Is Lexington’s Future RENEWABLE?

 

Is Lexington’s Future

RENEWABLE?

By Mark Sandeen, Chair
Sustainable Lexington Committee

Lexington made remarkable progress towards achieving a renewable future in 2017. We brought our Hartwell Avenue solar facility online – and are now generating 45% of the Town’s municipal electricity demand from our rooftop and landfill projects. We launched a highly successful Community Choice program, which is now providing 100% renewable electricity for less money than our utility’s Basic Service offering to over 10,000 customers – saving Lexington residents about $1.6 million over the first 12 months of the program.

The Town approved two designs for 100% renewable energy schools that will be built to the highest standards for health, indoor air quality, energy efficiency and resilience. Hastings School and the Lexington Children’s Place are expected to generate more solar electricity onsite than they need to operate – from their rooftops and solar canopies in their parking lots.

These are extraordinarily hopeful signs for the Getting to Net Zero Emissions task force; whose 25-year goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from Lexington’s residential, commercial, and municipal buildings and to achieve a transition to renewable energy sources for all of Lexington’s buildings. Our guiding principles have been four simple words – Report, Reduce, Produce, and Purchase.

Report – Our first step is to understand what types of buildings we have in Lexington and assess how those types of buildings perform from an energy use and emissions perspective.

Reduce – There are really only two ways to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. We can use less energy by investing in energy efficiency or we can switch to using cleaner sources of energy.

Produce – The next step is maximizing the production of onsite renewable energy from our rooftops and parking lots.

Purchase – After reducing energy use and switching from burning fossil fuels onsite as much as possible, we will purchase renewable electricity to supply our energy demand.

Why is the task force focusing on our buildings? Lexington’s buildings generate 66% of our greenhouse gas emissions – 36% from the electricity used in our buildings and 30% from the use of oil and natural gas to heat our buildings.

We’ve hired Peregrine Energy Group to produce an energy and emissions baseline report for all of Lexington’s buildings. They have produced a fascinating report with lots of interesting results. Peregrine found that our residential buildings are responsible for 55% of our building emissions while commercial labs and offices are responsible for 34% of our emissions. The remaining 11% comes from our municipal buildings, retail spaces, non-profits, and health care facilities.

The chart above shows that most of our residential buildings were built in the ‘50s and ‘60s. During that time the average size of a new home was about 1,200 square feet. New homes today are averaging about 4,700 square feet or about 4 times the size of homes built between 1920 and 1980. Many Lexington residents are under the impression that we are tearing down existing homes at a furious pace – after all, it seems like you see a new teardown going on every time you drive around town. But the data shows that new construction is responsible for less than 1% of our building stock each year. What that means is that 25 years from now – we will mostly have the same buildings we have today.

These lessons also hold true for our commercial buildings. Most of our commercial buildings were built in the ‘50s thru the ‘80s. We are building very few new commercial buildings today. The simple takeaway is that we will have to figure out how to retrofit our existing buildings if we are going to be successful at reducing our emissions to zero.

Natural gas usage is up in Lexington. But that is offset by declines in heating oil usage as residential homeowners have been switching from heating oil to natural gas quite rapidly since 2008. Our electricity use has been declining about 1% a year for the past 7 years due primarily to the Mass Save program to encourage energy efficiency. [See chart below]

 

But perhaps the biggest story for our overall emissions has been the beneficial effect of closing our coal and oil power generators in New England. We started with a much cleaner electrical grid than the rest of the country and have now reduced our emissions an additional 30% over the past 20 years.

In Lexington we hope to accelerate that trend by leveraging our positive experience with our Community Choice program that was able to secure 100% renewable electricity for less than the cost of conventional electricity. Our Community Choice program is currently reducing Lexington’s emissions by 98 million pounds of CO2 per year. [See chart above] Now that we are able to provide 100% renewable energy at lower cost for our residents, we’d like to do the same thing for our commercial property owners.

A lot of people are amazed that this is possible. The simple fact is that renewable energy prices are dropping rapidly. Solar panel prices plunged by a shocking 26 percent in the last year — despite having already dropped 80 percent in the previous 10 years and 99 percent since the late 1970s. Wind’s story is almost as amazing. In October, we saw the lowest bids in the world for 1,000 MW of wind electricity at 4 cents per kWh – a 24 percent drop just from February. We are seeing similarly rapid declines in offshore wind prices.

