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Newly formed energy committee looks towards a ‘green’ future

from The Sun, September18- September 24, 2009
by Dennis P. Hohenberger

HOLYOKE – On Tuesday Mayor Michael J. Sullivan introduced the newlyformed City of Holyoke Energy Committee that looks to make the city more energy efficient and be designated a “Green Community” by the state.

In July 2008, Gov. Deval Patrick signed the Green Communities Act, as cities and towns vie for the coveted “Green Community” designation that will allow communities, such as Holyoke, to tap into $10 million annually of available grants and assistance through the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources.

Though better positioned than most communities in the Commonwealth, Holyoke must still meet five criteria set forth by the DOER to tap into those funds.

The criteria includes: Development of renewable energy or alternative energy facilities or research and development facilities, adopt an expedited application and permitting process for energy facilities, energy audits of municipal buildings, purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles for municipal use, and set new energy guidelines on residential and commercial construction or stretch codes.

Sullivan, along with Jim Barry, Western Mass. Region Coordinator of the Green Communities Division of the DOER, met with committee members at Holyoke City Hall Tuesday afternoon. Sullivan told those in attendance that the goal of the committee is to incorporate “good, sound policies” when it comes to energy consumption and conservation.

Sullivan produced a binder of energy reports and audits that the city conducted the past few years on municipal building and facilities. He said the city has benefited from the information as it strives for energy efficiency.

“We’re really proud, in fact, Jim (Barry) said today we’re one of the communities that’s farthest along that he’s seen in this planning process and we’re happy to hear that,” said Sullivan. “A lot of that has to do with the expertise that we have at the Holyoke Gas & Electric.”

At this stage in the process, Holyoke meets or in the process of meeting the DOER’s criteria, as the city adopted Chapter 43B in 2007, which allows for expedited permitting within a “priority development site.” Recently Holyoke received an energy block grant from the DOER that will be used to complete energy audits on all municipal buildings, street and stop lights.

Sullivan said Holyoke will hear this week whether the city has been awarded a Green Communities Technical Assistance Grant from the DOER. The grant will assist the city with completing those goals set by the Commonwealth.

He said the biggest challenge is getting funding for capital improvements. “It’s taking capital equipment, particularly in buildings, retrofitting them to be more energy efficient,” said Sullivan.

Kathleen Anderson, of the Office of Planning & Development, said that over the past few months the city has been collecting data and other information to support the Holyoke’s drive to become a Green Community.

Besides mayoral approval, she said the city council must also adopt the five criteria before Holyoke can move forward, similar to the adoption of Chapter 43D. “Once that happens, it then goes to the state and we become a Green Community,” said Anderson.

City Councilors Rebecca Lisi and Elaine Pluta, who were present at the meeting, said they filed an order at the last city council meeting to have Barry and Mark Silvia of the DOER to give a presentation about the Green Communities Act.

“When we are asked to make a decision on the different criteria coming through the council, we can be prepared and be better informed before we make a decision,” said Lisi. She added that with the progress so far, the mayor and city council can meet the DOER’s criteria.

“I also think there is an amazing amount of synergy between the different government offices, the council, and the public in working to market Holyoke as a green, friendly, industrial area,” she said.

As the meeting concluded, Sullivan introduced the ad hoc committee comprised of: William Fuqua, Superintendent of Public Works; James Lavelle, Director of Holyoke Gas & Electric; Kathleen Anderson, Office of Planning & Development; Fire Chief David LaFond; Melinda Lane, Police Department; and Whitney Anderson, Maintenance Administration Holyoke School Department.

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