By Dot Bergin

Despite intermittent downpours, 30 or more interested Bedford residents turned out for the Net Zero Advisory Council’s public forum on June 20  to consider ways to reduce carbon emissions in town buildings, both in the immediate future and looking out to the year 2050. The Council will incorporate input from this forum and other feedback into a set of proposed strategies to present to the Selectmen in September.

Established in the fall of 2018, the Net Zero Advisory Council (NZAC), is made up of a broad-based group of commercial property owners, realtors, architects, contractors, municipal employees, and residents. They divided themselves into three working groups-municipal, residential, and commercial — to come up with strategies to improve energy efficiency in the town’s buildings.

Town meeting voted in 2017 to hire consultant the Peregrine Group to take an inventory of Bedford’s buildings.

Where do greenhouse gas emissions come from?

  • Non-residential buildings account for 76% of total building CO2 emissions, with the R&D/Manufacturing sector accounting for 38% of that total and office buildings 18%.
  • Residential buildings account for 24% of carbon emissions.
  • Municipal buildings account for 3% of emissions.
  • Carbon emissions from buildings increased by 13% from 2013 to 2016 (year of the inventory)

You  can find Bedford’s November 2018 Energy Inventory at https://www.bedfordma.gov/sites/bedfordma/files/news/bedfordenergyinventoryreport.pdf

After introductory remarks from Dan Bostwick, Energy and Sustainability Committee chair who spearheaded the Net Zero effort; Selectman Margot Fleischman; and Paul Gromer of Peregrine Energy, attendees divided into breakout sessions focusing on the three types of buildings, to consider ideas generated by the Advisory Council.  An informal give and take produced many questions and concrete suggestions for how best to achieve the goal of reducing energy usage.

One suggestion emerged unanimously from the three breakout groups: that the town should hire a sustainability coordinator who would work closely with town departments and do “outreach” to building owners to get buy-in on energy improvements.  Note: this position does not yet exist in Bedford but neighboring towns — Concord is one – have already hired such a person and are finding that the expense is more than offset by “green energy” grants and other savings the coordinator can bring in.

Commercial Initiatives

As Fleischman said, many businesses are already doing great things to curtail emissions and decrease energy usage.  Mitre Corporation and many of the other larger enterprises in town are already tracking their data and are willing to share their knowledge. The story may be different for some of the smaller businesses, which do not have a dedicated employee or department overseeing energy use and expense. Suggested actions include:

  • The town will set a goal of 20% renewable energy use by buildings within the next decade
  • Through the Special Permit process, the Town will encourage implementation of energy efficiency and solar in new buildings.
  • The town will develop a strategic plan for reducing carbon emissions from energy use in commercial buildings.
  • The town will adopt a Building Energy Use Disclosure Bylaw requiring commercial property owners to report their energy use. The Bylaw would be developed in cooperation with property owners and would not mandate businesses to demonstrate reduced energy use or carbon emissions.

Carolyn Sarno, a member of Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships who oversees NEEP’S High-Performance Building Team, had ready answers for many of the Forum’s questioners.  Sarno, a Bedford native and former member of the ad hoc Energy Task Force, is an expert in helping cities and towns improve energy savings in retrofitted and new buildings and in assuring code compliance.  Currently, she is involved with the city of Portland, ME, and was able to give examples of how to get property owners on board with energy savings.

Many cities already have a Building Energy Use Disclosure Bylaw, including Cambridge and Portland. As Sarno explained, data is collected using Portfolio Manager, an interactive tool developed by the Environmental Protection Agency that lets a company measure its energy and water use. The idea here is to encourage voluntary participation and compliance in the energy assessments.

In the mind of one participant, this measure should receive top priority since the R&D/Manufacturing sector produces the largest share of carbon emissions.

Municipal Initiatives

  • Publish a 10-Year Energy Plan by fall of 2019
  • Supply 100% of renewable energy for municipal buildings.
  • Study feasibility of a Microgrid for Town Center. Forum participants were intrigued with the idea of a town center microgrid, in which buildings on the town “campus” – schools, library, Town Hall, Police and Fire Stations – would have solar panels installed and be linked, with a battery backup system. The microgrid would be cost-saving and resilient to energy outages (ensuring safety for sensitive communication systems.) Facilities Director Taissir Alani answered a barrage of questions on this possibility.
  • Disclose energy use in municipal buildings, using Portfolio Manager, and publicly report the data.
  • Set Net Zero energy use goals for new buildings at the time of design, with review by the Energy and Sustainability Committee.

Residential Initiatives

  • Increase participation in MassSave energy efficiency programs. Most agreed that the program is valuable, and more residents should be encouraged to take advantage of it.  Several of the Forum participants offered enthusiastic testimonials about the program and the cost savings the energy improvements made to their homes.
  • Promote clean energy technologies – solar panels, heat pumps (design improvements make them efficient now in colder climates), electric vehicle charging, and energy storage.
  • Community Choice Aggregation – this program rolls out to everyone in town on August 1. The goal is 50% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% by 2050.

Although not on the formal agenda, one question that generated much interest concerned the difference in energy usage when one of Bedford’s smaller homes is demolished and replaced by a “McMansion.”  How does this affect general energy consumption?  Peregrine Energy’s Paul Gromer, fielding questions on the residential side, said the increase in efficiency appears to offset an increase in size.

Which buildings should the town concentrate on for potential improvement?  Gromer said a high-value target for energy saving could be existing older homes, built when insulation standards were not as stringent as now. “Those homes of the 50s and 60s were well built, but codes are different now.”

One question raised by older attendees, was, “Should I make energy improvements now when I may be planning to move soon, and my home will be a teardown”?  There is no “right answer” to this question as homeowners must make their own evaluations.

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