Environmental advocates: Pittsfield's energy policy ranked among 'top communities' in the state


PITTSFIELD — Good job saving energy, now let's really get to work.

Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center relayed this message during a visit to the city Wednesday to recognize Pittsfield's energy-saving prowess. The city ranks among the "top communities across the state taking ambitious and aggressive action," said State Director for Environment Massachusetts Ben Hellerstein.

"Across Massachusetts, cities and towns are leading the way toward 100 percent renewable energy," Hellerstein said. "As state officials consider major changes to our energy policies, we urge them to follow the lead of cities like Pittsfield and charge full speed ahead."

Wednesday's announcement, given on the front steps of City Hall, found its true purpose in Hellerstein's last remark.

Environment Massachusetts and other state and local environmental organizations are keeping a keen eye on negotiations between the state Senate and House to decide how ambitious to make state energy policy.

The House has agreed to modest goals but the Senate significantly expanded upon these, proposing to double the growth of clean energy, promote offshore wind development and cut off taxpayer subsidies to gas pipeline projects.

The two sides still have to come together on the matter before the end of session on July 31.

"Massachusetts has enough clean, renewable energy at its fingertips to meet 100 percent our needs," Hellerstein said. "It's a good thing, too. We are experiencing more and more heat waves, more and more extreme weather events and last month was the hottest June on record, as many recent months have been. A lot of these effects are only going to become worse if we fail to take rapid action to get off of fossil fuels."

He added, "As state leaders are coming to a conclusion, we urge them to think as big as possible, because 100 percent renewables is where we need to get to. Now is the time to take big steps not baby steps."

Presently, 11 percent of Massachusetts' energy comes from renewable, clean sources.

Still, Hellerstein and two others who spoke on Wednesday — Jane Winn of Berkshire Environmental Action Team and Associate Director of Williams College Center for Environmental Studies Sarah Gardner — said the technology and capabilities exist to make rapid progress on the goal.

All that's required is the will to act, they said.

"It may sound like a radical idea, to have a 100 percent renewable Commonwealth, but averting climate crisis isn't really a radical idea," Gardner said. "It's not a Democratic or Republican issue; it's a human issue, and it needs to be addressed right now."

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The jobs argument for supporting new fossil fuel infrastructure and projects is a ruse, Gardner said.

"Research has shown that a lot more jobs will be created in the renewable energy economy than are lost in the fossil fuel economy once we transition," she said.

But Gardner said even if this weren't the case, fossil fuel burning needs to slow dramatically in order to stop global warming short of two degrees Celsius. According to climate scientists, two degrees Celsius of warming will put low-lying coastal areas underwater, supercharge droughts and storms and dramatically increase species extinction.

"We need to make the complete switch to clean energy by 2050," Gardner said. "It has to be a top priority in every state and every country right now. And it isn't."

Gardner encouraged political leaders to get brave and the general public to gather round and throw their support behind renewable energy projects, wind, solar, or otherwise.

Winn championed energy conservation as the most affordable form of renewable energy.

"People in the United States use far, far more energy than our international cohorts for a similar lifestyle," she said. "This is wasteful and stupid. Why send our money to big oil and big gas when we can save it instead?"

Winn also highlighted the potential for off-shore wind energy as "enough to power every home in Massachusetts."

"Let's keep our clean energy economy growing; let's start now on our goal," she said.

City Open Spaces and Natural Resources Manager Jim McGrath detailed some of Pittsfield's successes, notably at the wastewater treatment plant, the city's biggest energy user, where a new heat and power system and two-megawatt solar array were installed.

Lighting, heating and cooling improvements have been made in a litany of Pittsfield public buildings — schools, Berkshire Athenaeum, City Hall, Lichtenstein Center for the Arts. Energy efficiency projects were undertaken throughout the downtown business corridor thanks to state incentives and programs.

Many more solar fields, turbines, power plants and the like are envisioned, McGrath said.

"We have challenges, and some of these challenges may seem insurmountable at times, but the city is committed to become a more sustainable and energy efficient community."

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.


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