Aquinnah has officially been designated a Green Community by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, opening up a large pool of grant funding to improve the town’s energy infrastructure.
The Green Communities Division (GCD) provides grants and technical assistance to help municipalities reduce energy use and cost by fully integrating clean energy into town facilities.
The town applied for designation in November, and at that time began to consider possible projects to make town buildings and vehicles more efficient.
As part of the initial Green Communities designation, Aquinnah was awarded a $127,000 grant to be used for a myriad of clean energy projects. In order to receive the grant, town officials must first submit a comprehensive budget and cost projection plan that includes future initiatives to reduce the overall energy footprint, and establish cost-effective strategies for lowering annual kilowatt hour usage.
Noli Taylor, who is working with Cape Light Compact (CLC) on behalf of the town, presented a cost-projection plan to selectmen at the board’s Wednesday meeting. Contained in the plan were projects that aim to reduce Aquinnah’s municipal energy consumption by at least 20 percent over the course of five years.
Taylor said that besides some big ticket projects, the Green Communities designation grant would cover the majority of the items on the list. According to Taylor, each item on the list was decided on by planning and evaluation manager for CLC, Margaret Song. She said RISE engineering of Rhode Island came to the Island to conduct a full evaluation of town buildings, and chose projects that would be most feasible for the first phase of energy-efficiency implementation.
The town would need to submit their grant application for the $127,000 by Feb. 28, Taylor said.
“Part of the process is deciding what to do with the money. We want to figure out how to apply these funds to the priorities we have set,” Taylor said.
Through the energy and climate committee, selectman Gary Haley said most of the town offices already have LED lighting, and part of the police station does as well. But Taylor said replacing all the lights in each town-owned building with LED lights would yield a net cost of just $464 to the town. “That would include the town hall, the firehouse, the library, the restrooms, the cultural center, and the police station,” Taylor said. “That’s a very small cost for some good energy savings.”
The most costly item to replace is the heat pump and HVAC system for the town hall and the firehouse. Taylor said taking this step will eventually save the town a lot of fossil fuel use.
Selectman Jim Newman asked about alternatives to the HVAC system, and suggested the possibility of mini splits instead of a central system. Taylor said she would suggest the idea to Song during her next conversation with her.
Selectboard chair Juli Vanderhoop said the heat pump and HVAC systems would be expensive, but they would also have a longer “shelf life,” which the town is looking for. If the town decides not to do the heat pump and HVAC project in this first grant cycle, which would cost about $150,000, Taylor said the town could pay for all other improvements on the list, and still have about $39,000 left over.
“What do we do with that additional money?” Taylor asked.
Other miscellaneous projects include energy saving thermostats for each town building, as well as aerators for the firehouse, library, and cultural center.
Taylor said the town hasn’t accounted for who will manage these ongoing projects and make sure everything is being done properly and in a timely manner. “We could devote $10,000 of this leftover money to hire a project manager who can move us forward on these energy efficiency programs,” Taylor said, She suggested not funding the heating and HVAC project fully, and focusing on some of the low-hanging fruit.
Getting an electric police cruiser to replace the retiring cruiser would be a good and easy step to take, and Green Communities could devote $5,000 for a down payment on a leased electric cruiser, Taylor said. “The town would pay the lease going forward, but that would be a positive move forward,” she said.
Town administrator Jeff Madison said the furnace at the town hall recently broke, and he had Nelson Mechanical look into the cost of replacing it with a new one. “It would be prohibitively expensive to replace the hot air furnace because the ducts that run beneath the town hall restrict the space to move down there,” Madison said. But Taylor said that is a perfect opportunity to replace the old, less efficient boiler, with a more energy efficient heat pump.
“That’s where the climate change rubber meets the road. When your furnace breaks, how do you replace it? That’s when you can make the decision to replace it with something that uses less energy, and that’s how the town becomes a climate leader,” Taylor said.
Taylor said she would discuss alternative options for each project with Song and bring a revised plan to selectmen as soon as possible.