Planning for a sustainable energy future for Mytown

Submitted by Jerry Halberstadt on Sat, 07/21/2012 - 21:01

Mytown, a typical small city north of Boston, MA, faces an energy challenge. We now depend largely on carbon-based sources of energy, and these pose major challenges: they are expensive and costs are uncertain, supplies are vulnerable, and the use of fossil fuels threatens society as well as all forms of life through greehnouse gases and global warming. The opportunity is to transition to renewable sources of energy that can save money while reducing harm to the environment.

Why should Mytown take a leadership position in sustainable energy? The benefits for Mytown can include savings in the cost of energy for the city, lowering the tax burden, enabling the growth of new industry, and savings on energy costs for residents and business. Savings in energy produced from renewable sources instead of carbon-based fuels translate directly to a reduction in greenhouse gases.

Our leaders should take a broad look at our options, including becoming a "green" community under state or national programs, as well as considering other avenues.

Communities similar to ours have begun a transition to a sustainable energy future, including proven programs for planning and community involvement. The Mayor and other elected officials can lead Mytown to a more sustainable, less expensive, energy future. They can begin with a planning process that explores different methods of moving ahead, and engages stakeholders and all citizens in making a commitment to a green future.


A group of concerned citizens have explored how Mytown can encourage the use of renewable energy and energy conservation. Energy in the form of electricity is one major area with potential for saving, and a "smart grid" is often seen as key to changing this field. A "smart grid" is a system for distributing and managing energy, including energy produced by users. Usage is measured continuously by computer chips embedded in appliances. Usage and demand are monitored by the energy utility company, which makes price information available to customers. Customers can reduce their usage in high-cost periods. Surplus energy produced by "customers" can be redistributed efficiently.

The future of electric power may well lead to the development of local "smart grids" that support distributed power generation with homes, schools, and businesses generating power as well as buying it. Despite the merits of working towards sustainable power, many electric utility plants object to this proposal because it is disruptive of current practice. Nevertheless, an electric utility serving a municipality or other defined local area, could seize on this as an opportunity. Future models for them to consider include becoming an energy service company. (see Fox-Penner, Peter S., Smart Power: Climate Change, the Smart Grid, and the Future of Electric Utilities.)

This is a complex transition involving a change in business model, new investment, and that requires the energy utility to gain new skills to build a new relationship with users of energy. For an electric utility, going into the smart grid era faces many challenges: a fairly rigid regulatory environment, the lack of strong incentives for a power company to innovate, and very serious penalties for being wrong---any disruption in power will be a big problem, while achieving sustainability does not gain immediate rewards. The transition to smart power has been likened to changing the engines on an airplane while it is in flight.


Today Mytown has a great energy challenge and an equally great energy opportunity. Progress can be made regardless of our perspective on the environment. We don't have to choose between acting only for short-and medium-term financial gain or acting to limit climate change in order to preserve the planet for our children and grandchildren. We can act in ways that both improve Mytown's finances AND contribute to being good environmental citizens.

The Mayor has the opportunity to lead stakeholders and citizens to a better energy future in Mytown, and can develop a roadmap that is uniquely suited to Mytown. Moving forward can create a better future for our children and grandchildren, as well as providing near-term economic benefits for the city, for business, and for residents.

The focus here is on the planning process, rather than on any specific program or technology. There are many ways to implement a new energy policy and this may involve a mix of technologies and programs.

There are many motives and goals for communities in planning for sustainable futures. According to a study of energy planning in thirty cities ranging in population from 37,000 to over 2 million, the vision statements of the planners mentioned a number of themes or goals, in this order: economic benefits, quality of life, environmental quality & resources, sustainability, energy, and climate change. Mackres, Eric and Borna Kazerooki; p.18


Mytown was a great center of manufacturing industry because it had abundant water energy. Water energy drove the growth of the area.

Today, we need energy that is affordable, reliable in supply, stable in price, and that will not undermine our quality of life.

Today's energy needs are no longer provided by water power, but instead are supplied by electricity, fuel oil, natural gas, and gasoline. Mytown, like most of the developed world, depends on energy derived from carbon-based fuels.

Carbon-based fuels have built-in challenges:

Oil supplies are bound to become increasingly scarce, unreliable, and expensive. Easily recovered oil is nearly gone; new supplies involve greater expense and environmental risk.

