Thursday April 22, 2010

WILLIAMSTOWN -- Wendy Penner wants people to know that saving the planet doesn't have to be hard.

Penner is the chairwoman of the Williamstown COOL Committee, a community-based group that is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions locally through education and advocacy. Williamstown is one of several municipalities in North County taking part in the Take Charge program on Earth Day today.

The Take Charge program encourages residents to take simple steps that save money on their energy bills and raise awareness about more eco-friendly ways of living that are also cost-effective. It is based out of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition in North Adams.

"Our goal is to let people know that there are a lot of low-cost and no-cost measures that save energy and save money," she said.

In Southern Berkshire, Lenox has a similar campaign, Lenox Unplugged, that advocates a similar philosophy.

"Energy efficiency is a great way to introduce people to green technology," said Natalie Grillon, the sustainability coordinator in Lenox. "You see immediate results, and it gets people thinking about [energy] conservation."

Both communities are urging residents to sign a pledge agreeing to reduce energy use and to take part in local incentive programs with participating businesses.

Penner emphasizes that these changes are not major adjustments to an individual or family lifestyle.

The first step homeowners should take is to arrange for the free home energy audit, according to Penner and Grillon. These audits, paid for by the utility companies, can be set up by contacting Mass Save, a statewide, home-energy assessment program.

Following the audit, homeowners may qualify for a zero-interest loan of up to $15,000 for insulation, high-efficiency heating systems and windows, and solar hot water systems.

In addition, qualified homeowners may be eligible for free air sealing in their homes.

But in addition to that, said Grillon, there are a number of energy-conserving techniques that can be implemented immediately. For example, compact fluorescent bulbs, or CFBs, use about 75 percent less energy than standard bulbs and last up to 10 times longer, she noted.

Penner added that fuel-saving tips like combining vehicle trips to different destinations, carpooling, walking or riding a bicycle are part of "drive smart" suggestions.

Using a clothesline to dry clothes saves a family 10 percent in energy costs, she said.

"These things don't affect your quality of life," she said. "And they save money."

To reach Derek Gentile: or (413) 528-3660.

For more information on the programs discussed in this article:

Williamstown COOL

Lenox Unplugged