Meeting minutes, August 25, 2010

Attending: Cara Cleveland, Laurie DeDonato, Hal Gillam, Jinx and Howard Hastings, Brian Nugent, Gloria Kegeles, Janice and Steve Kurkoski, Pat Larson, Linda Paquet, Bruce Spencer, Cathy Stanton, Jonathan von Ranson

The meeting began with a tour of Cathy Stanton and Fred Holmgren’s new house in Wendell, currently in the process of being built.


  • “Farm, Field, and Forest”: Genevieve Fraser is organizing an all-day event about local sustainability, agriculture, and forests on Sept. 25 at the Orange Town Hall. There will be an energy panel at 11 a.m. It isn’t clear on what basis we might be involved in this, but there was agreement that it would be good to have some kind of presence. Brian, Janice, and Pat are possible participants who might be there to make a short introduction to our group and what we do. Brian will be demonstrating winserts and his prototype thermophilic composter at the event, and Kris Marquis will do a red worm composting demo. Linda’s daughter is doing something on shiitake mushrooms.
  • Janice and Pat have been invited to a Franklin-County-wide meeting of town energy committees. These meetings are held in Turners Falls and are sponsored by FRCOG.

  • Franklin County Homecare is training volunteers to help elderly people fill out paperwork for weatherization help.

  • New Salem passed a right-to-farm bylaw.

  • Wendell will be presenting a proposal to hire a local-food coordinator to the town meeting in the fall.

  • Jonathan reported on the efforts he and his wife have been making to try to build an apartment with no electricity and no indoor running water. Currently the town Board of Health is trying to decide whether it can review the proposal.

  • “Transition Warwick” is organizing a canning bee for Sept. 11. New Salem has already held one.

  • National Grid data on electricity use
    We are getting more data from National Grid about average electricity use in the various North Quabbin towns. Warwick currently has 2.5 years of data on hand. For Orange, the average residential use for people who don’t heat with electricity is 599 kWh per month; for Petersham, 622; for Royalston, 687; for Warwick, 581. Somewhat to our surprise (since our group members’ electricity use tends to be in the 2-300 kWh/month range), it does seem that National Grid’s stated average of 600 kWh/month for the state is probably quite accurate. This translates into current electric bills of about $100 a month.

    We continued our conversation about ways to use this data in our public activities. One suggestion was to equate kWh’s with pounds of carbon; each kWh is a little less than a pound of carbon, so an average household bill would represent about 550 pounds of carbon a month released into the atmosphere, just for electricity. This got us thinking about the difficulties of making these figures seem real, tangible, and personal to people who aren’t already concerned with energy issues. We talked about ways to equate amounts of energy not just to pounds of carbon but to equivalent amounts of human muscle-powered energy that would be needed to do the same amount of work – for example, how much energy it would take to heat the water for one shower by using stationary bicycle power. We’ll try to turn this data into some kind of display for our Garlic Festival table, similar to what the Wendell Task Force did at the recent Old Home Day. Steve and Pat will look for new ideas and materials for this.

    Garlic and Arts Festival
    There will be energy-related talks on various topics on both Saturday and Sunday of the festival. On Saturday the talks will focus on various topics; Sunday’s schedule will be devoted more to builders.

    The NESEA Green Building tour is on the Saturday of the Garlic Festival weekend.

    We need people to sign up for the NQE table. We had 8 or 9 different people last year, but this year it seems as though many of our core volunteers are busy or away. Pat is coordinating the volunteer schedule. Brian will do winsert demonstrations at one end of the table. We’ll also try to have something that helps people visualize their electricity consumption.

    We will encourage people at the festival to sign up for our Oct. 23 “Take a Winsert Home” workshop. Cathy will make more paper flyers for this and will send the electronic flyer to Pat to send along to the core group, as well as making a sign about the workshop to have next to Brian’s demo area at the table.

    Local food brochure
    We will apply for funding from the cultural councils of all area towns with farms and food businesses listed in the brochure. We will send copies of the current brochure to all of the town energy committees and other knowledgeable people to ask for their input and updates before we reprint them.

    Take a Winsert home workshop
    This will be held on Saturday, Oct. 23 from 9 a.m. to noon. Cathy will send the flyer to Pat to distribute to the group, and will send out a press release in late September or early October.

    Newspaper articles for Athol Daily News
    Pat talked to Deb Porter at the Daily News, who would like to see a couple of sample columns. Wednesday would be a good day for the paper to run these. We will aim for perhaps 200-300 words per column.
    The Town of Athol is hoping to work with National Grid signing many people up to do energy audits, and the energy committee hopes that the Daily News will do a series of feature articles on this, perhaps focusing on a particular family working to reduce their energy use.
    We talked about the possibility of having something included in the Greenfield Recorder’s quarterly “Go Green” supplement.

    Book or film discussion
    We felt that it would be a good idea to have a book or film discussion sometime over the winter, to give us a chance to talk about some big or recent ideas relating to energy. We considered several ideas and decided to read Tom Wessells’ The Myth of Progress. We will aim to do this at our December meeting (location and date t.b.d.).

    Gasification plant proposal for Athol
    Hal reported that the developers for this project met with the state Department of Environmental Protection and were turned down. Apparently there is a ban on new combustion capacity without generation of electricity or fuel gas. Linda said that there were still meetings happening with the Athol Board of Health and that the project is by no means dead, because there is a loophole in the environmental regulations regarding gasification plants.

    MREC energy upgrades
    Hal suggested that as part of the Green Communities work that is scheduled to be done in Athol, NQE might want to help on continuing to weatherize the Environmental Center and find other ways to reduce its energy costs. The building is currently used only about four hours a day, a couple of days a week, but it uses about 7500 kWh of electricity and 4,280 gallons of oil a year, as well as 29,000 gallons of water. We will revisit this idea at a future meeting.

    Next meeting
    Wednesday, September 22, 6:30 p.m.
    Millers River Environmental Center
    We will work on planning for the Garlic Festival and winsert workshop.


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