The next series of charts provide a broad overview of our plan for Getting to Net Zero Emissions for all of our buildings. [Figure 1] The upper light blue line on this chart shows what we could expect for our buildings’ greenhouse gas emissions in a Business as Usual case. The light blue area shows the emissions reductions we can expect from the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) that requires an additional 1% of renewable electricity per year. The dark blue area represents the emission reductions we can achieve by transitioning all of our buildings to 100% renewable electricity. We would reduce our emissions by 48% when we achieve that objective. We have high confidence that we’ll be able to achieve this as we expect the cost of renewable electricity to continue dropping over the next 25 years.

The light and dark green parts of the next chart [Figure 2] show we can reduce our emissions 34% by switching from oil and natural gas to heat our buildings, if we transition to using heat pumps powered by 100% renewable electricity. The cost and performance of heat pumps has made dramatic gains in the past 4 or 5 years. Heat pumps provide a strong economic incentive to switch from oil on energy savings alone. We will encourage the transition to heat pumps as older oil fired boilers reach the end of their useful life.

With natural gas prices currently at all-time lows, heating with natural gas will cost less than using a heat pump solution. One way to provide a cost effective solution for natural gas customers would be to combine energy efficiency improvements such as air sealing and insulation to reduce the building’s overall energy demand with the transition to a heat pump. Building owners would see a net overall reduction in their energy costs by combining an investment in energy efficiency and heat pumps. [Figure 3]

Interestingly, there is also an opportunity to tap into the $9.3 billion Massachusetts has allocated to repair natural gas pipelines. The idea is that rather than spending the money to repair natural gas pipelines – you could use less money to pay for the new equipment needed to transition from natural gas to heat pumps, from natural gas ranges to induction cooktops. We’ll be trying a pilot project in Lexington to see if that idea pencils out.

Estabrook School

Finally, we have already figured out how to build our new school buildings to be 100% renewable buildings while lowering our total cost of ownership. Our most recently constructed LexHab affordable homes were only 1 or 2% away from generating 100% of their own energy.  We’ve even seen a net zero energy retrofit completed in the Historic District! Net Zero construction is a growing trend in new construction. Net Zero buildings have been delivering dramatic increases in home valuations. We believe that over the next 10 years we’ll be able to adopt a net zero emissions building code for all new buildings in Lexington that will deliver the final 8% in emissions reductions needed to transition Lexington to a 100% renewable energy future. [Figure 4]

Our largest building owners in Lexington, like King Street Properties and Shire are committed to reducing their emissions and are already setting and beating aggressive goals to reduce their emissions. We will be working with them to support their efforts with programs such as the Commercial PACE program, which allows commercial property owners to access new sources for energy efficiency and renewable energy financing.

SHIRE Pharmaceuticals

King Street Properties – 115 Hartwell Avenue

 

In the near term, we are recommending that the Board of Selectmen take a leadership role by adopting the Sustainable Building Design policy, formalizing the goals for health, indoor air quality, energy efficiency and onsite renewable energy production, which have shown such great results during the Hastings and Lexington Children’s Place school design.

We would also suggest that the Town start buying 100% renewable electricity for its own municipal electricity demand. The Town of Lexington signed a 3-year agreement with our current electricity provider, which ends in December of 2018. This year would be an excellent time to complete the Town’s move to a 100% renewable electricity future.

A lot of folks ask – what about reducing emissions from our vehicles? While our buildings are responsible for 66% of our greenhouse emissions, our vehicles are certainly next on the chopping block at 23% of our total emissions. The good news is that if we can transition our buildings to 100% renewable electricity – we can do the same for our cars.

Battery prices are declining rapidly and are expected to continue their rapid decline with another 75% price reduction expected within the next 15 years. At the same time, the power to weight ratio of the batteries has been improving rapidly. Those advances have allowed Elon Musk to introduce an electric truck with 500 miles of range and Tesla’s new Roadster with 620 miles of range!

Both trends have lead to soaring sales of electric vehicles worldwide and in Lexington. There were 1 million electric vehicles on the road at the end of 2015, but it took only 18 months for the next million electric vehicle sales. The next million cars will be on the road by Patriot’s Day this year. Lexington is also leading the electric vehicle revolution in Massachusetts with 6.7 times the number of electric vehicles per capita compared to the Massachusetts average. We doubled the number of electric cars in Lexington last year, and hope to do that again this year with our Lex Drive Electric group discount program.

And that revolution is only just getting started. Navigant expects 37 million electric vehicles will be on the road by 2025. Yes, that is more than 10x growth in the next 7 years. And 2025 is when Bloomberg [See chart above] expects electric car sales to really accelerate! Bloomberg New Energy Finance projects that the unsubsidized price of electric cars will fall to less than the price for internal combustion engine cars somewhere between 2025 and 2030.