As China, India, and other countries develop their economies, and world population continues to grow, there will be more demand for a finite supply of oil, therefore prices will rise.

Oil supplies are vulnerable to natural disasters, accidents, and conflict. Scarcity and unreliability lead to higher costs.

Finally, the use of carbon-based fuels (coal, oil, gas) contributes to pollution and global warming, which threatens all life on earth as well as an end to civilisation as we know it. As the ad says, "Priceless!"

Even if some do not wish to accept the reality of global warming, we in Mytown still have an energy problem. Carbon-based energy is going to become more expensive, the price will be erratic and unreliable, and everyone will be squeezed. When the cost of fuel oil rises, the city budget is strained by the increased costs of heating schools. The city is faced with raising taxes or cutting services. When the cost of electricity goes up, businesses are squeezed and find it hard to compete. When gasoline prices go up, commuters find their household budgets squeezed.

The energy problem and the environmental problems are linked. What we need to do is to explore the possible solutions and choose among them. Experts seem to agree that no one path is sufficient, and we will need to combine action on several fronts.

Conservation of energy is one key area. This can involve building green, retrofitting old buildings, and changes in a variety of activities. "Buildings in the United States are responsible for 39% of CO2 emissions, 40% of energy consumption, 13% water consumption and 15% of GDP per year, making green building a source of significant economic and environmental opportunity."--U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)

Renewable energy can be integrated into nearly every building, it does not have to be done in massive wind or solar farms. Combined with 'smart grid' technology, significant savings in energy production and distribution are possible.

Municipal buildings represent a large energy cost and an opportunity to reduce energy use and develop renewable energy sources.

Significant savings in energy needs can be achieved by building green. The planning and design process needs to be carefully monitored. (Note: Clearview elementary school in Hanover, Pennsylvania built to create a wholesome environment to the latest "green" specifications; savings of $18,000 annually for a school of 43,600 square feet.)


The short answer: research, plan, and develop a program. The goal could be, for example, a sustainability plan, a climate action plan, climate mitigation, or an energy plan. The plannng process needs to involve stakeholders and citizens, and needs a person or team to coordinate the process under the leadership of the Mayor and with the cooperation of the City Council.

Mytown can gain by the experience of others. There are many books and online resources. The government and some organizations provide literature and consulting to help in planning and implementation, and there may be grants and other incentives to aid in the planning.

We do not have to be limited or constrained to becoming a "green" community under existing national or state programs, although this would facilitate many developments. Mytown should innovate in ways that are best suited to Mytown. There may be significant advantages to a local power system using a smart grid.


Fox-Penner, Peter S., Smart Power: Climate Change, the Smart Grid, and the Future of Electric Utilities. Island Press, 2010 ISBN: 978-1597267069 An excellent analysis of alternative futures in power by an economist, taking account of the complex regulatory and industry environments.

Lovins, L. Hunter and Boyd Cohen, Climate Capitalism: Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change.(New York: Hilland Wang 2011. ISBN 9780809034734. Many examples of what people are doing to deal creatively with power and climate.

Mackres, Eric and Borna Kazerooki, Local Energy Planning in Practice: A Review of Recent Experiences, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy; 2012 )

Rifkin, Jeremy, The Third Industrial Revolution. Rifkin's vision of how we can create a better economic future and avoid climate change. One element of his model is the use of distributed energy production, where every building generates power from solar, wind, geothermal. Reviewed at:

Shulman, Seth, Jeff Deyette, Brenda Ekwurzel, Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living. Island Press, 2012. ISBN: 9781610911924 Based on an in-depth, two-year study by experts at The Union of Concerned Scientists. Science-based strategies to cut carbon, including chapters on transportation, home energy use, diet, personal consumption, as well as how best to influence your workplace, your community, and elected officials.

Additional resources at


Denny Doyle, Mayor of Beaverton Oregon. Population 92,000.

Clean Economic Growth How: talk to residents. Create Department of Sustainability. What makes it work? Good staff and good communication with residents.

Under Doyle's leadership, Beaverton joined the Better Buildings Challenge (commit to cut water and energy use by 20% by 2020.) "We're going to talk with all the major employers and the small businesses here and get the folks who own buildings ... on board to partake in this. I think they'll appreciate it because, again, it's just a way to make their bottom lines stronger."

