July 14, 2009 meeting minutes

July 14, 2009
Millers River Environmental Center

Attending:
Neil Anders, Judy Bennett, Donna Caisse, Hal Gillam, John Jackson, Steve and Janice Kurkoski, Brian Nugent, Linda Paquet, Pat Roix, Bruce Spencer, Cathy Stanton

Announcements:
• The GreenStart program has undergone some changes. There will no longer be matching funds for towns from the Renewable Energy Trust, and towns need to submit plans between August 21 and Nov. 30 for using their existing funds for energy-related projects. Towns can find the amount they’ve raised by visiting the Renewable Energy Trust website.
• Cathy is interested in reading E.F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful and possibly discussing it with others in the group. Contact her by email (cstanton@tiac.net) or phone (978-249-5174) if you are interested in pursuing this.

Possible regional North Quabbin collaborations and projects:
The remainder of the evening’s agenda was taken up with a wide-ranging discussion sparked by an announcement about a call for applications from the Franklin County Regional Council of Governments, which has been named a “technical assistance provider” for the Green Communities Act and which is inviting municipalities to submit applications to be designated as Green Communities. This designation will be a step toward applying for various kinds of funding for energy-related projects.

Hal spoke about a proposal that has emerged from Athol town government to see whether other towns in the nine-town region want to join together to have the North Quabbin as a whole become a Green Community. Apparently multi-town proposals will be looked on with favor by the state. Municipalities need to meet various criteria and to show they are working on reducing energy use in order to be eligible, but the application process is not labor-intensive. Phil Delorey in the Athol planning department has offered to contact the towns’ selectboards and see if we can get this onto a meeting agenda before the August 7 deadline. Hal is working on this with Phil and asked if North Quabbin Energy would like to be involved. It also seems to make sense to involve other groups thinking about energy issues—the town committees, Hands Across North Quabbin/Green Economy Task Force, North Quabbin Community Coalition, and perhaps others.

Overall, response to the idea was positive. We discussed the pros and cons of this kind of regional collaboration. On the plus side, it seems like a way to bring together the somewhat scattered efforts that are already going on, and to pursue projects that might start in one town but be replicated in others and/or benefit the region as a whole. Questions were raised about the work involved in coordinating a multi-town effort, the possibility that towns might not want to support projects outside their own borders, and what happens if towns want to opt in or out of the process once it starts.

In brainstorming possible ways to build on this idea of a more regional approach to energy issues, we touched on a number of topics:

• Pat and John brought an idea to the table that the Athol town energy committee has been considering, which is to find a way of capitalizing a local business producing an energy product or service. The committee was originally thinking of ways to attract “green businesses” to town, but Brian proposed the idea of focusing more on low-tech than high-tech, and perhaps starting a coop or business that could employ local people without a great deal of training. Lynn Benander from Coop Power spoke to the group about how the coop could help with this. One possibility is to get 50 new Coop Power members (at about $1000 per share) which would allow us to have a North Quabbin regional affiliate and to tap into Coop Power’s financing options for a new business or coop. Winsert production and weatherization were two of the ideas that have been proposed for this. The Athol committee would like to know whether this is something they might pursue along with others in the region.
• A committee from Coop Power has been continuing to work on the idea of having a pellet production facility in Greenfield. Bruce is involved in this. We talked about the possibility of promoting district heating systems for municipal facilities in the nine NQ towns (or however many wanted to sign on for the Green Communities designation) which could provide a steady market for pellets produced in Greenfield, benefiting both the towns and the proposed plant.
• Steve argued for being realistic about future big projects, and for continuing to emphasize conservation and reducing energy use wherever possible, rather than pursuing new technologies as a first step.
• Cathy suggested that we come up with a compelling project or set of connected projects (for example, getting a weatherizing coop/business going plus working with towns to tighten up their buildings and move toward biomass-fueled district heating) and use that to generate interest in the towns.
• We returned to an old idea that keeps coming up, which is to work on doing some public education and consciousness-raising about the actual amounts of electricity that people use in a month, how that compares with others’ use, and how it can be gradually reduced. Janice noted that we can fairly readily get figures broken down by town and type of use from National Grid, which might serve as a starting-point for this kind of effort. Bruce mentioned a recent Boston Globe article about a controversial plan to have low-income customers pre-pay for a limited amount of electricity each month. Steve and Janice mentioned the Washington Electric Cooperative in Vermont which charges incremental rates for electricity depending on the amount of use (the rate goes up with heavier use). This approach might be something we could work on on a regional basis, by showing what the averages are in the different NQ towns and challenging people to lower the figures.

After this discussion, we decided that NQ Energy will support the Athol-initiated FCRCOG application process by writing a letter of support and by working on getting people from our list of contacts to attend selectboard meetings in support of the proposal. It is our hope that this will strengthen the network of connections with other groups thinking about energy in the region. As this progresses, we will work on thinking about feasible regional projects or ideas that would benefit the whole nine-town region, including perhaps creating a Coop Power affiliate in the North Quabbin, and working on creating a coop or other business doing weatherization (which might train people to make winserts, particularly the wooden frames). As this is developing, we’ll continue trying to articulate a larger-scale vision for how these ideas might fit within longer-term plans that are applicable to all of the nine towns (for example, a replicable district heating plant model that could provide a market for locally-produced pellets). Cathy will work with Hal and others to draft a letter of support before the August deadline.

Other business:
• Linda asked for ideas and suggestions for how to respond to the Petersham town government’s request that she and her town energy committee work on getting some kind of renewable energy system for the Center School. Bruce suggested speaking with Rob Rizzo who is now working at DOER. Other people mentioned the Green Schools initiative through the Mass. Technology Collaborative.
• We approved in principle the idea of having Randy Kehler come and speak about the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in September, but no one at the meeting stepped forward to organize the event. We will see if Elaine Reardon, who proposed the idea, wants to take the lead on proposing a date, finding a location, doing publicity, etc. A library or the Environmental Center were suggested as possible venues. Pat Roix will speak to others in the local area who are working on nuclear-power related activism, to make sure our efforts would not step on their toes.

Next meeting:
Following up on a previous discussion, we decided to pursue the idea of seeing whether Tina Clarke of Montague, whose new home recently won a recent Zero Energy award for most energy-efficient new home in the state, would give us a tour. The first choice for this was Aug. 26, with a backup date of Sept. 2. Steve and Janice will check to see if this will work. There were some unanswered questions about whether or how to combine this with a meeting, which we will need to resolve.

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