Electric cars already cost far less to operate and maintain than gas vehicles. So when the upfront cost and the ongoing operating and maintenance cost are far less than a gas car – why would you buy a gas-powered vehicle? Especially when an electric car is just so darn fun to drive, has zero emissions when powered with renewable electricity and when you can get up to $7,500 in discounts from the Lex Drive Electric program?

So far we’ve been focusing on the benefit of reducing Lexington’s greenhouse gas emissions by transitioning our buildings and vehicles to 100% renewable energy, and with good reason. It is hard to overstate the importance of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions after watching the most extreme hurricanes and wildfires ever devastate Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and California, causing over $400 billion in damage.

But we should also consider that there are really important direct local health benefits from going 100% renewable. By transitioning both our buildings and cars to renewable energy we can eliminate much of the particulate matter air pollution that has dire immediate and local health effects. MIT determined that Massachusetts has the fifth highest premature mortality rate from the particulate matter air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels to heat our buildings. We have the 13th highest premature mortality rate from the air pollution caused by our vehicles. We could save over 3,100 lives each year in Massachusetts by eliminating the particulate matter emissions created by heating our buildings and driving our cars with fossil fuels.

Can Lexington transition to 100% renewable energy for our buildings and our vehicles? The answer is a resounding yes! The economics and the health benefits of renewable energy will not only lower our energy costs and improve our health, but will also provide a more livable climate for everyone. What are we waiting for?

The solar, wind, battery and electric car “miracles” have all gone mainstream. Building and running new renewable energy systems is now cheaper than just running exisiting coal and nuclear plants. China, India, France, the UK, and Norway have all announced they will phase out fossil fuel cars in the next decade or so. Even OPEC has quintupled their forecasts for electric cars. The clean energy revolution is now unstoppable. Are you onboard?


The Getting to Net Zero Emissions task force includes building owners, community leaders and subject matter experts representing residential, commercial and municipal interests:
Joe Pato, Lexington Board of Selectmen, former Chair
Jeanne Krieger, Former Chair, Lexington Board of Selectmen
Paul Lukez, Architect – Author, Suburban Transformations
Wendall Kalsow, Architect – Member, Lexington Historical Commission
Mike DiMinico, Sr. Director, King Street Properties
Melanie Waldron, VP, Boston Properties
Joseph Fulliero, Environmental Manager, Shire
Janet Terzano, Real Estate Agent, Barrett Sotheby’s
Alessandro Allessandrini – Chair, Lexington School Committee
Melisa Tintocalis – Lexington’s Economic Development Director
Lisa Fitzgibbons – Community Organizer, Mothers Out Front
Mark Sandeen – Chair, Sustainable Lexington Committee

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Undiscovered Lexington ~ Group Links Conservation Lands for the Community to Enjoy!

These are just a couple of the beautiful spots to explore in Lexington. Just wait for the spring and check out the Citizens of Lexington Conservation Walks here:   https://colonialtimesmagazine.com/citizens-of-lexington-spring-conservation-walks/

 

Click on the image of the map below to link to a PDF of the Pilot Route.

Pilot Route

http://www.lexingtonma.gov/committees/ACROSSLexingtonPilotRouteMapOctober_15_2012.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Members of the Greenways Corridor Committee. Front row- Alex Dohan, Eileen Entin, Rick Abrams, Keith Ohmart. Back row- Peggy Enders, Paul Knight, Mike Tabaczynski, Bob Hausselein, Stew Kennedy. Photo by David Tabeling.

 

By Laurie Atwater

 

I grew up with woods behind my house and I knew every inch of it! I spent all day having adventures in those woods—walking, reading, exploring, catching frogs and building forts. It held endless fascination for me right through the sixth grade when we moved across town and got new woods and a walking path thanks to the Rails to Trails program. I can’t imagine my life without that experience in nature.

Today I long for the piney woods, the smells of the meadow, the rich soil of my grandfather’s garden and the wind off the lake more than anything. The other day I took my coffee to Minuteman National Park and began a difficult tipsy walk along the crusty snow to the Hartwell Tavern and left to the rock wall bordering the pasture where I sat down for some quiet. One lady laughed asking me if I was out for a walk or a coffee break! I told her it was a therapeutic experience—I needed a dose of nature.

I recently sat with Rick Abrams and Keith Ohmart of the Lexington Greenways Corridor Committee to discuss their new project ACROSS (Accessing Conservation Land, Recreation Areas Open Spaces, Schools and Streets) Lexington. “You know,” Abrams says, “not many kids these days have the opportunity to get lost in nature.” But in Lexington, thanks to the efforts of Rick and the other members of the Lexington Greenways Corridor Committee, Lexingtonians will get to know the many natural resources around town and be able to get out into nature—adults and children alike—with more ease.

