Dan Bostwick and Janet Powers, members of the Net Zero Study Group, outlined their case to the Planning Board on April 11 – Image (c) Eliza Rosenberry, 2107 all rights reserved

By Eliza Rosenberry

Motivated by the urgency of climate change, a group of six concerned Bedford residents is seeking town funding in order to pursue a “net zero” plan for Bedford, which would aim to decrease greenhouse gas emissions while increasing carbon-free energy production.

Dan Bostwick and Janet Powers, members of the Net Zero Study Group, outlined their case to the Planning Board on April 11.

The first step towards becoming a net zero community, they explained, is a comprehensive greenhouse gas emissions study. The study would assess Bedford’s current emissions and identify areas to target in future phases of the project.

After soliciting feedback from town boards and officials, businesses, and residents in the coming months, the Net Zero Study Group hopes citizens will be able to vote on a warrant article at fall Special Town Meeting to fund the study. The study, which the group estimated could cost around $10,000 and would be conducted by a consultant, could recommend ways to incentivize energy efficiency related to Bedford buildings, waste, and transportation.

The state of Massachusetts mandates an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. But a net zero program at the town level would allow Bedford some control over how to implement regulations and meet those goals, the group said.

A net zero community, as defined by the U.S. Department of Energy, “has greatly reduced energy needs through efficiency gains such that the balance of energy for vehicles, thermal, and electrical energy within the community is met by renewable energy.”

Preliminary data presented by the Net Zero Study Group showed that Bedford released 257,000 metric tons of emissions in 2013, approximately 18.4 tons per resident.

Bedford’s Net Zero Study Group explained that, while net zero buildings are slightly more expensive to build, they have higher resale value and are less expensive to operate, using a fraction of the amount of energy. Studies have indicated that green office buildings can bolster health and productivity, and that energy-efficient school buildings can lead to improved student performance.

Planning Board members were receptive to the proposal and curious how the Board might be able to incentivize green building in the future. But some members asked the Net Zero Study Group to pinpoint how the plan would impact residents on an individual level.

“It is not enough to say: this is the right thing to do,” said Board member Amy Lloyd. She explained that a larger group of Bedford residents would likely be compelled to approve funding such a study if economic and other short-term benefits were well understood.

Powers acknowledged that getting buy-in from stakeholders including property developers, businesses, and larger institutions — like Middlesex Community College — would be a critical but challenging component of the plan.

“The issue tends to be that developers are generally short-term players,” said Powers. “They don’t really care about the long-term costs. And so that’s why it hasn’t already happened.”

Residents in attendance were interested in the proposal. Frances Bigda-Peyton pointed to the recent approval of Bedford’s plastic bag ban and the senior needs assessment as signs of environmentally-conscious and long-term thinking in town, while JoAnn Santiago expressed a concern about the program’s potential impact on Bedford’s increasingly unaffordable housing.

Last spring, Lexington voters approved funding to pursue a net zero plan for town buildings, and a few weeks ago the town of Lexington released results of its emissions study. The study found that Lexington buildings released 265,000  metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2015 through electricity, natural gas, and oil. Approximately 33,000 people live in Lexington, more than double Bedford’s population. The report lays the groundwork for a second phase of action to reduce Lexington’s greenhouse gas emissions, including making existing and newly-constructed home heating systems more energy efficient and improving town-owned buildings.

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