Solar Beaverton: Program to provide photovoltaic systems at low cost to homeowners; free assessment, workshops; state and federal tax incentives. City buys the systems in bulk, homeowners pay only 20% of market price.

Today, about 260 homes have locally-made solar panels on their roofs (including Doyle's)—up from 10 in 2008. Savings of ~$300/year on utilities. Retrofitted city buildings, replaced streetlights with LEDs. They have been able to cut tax rate because of savings.

"We're not in big denial that something is happening. And based on the science that we have, we look at [initiatives] that could have an impact, and again, if it's economically sensible, [residents] want to do it ... We're not doing anything outlandish. We're not going into debt to do this. We're doing it as we can, and as we save money. We're not raising the bill for anybody."
(Q&A: Denny Doyle, Small-City Mayor, on Choosing Clean Economic Growth By Maria Gallucci, InsideClimateNews: July 2012 )

Medford MA Pop. 56,000

"As a Better Buildings Challenge Community Partner, Medford has pledged to make aggressive efforts to increase energy efficiency by implementing energy management programs throughout municipal buildings and by working with residential and commercial building owners in their the City. Medford is currently working on a Local Energy Action Plan which will list goals and actions in all three areas. Community input has been solicited on this plan, and information on the development of the plan and on how to provide input is available at" "Medford began working on its 20 percent reduction in 2010, when the City was in the first group of municipalities to be designated a Green Community by the Commonwealth."

Climate Action Plan, Albany CA. Pop. 18,500 In June 2006, the City of Albany committed to becoming a member of ICLEI-Local Government for Sustainability and participating in the Alameda County Climate Protection Project (ACCPP). As part of the project, the City to conducted a baseline Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory, set a community-wide emissions reduction target, and developed a Climate Action Plan (CAP).

Climate Action Plan: The Albany City Council adopted the Climate Action Plan (CAP) in April 2010. The CAP is comprised of policies and measures that, when implemented, will enable the City to meet its target for greenhouse gas emission reductions. Several climate protection measures and policies are either in place or in the planning stages.

However, recently (July 2012) the Albany City Council moved to approve a development that would include apartments and a supermarket. The required survey of wildlife was a sham, and the development would add a large amount of greenhouse CO2 annually. These, and other issues deviate from the announced goals of the Climate Action Plan, and approval of the development thus likely broke California law.

Berkeley CA Pop.112,600
The Berkeley Climate Action Plan Executive Summary and Full Report are available for download. In 2006, Berkeley voters issued a call to action on the climate change challenge by overwhelmingly endorsing ballot Measure G. The mandate was simple but bold: Reduce our entire community’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% below 2000 levels by 2050. The ballot measure directed the City to develop a Climate Action Plan to achieve that target.

Adopted by the Berkeley City Council on June 2, 2009, the Berkeley Climate Action Plan is the result of the community-based climate action campaign that the Berkeley voters set in motion. The plan is rooted in the vision for a sustainable Berkeley that emerged from the climate action planning process.

Energy Efficiency
The City of Berkeley is committed to promoting an integrated strategy to help Berkeley residents become more energy efficient. Learn how to increase energy efficiency in your home and reduce your household carbon footprint.

Green Building
The goal of the Berkeley's Green Building Program is to remove barriers to green construction, and to promote polices and practices that encourage building green. Green buildings provide healthy, comfortable building interiors, maximize savings through the efficient use of energy and water and limit construction impacts on the natural environment.

WORCESTER MA Population: 175,011

The goal of Worcester's 2006 Climate Action Plan is to reduce the community's energy use and greenhouse gas emissions through a combination of cost-recoverable and cost neutral actions.…


Programs of the Commonwealth of MA…


ICLEI USA is a leading membership association of cities & counties committed to climate action, clean energy, and sustainability

ICLEI’s has developed a "Five Milestone Methodology" for setting and meeting your climate mitigation or sustainability goals:

Getting Started Prior to launching into the Five Milestone process, you should take a few preliminary steps to get organized and to make a commitment. The chief elected official should publicly commit to developing a sustainability plan and should appoint someone to coordinate the planning process, typically a sustainability coordinator. To guide the plan development, local governments should form an external sustainability advisory board along with an interdepartmental team to participate in the development of the plan.

