Polito delivers green energy grant to Dalton

DALTON — An ongoing town effort to increase energy efficiency got a boost on Thursday in the form of a grant to help complete projects in development and assist the town in applying for more funding through the state's Green Communities program.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito paid a visit to the Dalton Senior Center on Thursday afternoon bearing news of the $12,500 Municipal Energy Technical Assistance grant from the state Department of Energy Resources.

"It was a real surprise," said Town Manager Ken Walto.

The program designates cities and towns in Massachusetts — over 180 so far — as Green Communities. Municipalities must meet five specific criteria to be labeled Green Communities, including developing a plan to reduce energy use by 20 percent within five years.

Dalton was initially awarded $142,725 in December 2014 through the program, aimed at helping towns reduce energy consumption while facilitating renewable energy.

Some projects have been completed — notably, the purchase of two electric vehicles, LED lighting in the Town Hall and energy audits of municipal buildings — but the town has run into logistical roadblocks in completing the projects.

"I was in business management for 20 years, and I've never seen a bureaucracy like this," said David Wasielewski, chairman of the Green Dalton Committee. "It's more complex than we thought it would ever be. We expected to spend that money in like 20 minutes."

In Dalton, there's a push to finish projects as soon as possible.

"The deal is, once you expend the funds that you are initially issued, then you are eligible to apply for additional funds," Wasielewski said.

Projects yet to come include installation of interior LED lighting in the town library and attic insulation and air sealing in the Town Hall, as well as update the Senior Center's HVAC system.

The library lighting project should start next week. The Town Hall project is more complicated — the building has architectural concerns due to its advanced age.

"The Senior Center [is] an easy fix," Wasielewski said. "We went in there, it's accessible; it's a fairly simple project."

Although most of the projects haven't been complete long enough to measure their impacts, installing the LED lighting in the Town Hall cut electricity usage by about 23 percent over last year.

"We're just at the point where we're starting to be able to measure those effects," Wasielewski said. "It used to be that moving to green energy cost more money."

The biggest savings in energy costs should come from changing the town's over 700 streetlights from high pressure sodium to LED, Walto said.

That's the town's immediate agenda, he said.

The Green Communities grant funding is helping pay for an audit of the streetlights that should be completed in the next couple of weeks. Another grant would pay for the replacement, if the town is chosen.

Eversource owns and manages the lights. The town would have to purchase them from the company in order to convert them — to the tune of over $140,000.

It's too early to tell where that money might come from — grants, an appropriation in the capital budget or some other means, Walto said.

"This is not just one of those green energy save the world climate change things," Wasielewski said. "It's an economic benefit to the town as well."

Reach staff writer Patricia LeBoeuf at 413-496-6247 or @BE_pleboeuf.


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