Staying warm while staying green: Great Barrington in HeatSmart Mass pilot program

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GREAT BARRINGTON — The town is one of seven Massachusetts communities selected by the state to participate in a pilot program to put "cleaner," less expensive home-heating and cooling systems in more dwellings, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs announced earlier this week.

People can take advantage of the program by purchasing heating and cooling systems from HeatSmart, which purchases the equipment — air-source heat pumps, ground-source heat pumps, modern wood heat and solar hot water — at a bulk discount rate. The savings are passed on to the consumer.

The program, HeatSmart Mass, seeks to encourage more people to put advanced temperature-setting technology into their homes by making the equipment more affordable.The anticipated outcome is two pronged: reducing the state's carbon footprint by switching to more efficient home heating and cooling methods and saving people money on their bills.

"In effect, the program helps negotiate on behalf of residents," said Andrew Belden, senior director of Renewable Energy Generation at Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, which is co-administering the grant with the Department of Energy Resources.

Right now participating communities are selecting local installers to work on HeatSmart projects. Once those contracts are awarded, the equipment will become available for purchase. Each town — Great Barrington, Bolton, Harvard, Carlisle, Concord, Lincoln and Nantucket — is responsible for marketing the program to residents, setting application standards and choosing which equipment will be offered.

In Great Barrington, residents will have an opportunity to purchase air-sourced heat pumps. Marketing is being targeted to low-income households. It is not yet clear at what price the pumps would be sold, Belden said.

The HeatSmart pilot communities also receive funds to promote awareness of alternative heating and cooling technology and education. Great Barrington will receive $9,000 from the state for these efforts, Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin said.

"It builds on Great Barrington's work to date to make this a green community," Tabakin said. Great Barrington is a state-designated Green Community, she said, and all of the community's municipal buildings run on wind power, to name a few eco-friendly accomplishments.

In its application to participate in the HeatSmart pilot program, Great Barrington proposed that the town offer opportunities to purchase discounted air-sourced heat pumps rather than any of the other technology available through the program because its the least expensive of the options to purchase and install.

"Given Great Barrington's focus on low-income households they wanted a technology that could be broadly applicable, that has the lowest first-cost up-front expense," Belden said. "Also, the housing stock in Great Barrington is older and so air-sourced heat pumps are more appropriate to meet the engineering requirements of those buildings and systems."

Air-source heat pumps work kind of like a refrigerator, in that the system moves heat rather than converting it from a fuel. A heat pump's system consists of a compressor and two coils made of copper tubing. In heating mode, the outside coil extracts heat from the air while the inside coil releases heat. A New England home can save $300 to $948 annually in heating and cooling costs, the U.S. Energy Department estimates.

Great Barrington was selected, in part, as one of the pilot communities because 71 percent of residents use a lot of high-cost fuels — oil, electric resistance, propane — to heat their homes, Belden said

Belden hopes Great Barrington will take to HeatSmart like the town did to Solarize Mass in 2013: the program more than doubled the number of solar panels in town, he said.

"Given that we're dealing with the early stages of new technologies that are new and unfamiliar, [the Solarize Mass outcome] is the kind of response we're looking for, to double the market or better," Belden said.

Tabakin and Select Board member Ed Abrahams said the town wouldn't have received the grant without the work of volunteers promoting cleaner energy and access.

"This is all a result of the volunteers working," Abrahams said, "and it's another step toward doing our part as a community. This is exciting and it's great we got this."

Kristin Palpini can be contacted at kpalpini@berkshireeagle.com and @kristinpalpini on Twitter.


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