Currently, one of the biggest topics of conversation in Newburyport is the Waterfront West project on the river.

Many of you wonder: “What are the plans?” and “What should we as a community expect from this project?” The members of the Newburyport Energy Advisory Committee each have their own opinions, but as a group, we are focused on the energy use and carbon footprint for the development.

Over the last decade, the city has made several commitments with public input to become a net-zero city. Basically, net zero means that our energy comes from sustainable sources like wind, solar and hydropower. There are lots of details on how to achieve this.

One important area is making our buildings more efficient. It starts with new buildings: By 2030, all new buildings should be net zero. Other buildings will have to be retrofitted later. It makes sense for a large new development like Waterfront West to do it from the start instead of retrofitting it later. That is the essence of what the Newburyport Energy Advisory Committee is requesting: Make Waterfront West a net-zero development.

Some may wonder if it is possible to make a net-zero development today. The answer is a resounding “Yes.” If New England Development is wondering how to do it, all they need do is stroll down the rail trail to Hall and Moscow’s Hillside Court, under construction now.

Hillside Court is a for-profit, net-zero development without the million-dollar water views of Waterfront West. In fact, it is built on a former brownfield site and includes an affordable housing component. If that project can be net zero, certainly Waterfront West can be.

If New England Development wants to get the cabinetry and millwork for the project from a net-zero company, they may continue a little farther down the rail trail to Mark Richey Woodworking. This local company’s energy needs are met by wind, solar, and burning their scrap wood for heat. It is an example of a local company making sustainable energy use a centerpiece of their business model.

Becoming a net-zero development would also offer New England Development unique business opportunities. Greater Boston is a hotbed of clean technology companies and organizations.

These groups have meetings, conferences and off-site retreats. They like to do them at places which are themselves examples of green technology. Part of a marketing plan for a net-zero development would include targeting these organizations in New England and beyond to showcase Waterfront West’s amenities and the city.

What specifically would need to be done to make Waterfront West a net-zero development? There are many ways to do it. New England Development should be allowed the flexibility to come up with solutions that make sense. But there are still some guidelines and general rules.

They need to have certified building analysis of their plans with follow through during construction. Best practices today include well-insulated, tight buildings and all electric appliances, including high-efficiency heat pumps (either air-sourced or ground-sourced) for heating and cooling. In addition, solar panels on the roofs and electric car charging stations encourage low energy use practices.

Those are nice general sentiments, but how is it done in practice? Most developers in the U.S. use the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards. We expect New England Development will, too.

LEED has eight general categories. Within each category, there are different things one can do to get points in a LEED certification. The more points one gets, the higher the level of LEED certification. The lowest level of certification requires 40 points, but we recommend higher.

It is important we pay attention to what points a development gets, not just the total. For example, five points can be awarded for access to quality transit.

Waterfront West is across the street from the new multimodal transit hub and garage and connected to the rail trail, which goes to the commuter train station. Another four points are awarded for using daylight and having quality views. That totals almost 25% of the points for the lowest certification just for being in Newburyport on the waterfront! We should expect more than racking up the easy points.

We recommend regardless of the level of certification that most points come from features that relate to energy performance of the buildings. This guarantees that significant effort is put forward in the area of energy efficiency while leaving room for other design criteria that meet the historic character of the city.

Using this strategy, we can get a development that looks to the future while being part of our historic past.

Michael Strauss is the chair of the Newburyport Energy Advisory Committee,

Recommended for you