The position of municipal energy coordinator pays for itself several times over, an advocate informed the town Energy and Sustainability Committee Wednesday.
Fred Cunningham, a member of the Sherborn Energy Committee, said a survey showed between four and eight times the cost of salary and benefits came back in grants and incentives.
Cunningham was invited by the committee to help make the case for a sustainability coordinator in Bedford. The committee is now planning a virtual forum for June, featuring several professionals from area towns discussing accomplishments and answering questions. The event will be co-sponsored by Mothers Out Front.
In Sherborn, which has a population of less than 5,000, Cunningham said that over the past eight months, a half-time coordinator has been responsible for about $300,000 in grants, even with the limits imposed by Covid-19.
Asked about specific projects and benefits that the coordinator has brought to the town, Cunningham began with grants to consider a geothermal system for a school and a grant to plan energy upgrades to three town buildings.
There also have been programs in schools, such as curricular proposals being considered by a task force of students and teachers. Cunningham said the new employee also will be helping launch community aggregation in Sherborn.
One innovation he described in some detail was a “coaching cadre,” through which trained, knowledgeable local volunteers are matched with residents who have questions about follow-up on energy audits and other energy issues.
Asked about misconceptions among residents about the new position, Cunningham emphasized that when it is pointed out that the position “pays for itself,” it should be understood that the literal return will not show up in the operating budget as a direct offset. Rather, the position will generate more revenue than the cost to the town for the position.
There also has been uncertainty about the role of the coordinator. One of the most important parts of the job description is outreach to citizens, Cunningham said.
Asked by committee Chair Emily Prince about prioritization of projects, Cunningham explained that the coordinator reports directly to the town administrator, but the energy committee handles “general supervision.” He added that an assistant town planner in Sherborn works with the sustainability coordinator, dedicating 12 hours per week to seeking and applying for grant money.
Cunningham pointed out that a key player in the region is the Upper Charles Climate Action group, which is a consortium of about 15 communities. Climate action activists are involved with some of the coordinator’s projects. Often some or all of the towns collaborate on grants or projects, he said.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763