The Newburyport Energy Advisory Committee (EAC) is a group of volunteers who advise the mayor and City Council on energy matters that affect the city and our residents. Our goal is to figure out how policies will encourage sustainable development and energy conservation while saving residents and the city money. We try to leverage state and federal programs as much as possible.

The EAC was initially formed to advise the city on installing the solar system on the roofs of the Nock Middle School and the Department of Public Services facilities on Perry Way. At the time, it was the largest solar installation in the state. In 2010, the EAC helped the city satisfy the requirements to be designated as a Green Community in Massachusetts. This included inventorying and tracking the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, committing to an energy reduction plan and adopting a more energy efficient building code.

Since becoming a Green Community, Newburyport has received $1.15 million in funding from the state for projects for which we otherwise would not have been eligible. The city has used these funds for energy efficiency measures including weatherization and lighting upgrades to City Hall, the police and fire stations, library, and high school. The most visible project involved purchasing and upgrading the city’s streetlights which has saved the city approximately $100,000 per year in leasing costs. The upgrade to LEDs, has reduced our energy costs by $50,000 per year with electricity usage reductions of 43%.

We have run several programs geared toward residents. These included, two Solarize Programs giving residents and businesses group discounts on solar systems. Since 2009, the city now has over 425 solar systems on homes and businesses. We have also run two community outreach programs where several hundred homeowners took advantage of the no-cost MassSave energy audits. These programs then and still include free air sealing and LED lightbulbs, discounted insulation, 0% interest loans for furnace upgrades, and rebates for energy efficient water heaters and refrigerators.

In 2019, Newburyport entered into an agreement with Boston-based solar company Nexamp to provide solar energy credits to our schools. The solar energy is derived from community solar farms in Western Massachusetts owned and operated by Nexamp. In addition to the municipal agreement, there are 150 households in the city of Newburyport who were able to contract with Nexamp as their energy supplier. These households will receive up to 15% discount off National Grid energy rates. Overall, the city of Newburyport gets 60% of the electricity for municipal use from renewable solar energy and it comes with a 10% to 15% discount.

What is the EAC doing now? Our priority is to help fulfill the commitment the city made to become a net zero carbon community by 2050. This commitment also supports the commonwealth’s goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050. A net zero community is basically one that has reduced its energy use in buildings, transportation and electricity enough that all of its energy comes from renewable resources such as solar, wind, and geothermal, but not fossil fuels.

The EAC has created three subcommittees to assist the mayor and City Council in achieving the 2050 community net zero goals: Energy, Buildings, and Transportation. The EAC energy subcommittee, along with Molly Ettenborough, recycling and energy manager for the city, have been working diligently on an electricity aggregation program that the city plans to launch in 2021. Future articles will discuss the aggregation program in more detail as well as update the community on other subcommittee initiatives.

Volunteers are needed in each subcommittee. We are seeking professionals in the construction or renovation trade and or real estate experts who can assist with our efforts to improve energy efficiency in our existing and future buildings. Knowledgeable folks in the energy field and transportation field are also needed, as well as volunteers who can assist with education and outreach (including digital media expertise). If you are interested in volunteering, please send an email to Mike Strauss (mstrauss@alum.mit.edu).

Mike Strauss is chair of the Energy Advisory Committee, Jo Ann Clemens is a committee member and Molly Ettenborough is Newburyport energy director and an ex-officio member.

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