Coalition gets grant to go green

$50k boosts regional clean-energy strategy

By Katheleen Conti
Globe Staff / April 17, 2011

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In some North Shore and Merrimack Valley communities, regionalization has transcended the sharing of municipal services into the bundling of identical initiatives, such as renewable energy projects, in order to reap greater economic savings.

For the eight communities in the Merrimack Valley Mayors and Managers Coalition, a recently awarded $50,000 federal grant should make it easier to integrate individual clean energy initiatives into a regional master plan.

The idea of creating one clean energy master plan to suit several communities will make larger, bundled projects more attractive for bidders, as well as give communities a tangible energy strategy, said Dennis DiZoglio, executive director of the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, which received the grant from the US Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration.

The grant comes through the Global Climate Change Mitigation Incentive Fund, which was formed to support projects that aim to decrease dependence on fossil fuels, curb greenhouse gas emissions, and enhance energy efficiency.

Given the poor economy and shortage of grants, DiZoglio said it was exciting to have been awarded the competitive grant, which will be matched by the planning commission dollar for dollar.

“It started with saying we really don’t have a good handle on the energy efforts in our community, so what if we went to each individual community and develop an ‘energy master plan,’ ’’ DiZoglio said. “Then we take the individual plans and look at commonalities that three or four [communities] want to do, and create an action plan where the communities work together to advance the plan.’’

This will be an extension of what the Merrimack Valley Mayors and Managers Coalition set out to do when it first formed in 2007 with a focus on regionalizing services to share expenses, said Amesbury Mayor Thatcher W. Kezer III, who advocated for the coalition’s creation.

Kezer has chaired the coalition since it was formed as part of the planning commission. The mayors of Haverhill, Lawrence, Methuen, and Newburyport and the town managers of Andover, North Andover, and Salisbury are also members.

“What we’ve been doing on energy issues and a number of other initiatives, the mayors and managers, we sit down and try to move on these initiatives that we can all try to do collaboratively,’’ Kezer said. “We’ve been working on this, and I always find that because we’re working on it, we’re able to find the opportunities, and our grant proposals are even stronger.’’

One of the clean-energy initiatives the coalition has already pursued was finding a company to perform energy audits on municipal buildings, Kezer said. To get a better rate, the coalition went out to bid as a single entity for work in all eight communities.

“It makes it more economically viable for the proposals,’’ he said. “We share the savings.’’

The communities partnered with an energy service company, which performs the audit, makes recommendations, then installs whatever new elements are needed to achieve energy savings, such as a new boiler. The savings in energy costs pay for the capital investments over several years, a method that is attractive to municipalities because there is no upfront cost for the upgrades.

Individually, many of the communities have looked into the possibility of turning capped landfills into solar farms, as well as exploring the potential of other renewable energy initiatives like wind, hydropower, and geothermal, DiZoglio said.

Now, thanks to the federal grant, coalition members will meet to determine whether their initiatives are consistent with those in other communities, and whether one community’s initiative will also end up being an advantage to its neighbors.

A strategy for the regional clean-energy master plan must be ready by July, DiZoglio said. Because the coalition has already been meeting about green initiatives, DiZoglio said he is confident that some of the projects to be identified in the regional strategy could be completed before the end of the year.

The official kickoff for the regional clean-energy master plan will be at the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission’s annual regional planning day on June 14 at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, he said.

“We’re going to start working on an outline to see what the regional issues can look like,’’ DiZoglio said. “By July we’ll have identified a strategy, and work into our program the implementation of it.’’

Katheleen Conti can be reached at