Northampton wins grant to reduce city energy use

As the world begins to investigate the environmental consequences of heavy carbon footprints, Northampton stands out as one community that takes strides in a cleaner direction. The town has shown outstanding energy leadership, according to the Commonwealth’s Green Communities program, which has awarded Northampton $98,000 for energy reduction of heating and cooling two city buildings, announced Mayor David Narkewicz on July 3.

Northampton received $98,000 in grant funding for the heating and cooling of two municipal buildings.

In 2010, Northampton was one of the first Massachusetts communities to be designated a "Green Community," as it fulfilled all criteria put out by the state, including implementation of a higher efficiency level in building codes, regulation of Northampton companies, adoption of an energy efficiency policy for buying vehicles and intention to reduce city energy municipalities by 20 percent in five years. It received an initial qualification grant from the Department of Energy Resources (DOER), which was used to install a 106 kW photovoltaic system, a very large solar array, at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, which drives down electrical use at the school and provides a revenue stream for the community that the Northampton Energy and Sustainability Commission can now use for efficiency projects.

This year’s award is through the first Green Communities competitive grant program. “The cities and towns receiving these awards have already shown outstanding clean energy leadership – first by doing the work to become Green Communities and then by carrying out important energy efficiency and renewable energy projects funded through their initial grants,” said DOER Commissioner Mark Sylvia.

The Northampton Energy and Sustainability Commission, Northampton Central Services and the mayor together proposed the idea of using this second grant to implement projects that will increase efficiency at the Academy of Music and Memorial Hall. The annual consumption of natural gas will be reduced by 20% at the Academy of Music and by 13% at Memorial Hall.

Air leaks in the smoke hatch and cupola of the roof above the Academy’s stage will be sealed and insulated. Chris Mason, Northampton’s Energy and Sustainability Officer, said that the town recently added insulation and replaced old leaky light fixtures in the ceiling above the theater’s seating area as part of a $6.5 million energy upgrade project of over 20 municipal buildings. Old lamps were replaced with new high-efficiency LED lamps. “This project will complete the process of insulating the Academy’s roofs,” he added.

Attic insulation at Memorial Hall is currently poorly installed and missing in several large areas. “The condition of the insulation at Memorial Hall greatly reduces its performance,” Mason said. This grant will allow the city to remove degraded insulation, seal all ceiling penetrations, install high R-value insulation and seal air leaks along the foundation of the building. Northampton recently replaced Memorial Hall’s single-pane windows with high-efficiency double-pane windows as part of its municipal-wide energy upgrade project.  The new project, according to Mason, will further reduce Memorial Hall’s energy use and improve conditions for city workers. Mason said, “[The projects] should be completed by the time the snow falls, in time for when the next heating system season kicks in.”

Due to its status as a Green Community, Northampton was invited to apply for electric vehicle charging stations. “We are very close to installing electric vehicle charging stations at four sites in Northampton,” Mason said, “so the first electric vehicles will have place to fill up here in Northampton.”

Another project Mason foresees is to increase the energy efficiency of the city’s street lights. Northampton is currently looking to upgrade pole top and cobra head light fixtures so as to save energy.

These projects will have a long-lasting impact on the community, according to Mason. They will reduce the city’s energy costs and will allow money to be spent locally, rather than relying on imported energy, which will reduce Northampton’s carbon footprint and impact on climate change.

The Northampton Energy and Sustainability Commission, Mason said, “is putting together a nice, glossy publication on a lot of the energy issues in front of Northampton and what we’ve done about them. That’s about to come out in the mail so keep your eyes open for it.” It is not only informational, he said, but also a toolkit that provides resources on where community members can go to get an energy assessment for their homes, what the city is doing and how everyone can join in and be active in making Northampton cleaner.


Photos courtesy anthonystoro via Flickr. Used under creative commons license.