Fledgling Berkshire Communities Green Network seeks to rally 'green communities'
PITTSFIELD — Gone are the days when Berkshire towns struggled alone toward sustainability. A new group, Berkshire Communities Green Network, hopes to unify sustainability efforts across municipalities.
The network, which met for the first time this spring, is not the state's only countywide coalition of town energy committees. But according to Al Blake, Becket Energy Committee member and Berkshire Communities Green Network organizer, it is the only such structure in Berkshire County.
"Pulling the towns together would ... give us more power. A little more oomph," said Pat Konecky, a member of Egremont's Green Committee and an organizer of the new network.
Blake sees the network's main goal as education. Municipalities could share experiences dealing with utilities, he said, and offer advice for meeting renewable energy regulations. Network organizers seek improved collaboration with like-minded activists.
"The driving force was networking and resource sharing," Konecky said.
According to Konecky, Susan May of Lenox conceived of the idea for a network of municipal Energy Committees in early 2016. Blake says the network is open to residents hoping to start green or energy committees in towns that lack them.
Other organizers of the network include Cheryl Rose of Dalton and Gary Stoller of Great Barrington.
To get the ball rolling, organizers sent letters inviting each municipality in the county to join and received responses from about "60 or 70 percent," said Blake. They'd like to secure representatives from every Berkshire city and town.
At the network's first meeting April 27 in Pittsfield, community representatives gave brief presentations. Lauren Gaherty of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, Jim Barry of Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and Nancy Nylen of the Center for EcoTechnology attended and offered support.
Konecky said representatives shared challenges and spoke of how their committees or groups are overcoming them.
According to Konecky's meeting notes, representatives from Green Dalton described the town's attempts to build a solar array on the town landfill, which failed twice due to the high cost of connecting the project to the electrical grid. Green Dalton representatives also described current efforts to make public buildings more energy-efficient. The plastic bag ban they hoped to secure in Dalton won voter support this week.
The Stockbridge Green Communities Committee noted that it too has been working on landfill solar power generation, with panels installed but not yet operational, Konecky's notes show.
According to Blake, the network feels the need for a full-time sustainability manager to assist with such efforts by coordinating the work of municipal committees, keeping abreast of state regulations and helping the network bring in speakers and organize meetings.
Blake said the network has identified the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission as the best organization to house such a position.
Gaherty said that a sustainability manager position would be helpful to communities and is something the commission would embrace if funding can be found.
"Right now it's a long-term goal," said Gaherty.
Blake mentioned the Franklin County Energy Committees Coalition as an example of the kind of regional alliance Berkshire County lacks.
Laurie DiDonato, energy and sustainability assistant for Greenfield, has attended that group's meetings.
"We all want to do the same thing," DiDonato said. "Some people have already done it and can lead the way."
Spurred by act
According to Blake, the network is loosely based on the Green Communities program, established by the state Green Communities Act of 2008.
Towns designated as Green Communities can receive grant money and technical assistance from the state to increase energy efficiency and use of renewables in public buildings and schools.
To become designated as a Green Community, a municipality must meet five criteria, including easier permitting for renewable energy projects, purchase of only fuel-efficient municipal vehicles, monitoring of energy use and a plan to reduce it by 20 percent in five years, and adoption of a building code that promotes energy-efficiency.
Fourteen of Berkshire County's 32 municipalities are designated as Green Communities, according to the state.
The network plans to set up a digital database of recent accomplishments and current initiatives of town sustainability groups.
"We are actively looking for expertise and funding to get that public presence," said Konecky. "Keeping information out and alive and visible for the public is a way to help grow sustainable communities."
Freelance contributor Sophia Schmidt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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