The plan provides for systematic steps to gather information, involve all stakeholders, measure, introduce change, monitor, followup and evaluate.


Better Buildings Challenge

Local partners: Commonwealth of Massachusetts; City of Medford; City of Worcester.

Planning & Development Resources

Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC); Mytown is part of the North Shore Task Force (NSTF). "Our mission is promoting smart growth and regional collaboration."

"Sustainable communities are areas that are planned, built, or modified to promote sustainable living. This may include sustainability aspects relating to the environment, development, infrastructure, public health, transportation, and energy."

"The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides grants through the Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Program, for projects that support metropolitan and multi-jurisdictional planning efforts that integrate housing, land use, economic and workforce development, transportation, and infrastructure investments."

To promote equity and sustainabillity.

Developing a Climate Change Action Plan

Eric Mackres and Borna Kazerooni, Local Energy Planning in Practice: A Review of Recent Experiences Washington DC: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy 2012 “ ...local strategic energy efficiency planning, if effectively managed, presents an opportunity to achieve considerable energy savings, save money, create jobs, and protect the environment. ”

Michael R. Boswell, Adrienne I. Greve, Tammy L. Seale Local Climate Action Planning Washington DC, Island Press, 2012 ISBN: 978-1-59726-962-9 (paper). 78-1-59726-961-2(cloth) This is the first book designed to help planners, municipal staff and officials, citizens and others working at local levels to develop Climate Action Plans. CAPs are strategic plans that establish policies and programs for mitigating a community's greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions. They typically focus on transportation, energy use, and solid waste, and often differentiate between community-wide actions and municipal agency actions. CAPs are usually based on GHG emissions inventories, which identify the sources of emissions from the community and quantify the amounts. Additionally, many CAPs include a section addressing adaptation, how the community will respond to the impacts of climate change on the community, such as increased flooding, extended drought, or sea level rise.

More resources and ideas

US Department of Energy, Building Technologies Program. "Value-Driven Applications: Advanced energy efficiency technologies like lighting, HVAC, windows, appliances, and commercial equipment...Real World Solutions: Holistic strategies for new construction and building upgrades that reduce energy bills, enhance comfort and productivity, and provide healthier indoor environments in new or existing homes and commercial buildings."

geothermal systems, heat pumps…

Measuring the $ value of solar electric, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Annual value of electricity generated on the north shore of Boston, by a panel of one square meter, is estimated at $587, assuming 11.8 ¢/kWh

The PVWatts Site Specific Data calculator uses hourly typical meteorological year (TMY) weather data and a PV performance model to estimate annual energy production and cost savings for a crystalline silicon PV system.…

Energy Service Companies

Typically, a municipality has severe restrictions on capital investments. When it comes to evaluating and implementing a new, sustainable energy installation, the up-front costs can inhibit a town going for long-term energy and cost savings. However, energy service companies (ESCO) can provide both the expertise and the finance.

An energy service company (acronym: ESCO or ESCo) is a commercial business providing a broad range of comprehensive energy solutions including designs and implementation of energy savings projects, energy conservation, energy infrastructure outsourcing, power generation and energy supply, and risk management. ... At all times, the benefit (saving) is guaranteed to exceed the fee. In all instances, The ESCO starts by performing an in-depth analysis of the property, sometimes at risk, designs an energy efficient solution, installs the required elements, and maintains the system to ensure energy savings during the payback period. The savings in energy costs are often used to pay back the capital investment of the project over a five- to twenty-year period, or reinvested into the building to allow for capital upgrades that may otherwise be unfeasible. If the project does not provide returns on the investment, the ESCO is often responsible to pay the difference.

Two projects undertaken by Ameresco ( can serve as examples of sustainable energy programs for municipalities. One involves a program to serve the public schools in Revere, MA. (link to video)

The other project was a major energy program for the City of Lowell, MA. All told, the city-wide infrastructure upgrade and energy efficiency project, which included 47 of Lowell’s municipal buildings, is expected to produce annual energy savings of more than $1.5 million over a 20 year contract. This represents approximately 25 percent savings overall. In 2010, Lowell earned the Green Community designation from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER). Building on its sustainability progress, Lowell received the 2011 Municipal Leading by Example Award from the Massachusetts Leading by Example Program.