All Things Sustainable

Mark Sandeen is the chair of the Sustainable Lexington Committee

Mark Sandeen is the chair
of the Sustainable Lexington Committee

 

All Things Sustainable

 

 

 

 

 

By Mark Sandeen

Question

Over 400,000 people marched in New York City demanding action on climate change. What is next?

Answer

An amazingly diverse group of people walked in the People’s Climate March in New York City because we are just beginning to realize as a society how urgent it is that we take rapid action to protect the future of our civilization and human life on this planet.

Recent studies show that if we want to maintain a livable climate, there is a limit to the amount of fossil fuels we can burn. And at our current pace, we will hit that limit in just 30 years. That is a pretty sobering thought. The implications are clear – we will need to transition to a 100% clean energy, zero emissions economy in the next 30 years.

Emissions will need to peak soon and begin falling rapidly if we are to avoid catastrophic and irreversible consequences. The investments we make over the next 15 years will determine the future of the world’s climate.

The good news is that this transition is not only technically feasible, but will save us money, strengthen our economy, and provide tremendous health benefits. We have an aging fleet of power plants that were put in place in the 50’s and 60’s and now need to be replaced. We can choose to replace them with more fossil fuel plants and lock our emissions in for the next 50 or 60 years. Or we can make the choice to switch to clean energy power systems – now, today. We have excellent and viable alternatives.

We can put solar panels on our rooftops, parking lots, and landfills. And start driving electric cars. We can build wind turbines and use hydro to fill in the gaps. We can design our new buildings so they use far less energy and unlock the energy savings in our existing buildings. Every dollar invested in energy efficiency yields $4 in energy savings – up to $2 trillion dollars in savings from our commercial buildings alone.

If we choose to replace our aging fossil fuel power plants with renewable replacements and energy efficiency investments, the slightly higher upfront costs will be more than offset by the savings from our reduced fuel costs. And every dollar we spend on a clean energy future is a dollar that stays in our local economy.

We marched in New York City because we are the first generation to feel the effects of climate change and the last generation that can do anything about it. It is time to get to work.

Question

My electric rates are skyrocketing. What can I do?

Answer

Our electricity rates have become increasingly volatile due to our over dependence on natural gas. We saw our electricity rates rise 24% last winter and the trend is accelerating with the Mass DPU approving generation rate hikes of almost 100% for the coming winter. It is clearly time to diversify our energy portfolio.

The increased volatility of our electricity rates makes switching to solar and wind power increasingly attractive. In fact, solar has reached “rate parity” in Massachusetts. Many Solarize Lexington homeowners with good sunny roofs were able to save up to 75% on their electricity bills by locking in a fixed rate for their solar electricity for next 20 years.

For those of you without good sunny roofs, like your lucky neighbors, ask your elected representatives to support community shared solar projects, which will allow you to buy solar power from a nearby solar farm.

 


Sustainable Lexington Committee

Sustainable Lexington is a Town committee appointed by the Board of Selectmen to enhance Lexington’s long-term sustainability and resilience in response to environmental resource and energy challenges.

Email: sustainablelexcmte@lexingtonma.gov

http://www.lexingtonma.gov/committees/sustainablelex.cfm

 

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Little Fixes, Big Savings!

Homeowners Come in from the Cold with Rebate Program

Installing Insulation

By Heather Aveson  |  The above average temperatures and lack of snow can lull us into thinking winter’s not so bad this year. But as the recent frigid weekend proved, Old Man Winter never really takes a vacation. That cold tingling on the back of your neck as you enter a room? It either means you’ve got a poltergeist or there’s a draft letting in the outside cold and robbing your energy dollars. But there’s help available, at least if it’s a draft.

Last fall the Sustainable Lexington Committee partnered with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Resources (DOER) to encourage residents to take advantage of state funded programs that increase home energy efficiency, saving the homeowner money and making the house more comfortable. Massachusetts offers state rebates of up to $2,000 a year for insulation, air sealing, and other upgrades through the program. So you can spread out upgrades over several years to take full advantage of the program. There are also 0% loans for burner replacement available and some energy suppliers are offering rebates on new systems as well.

