Cashing in on 'green community' funds will not be easy for Island towns
Given the economy, bureaucratic hurdles, and red tape, taking advantage of the new Massachusetts Green Communities Act or the federal stimulus programs intended to reward energy efficiency and generation won't be quick or easy on Martha's Vineyard. This is the headline news furnished at the Energy Forum, held on Friday, May 1, in the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven.
The Vineyard Energy Project (VEP) coordinated the forum, which featured Power Point presentations by staff members of the state Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and its new Green Community Division. Cape and Island's state Senator Robert O'Leary (D) spoke briefly as well. State Rep. Tim Madden had been expected to attend but did not.
The Green Communities Act elevated the former state Division of Energy Resources to Department and created the Green Communities Division to provide communities with technical support and assistance.
The audience included about 40 energy activists, town officials, and commercial energy developers seeking information about how Martha's Vineyard towns might take advantage of both new Commonwealth and federal energy initiative programs.
The Green Communities Act was signed into law last July by Gov. Deval Patrick who described it as "a comprehensive energy reform bill that will reduce electric bills, promote the development of renewable energy, and stimulate the clean energy industry." Nearly a year later, speaking at the Energy Forum, Senator O'Leary said, "When we talked about legislation (last year) we were fond of saying privately that this was the best thing that happened in Massachusetts. We got a pretty good law. It is a complex law. But it is one thing to write legislation and another thing to turn that into something that impacts peoples' lives." It is not always pretty when you get into the "nuts and bolts" of enactment, Senator O'Leary went on to say.
The act focuses on creating greater energy efficiency and future generations of renewable, alternative energy sources in both the public and private arenas. For example, when the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) completes the planning process, utility companies will be required to make major changes in the way that they do business with residential as well as commercial and industrial customers.
The utility companies will be required to offer rebates and other incentives for customers to upgrade lighting and air conditioning systems, insulate windows, and install more efficient boilers. Homeowners and businesses will be able to rent solar panels from the utilities to avoid the upfront installation costs. The utility companies will have to invest in energy efficiency when it is cheaper than buying power.
The act also requires that the utilities begin to pay the fair market rate for energy that is "net-metered" or sold back to them by residential customers generating excess energy from alternative energy systems.