Energy use is a component of town decision making
As town meeting season approaches, it seems a good time to talk about energy. With fuel costs rising, energy is an increasingly significant percentage of each town's annual budget. Whether you are considering capital costs for constructing new buildings; operating costs for both existing and new structures, including our schools, or the costs of acquiring town vehicles, thought should be given to the energy impact of these proposals.
As the Energy Action Plan that was developed for the Vineyard states, energy is big business for the Vineyard. A 2002 report by Jeff Parker, written at the request of the Vineyard Energy Project, states that we spent $59 million on energy in 2001, estimated to be 7.4 percent of the Island's year-round per capita income. With the price increases that have followed Hurricane Katrina, energy has become an even greater percentage of our spending: significantly more than the eight percent increase to $64 million that our energy planners projected for 2005.
We need to take the time this season to consider what we want for the Vineyard's energy future and how we can control energy costs as a result of decisions we make today. Discussions about "Peak Oil" (the point at which world oil production peaks and begins to decline) and increasing global demand lead one to expect to higher energy prices ahead. There is a need to diversify the sources of our energy supply, use energy more wisely, and think about local solutions to a post Peak Oil world.
What do we want for our energy future? Right now, 99.9 percent of our energy is imported. How do we want to meet our energy needs in the future? How can we insulate ourselves from higher fuel costs and possible fluctuations in power supply? Are we willing to commit to reducing our load with energy efficiency strategies? Can we commit to generating significant amounts of our energy here to diversify our portfolio of energy sources?
Communities across the country are considering these challenges. With a twist of the phrase, "Think global, act local," planning is being done to prepare for a future in which energy costs encourage denser living patterns, pedestrian and public transit access to stores and services, a more considered use of energy resources for public services and local food production. An energy analyst recently stated that rising energy costs will mark "the end of 3,000 mile Caesar salad" as transportation costs preclude the shipping of produce, such as lettuce, all the way across the country. Solutions include greater emphasis on energy efficiency, distributed generation of energy from renewable sources, and encouragement of community supported agriculture programs.
Beautiful, comfortable buildings are being designed that use a fraction of the energy that today's building code prescribes. One such example is the Artists for Humanity Epicenter in Boston. Given the highest award as a green building in Boston, the design team considered location so as to encourage pedestrian and public transit access; provided day-lighting to provide much of the needed light during the day with controls that turn lights on and off in response to available natural light; specified higher levels of insulation to provide occupants with comfort in the extremes of both hot and cold weather and natural ventilation strategies to provide most of the cooling needed even in humid New England summers. The building is reported to be a joy to work in, is in high demand for community meetings and, is conditioned year-round at a fraction of the cost. The architects report that the building is 60 percent more energy efficient than it would have been if built to code. The costs of these upgrades added approximately five percent to building costs and will soon pay for themselves in savings in operating costs.
Our municipal building projects such as the West Tisbury Town Hall or the hospital offer us an opportunity to show ourselves at our best and brightest: taking advantage of the knowledge that has been gained in these energy-conscious buildings off-Island and employing all available strategies and technologies to make Island buildings as energy-neutral as possible. In thinking not only of building costs today but designing in such a way as to protect ourselves against the uncertainties of fuel prices and climate changes, our buildings can be a gift, not a burden, to ourselves and future generations.
Concerns about a world beyond Peak Oil and an increase in extreme weather events brought on by the effects of climate change beg careful consideration as we make decisions that will impact our future.
I invite you, this town meeting season, to consider the effects of energy use in all the decisions you make, and to join the Vineyard Energy Project in thinking about ways we can all collaborate in preparing for this new energy future and keep our local economy thriving as these transitions occur.
Kate Warner is director of the Vineyard Energy Project