Municipal decarbonization plan outlined for Athol Selectboard

  • Town Manager Shaun Suhoski, left, looks on as Athol Planning and Development Director Eric Smith and town Energy Committee Chair Aimee Hanson brief the Selectboard on the town's Municipal Decarbonization Plan. For the Athol Daily News/Greg Vine

  • Athol Planning and Development Director eric Smith (back to camera) and town Energy Committee Chair Aimee Hanson update the Athol Selectboard on the town's Municipal Decarbonization Plan. Facing the camera, left to right: Selectboard member Stephen Raymond, chair Alan Dodge, vice Chair Rebecca Bialecki, member Andy Sujdak and Town Manager shaun Suhoski. For the Athol Daily News/Greg Vine

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 9/25/2022 5:01:22 PM
Modified: 9/25/2022 5:00:33 PM

ATHOL — At the Athol Selectboard meeting on Sept. 20, Athol Planning and Development Director Eric Smith and Town Energy Committee Chair Aimee Hanson brought the board up to speed on plans to reduce municipal carbon emissions by 50% by the year 2030, 75% by 2040, and 85% by 2050. A chart provided to the board indicated that, as of 2019, municipal buildings and vehicles were pumping nearly 800 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually.

“Because Athol is a leader in procuring municipal energy already from the solar facility in Hardwick,” Smith told the board, “we’re already getting a lot of green electricity. It’s actually the heating and cooling systems that are a big challenge for the town.”

Smith said some steps have already been taken toward converting town-owned buildings to high-efficiency electric systems for heating and cooling.

At the most recent meeting of the energy committee, said Smith, “We were, like, is it possible to achieve some of these savings we were putting off for the longer term in the shorter term. A couple of things to know, one is some of the work (scheduled) for 2025 is actually work that was done under our Green Communities grant this year.

“Maybe most of you know this already, but all of the lighting in Town Hall is brand new LED lighting already. So, some of these savings are reflective of work that’s already been done.”

Smith added, however, that there is much more “custom work” that needs to be done; a recommendation included the overall decarbonization plan.

“We’ve been waiting for a grant,” Smith continued, “and, ironically, today the state opened up their Municipal Technical Energy Assistance grant and we can apply for $15,000 in assessment work. We had some done in the past few years at Town Hall, but we weren’t satisfied with the results. We need to have some more assessment work done. So, I expect to work with the Energy Committee and the town manager, and we’ll come back to the board — we have to apply before Thanksgiving — to discuss the assessment grant.”

Smith said the Environmental Center building, the police station, and several other buildings are “ripe for conversion.”

Smith said the Energy Committee had also discussed the conversion of town-owned vehicles at its most recent meeting.

“In our conversation,” he continued, “we thought maybe the diesel vehicles could be broken down … by large and small vehicles. The gasoline (vehicles) were more feasible by ’23. That all seems kind of far-looking by the programs that are out there right now.”

Smith informed the board that Town Manager Shaun Suhoski had enrolled the town in National Grid’s Vehicle Fleet Advisory Service. He noted that he, Suhoski, and representatives of the town’s public works and police departments had participated in a call to discuss fleet conversion issues, adding that the Fire Department was unable to participate because it was responding to a call.

An enthusiastic Smith told the board, “National Grid is basically going to give the town a free road map. They’re going to assess all our vehicles right now; look at all the vehicles that are out there. (Tell us) what’s economically feasible to convert today. And then we’ll give the report to the town. So, we should have the report in the next couple of months. And we’re signed up for a couple of years, so it automatically refreshes as new technologies, new programs come out. So, I think it’s great that we’re part of this program.”

As far as adding solar to town buildings is concerned, Smith pointed out that planning is underway but actual implementation is on hold until National Grid updates its transmission grid. The utility, he said, is in the process of assessing how best to make those improvements, adding “at least we now know they’re serious about moving their transmission grid forward.”

Smith also briefly mentioned that there are a number of federal and state initiatives to be taken advantage of, and regulations to be followed. Municipal and private sector initiatives must also be developed, along with complementary regulation.

Addressing infrastructure conversion, according to the outline Smith gave the board, must include equitable upgrades to the municipal utility grid, equitable movement away from oil and natural gas consumption, and improved availability to electric vehicle charging facilities.

“I agree with trying to move in this direction,” said board Vice Chair Rebecca Bialecki. “My concern, however, is where are we with National Grid being able to keep up with the capability to support these vehicles and things?”

Smith said he’s working as part of National Grid’s Community Solutions Plan Program. He said he has submitted some proposals to the utility via that program and is awaiting approval for additional resources to be provided to the town.” Obviously,” Hanson said, “when you look at this plan, this plan isn’t happening right now. This is something where we’re looking at 2035 and then 2050. So, obviously the state has to upgrade its electrical ability to be able to roll this out.

The board then voted to endorse creation of an energy task force made up of department heads, representatives of the Selectboard, Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee and Capital Programs Committee. The goal of the task force would be to come up with the best options for conversion of municipal buildings and vehicles to clean energy.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com


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