Travis Estes of Next Step Living says its important homeowners understand how the program works. “You have to have an energy assessment to take advantage of the program. You can’t get the rebate or the 0% loan without it. People tell me they had work done and they want the rebate, but without the assessment, they end up paying for the whole thing themselves.” You could say without an energy assessment, you’ll be left out in the cold.

Next Step Living is a Mass Save participating Home Performance contractor. They’ll come to your home and do a no cost energy assessment. The 2 ½ hour assessment will identify areas of air leakage, test the efficiency of your furnace, boiler or water heater. They will also check check carbon monoxide levels and from your burner or gas range. Then they’ll make recommendations to improve safety and efficiency.

More than 122 Lexington homeowners have already had an assessment. Many homeowners have completed improvements or are in the process of having upgrades done.

One of those homeowners is Joel Adler. He’s very glad he took advantage of the deal. Joel had been getting letters from the gas company comparing his energy usage to his neighbors, which showed he was using substantially more gas each month. So when he heard about the program he signed up for an assessment. “What they found when they went into the flue from the gas boiler was the carbon monoxide level was over 2000ppm. It should be at or below 100ppm. If anything had happened, my wife and I would have been gone.” Next Step Living suggested bringing in an HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) contractor to clean the boiler. They dusted and vacuumed around the cast iron heating tubes and calibrated the air supply. After the work Mr. Adler says the CO readings are now in the mid-80’s. Although there hasn’t been time to analyze energy savings since the work, his health and safety are worth more than any savings. The Adlers will be also be insulating their attic in the next few weeks based on the assessment.

Checking the water heater

Travis Estes says the problems found in the Adler’s home are two of the most important, and common, issues they find. “High levels of CO can be found through the assessment. We check anything with a flame; including burners, water heaters, and gas ovens.” He also reminds everyone to

Make sure your home is equipped with working Carbon Monoxide detectors and

Have your burner checked and cleaned on an annual or bi-annual basis.

Attic insulation and air sealing is another common problem and one of the biggest heat drains. Regardless of a home’s age most attics aren’t adequately sealed or insulated. Travis Estes says attic insulation was never a building code requirement in the past so most contractors skipped the step. But, think back to basic science, heat rises. If the heat in your home is rising into a poorly insulated attic, all that heat is lost. The trick is to keep the heat in the living area of the home. That’s what air sealing and attic insulation accomplish.

Insulating a floored attic can be a bit more difficult. But Mr. Estes says it can still be done using a compressed cellulose insulation. Plan ahead—if you’re building a house or ready to renovate, make sure you insulate and air seal the attic from the start.

Sustainable Lexington and Next Step Living are working with Sagewell, Inc. as part of the DOER program. Sagewell is conducting and analyzing thermal scans of houses in Lexington and several other towns through out the state. About half the houses in Lexington have been imaged so far. If you’d like to see a visual representation of your home’s heat loss, go to Sagewell.com/Lexington. If your home has already been scanned you can log in to see an analysis of where your home is losing heat and steps to correct it. Pasi Miettinen of Sagewell says they’ll be out in the next few weeks scanning more houses. They’ll also be re-scanning homes that have been upgraded so owners can see the difference in heat loss. The warmer winter hasn’t slowed down their work and Pasi says every time Old Man Winter roars things pick up, “We see an increase in our website traffic on cold and windy days when people feel uncomfortable in their homes. We can almost measure the visitor count using wind speed indicators.”

Mark Sandeen of the Sustainable Lexington is happy to hear homeowners are taking the first step. “The people who have done the assessment and upgrades are very happy with the process and the results they’re getting. What we’d like to see is more people participating.” That’s something that Joel Adler would like to see as well. “I’d had prior checks on my burner and they didn’t find anything. They’d just kind of eyeball it. These guy were really experienced. It’s an important story that should get out there.”

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