, despite helping to stimulate job growth in the clean energy sector and reduce carbon emissions, the state’s 2008 Green Communities Act has come at a cost to consumers, which is expected to grow by up to $4 billion over the next four years.

The Green Communities Act set ambitious goals for Massachusetts, including the installation of 250 megawatts of solar energy by 2017, 2,000 megawatts of wind power by 2020, and significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Ms. Coakley said the cost of implementing the program over the next four years will cause delivery costs for electricity to rise seven percent by 2015, according to the State House News Service.