Rick mentions several studies conducted at the University of Michigan by professors Rachel and Stephen Kaplan which show that walking in nature, living close to nature and viewing pictures of nature had positive benefits among diverse populations. The couple has theorized that modern life is full of “sustained attention” which is exhausting. Being in nature allows attention to wander and be captured by images of beauty and gives the brain time to recover. It’s called Attention Restoration Therapy (ART) and it occurs only in nature. A walk in the city does not have the same effect.

a71ce03ae7a0be49f07db110.L Recent books by Richard Louv, The Nature Principal and his previous book The Last Child in the Woods—Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder , describe the effect of our plugged-in lifestyle on our “denatured” children. Today’s kids don’t often have the experience that I had growing up, or that early residents of Lexington had before open space gave way to big houses. This lack of nature in our lives—this “nature deprivation deficit” as author Richard Louv calls it, may be just as damaging to our children as Attention Deficit Disorder.

Research at the University of Rochester in 2010 by investigators Netta Weinstein, Andrew Przybylski, and Richard Ryan revealed that time in nature not only recharges our imagination and relaxes our bodies, but it reorients our values. In an article in Scientific American , entitled The Moral Call of the Wild , social psychologist Wesley Shultz discusses this research in conjunction with changing American values and concludes that our ever-increasing distance from nature “could drive large-scale shifts in societal values.” Beyond its mood elevating effects, it seems that nature might also increase our desire to connect with our communities and decrease externalized values like the desire for fame or wealth. “As their results show, Shultz writes, “experiences with strictly built environments lead to life aspirations that are more self-focused.”

LEXINGTON’S OPEN SPACE

This story has two real heroes: the Lexington Conservation Committee and the Lexington Greenways Corridor Committee. One Committee is relatively new and the other has been working since 1963 when according to the Town website “Town Meeting voted to accept the Conservation Act (M.G.L. Chapter 40 51 and s. 8c), which had been passed by the Massachusetts legislature to promote and protect open space in the Commonwealth. The Commission’s responsibilities were expanded to include administration and enforcement of wetlands protection when the Wetlands Protection Act (M.G.L. 131 Section 40) was created.”

This move corresponded with the boom in the development of inner ring suburbs between 1950 and 1960 (fueled by the highway system) and the rapid development of open space that accompanied the expansion into formerly rural cities and towns.

In 1951 Lexington became connected to Route 128 and the population began to swell. Lexington was a farming community rife with fields, meadows, woods and waterways that remained untouched until this rapid flight from the inner cities to the suburbs by a middle class yearning for yards and gardens.

According to Dick Kollen in his great book Lexington- from Liberty’s Birthplace to Progressive Suburb:  “While Lexingtonians applauded the benefits of Route 128’s construction…town leaders grew wary that excessive population growth would transform the town’s landscape and character.” (Page 145)

Indeed, the movement began in Lexington to acquire and protect Lexington’s open space for the generations to come and we are all the beneficiaries of this forward-thinking effort that continues today.  As large parcels of family farmland come up for sale, the town of Lexington has been there to preserve parts of it for future Lexingtonians to enjoy.  This preservation of  land will protect Lexington from the over-developed appearance of many of its neighbors.

 

“Sit here for a while on the stone wall (ever mindful of the poison ivy), and let your gaze and your thughts wander to the Chiesa barn in the far distance. Such peace and solitude on a warm afternoon or evening is a therapeutic interlude and a refreshing restorative … If you tell me that you have better things to do than sit on a lichen-covered stone wall at the edge of a hay field, watching the timothy rippling in the wind, I shall reply that materialism has overtaken and subdued you. Our children’s children shall be poorer without these peaceful acres to enjoy.”
-S. Lawrence Whipple. “Peaceful Acres’ Preservation Urged,” The Lexington Minuteman, May 25, 1985. Excerpted from Lexington Through the Years, S. Lawrence Whipple, Edited by S. Levi Doran.

 

ACROSS LEXINGTON

Fast forward to today and the next step in this continuum has been undertaken—the committee seeks to increase Lexingtonians’ awareness of these great open spaces and to promote its use for passive recreation and alternate transportation around town. Rick Abrams, Keith Ohmart and Eileen Entin comprise the ACROSS Lexington Task Force of the Greenways Corridor Committee (GCC). They have been charged by the Selectmen with the responsibility to identify existing pathways through conservation land and existing streets in town and to link them into coherent routes for pedestrians or bikers.

“We really have two goals,” Abrams says, “to get people walking in nature and to see this as an alternative form of transportation around town.”

Ohmart points out, “One of the key parts of this is that we are using existing infrastructure—either sidewalks or streets or trails that are already there in our conservation land. There’s very little in the way of new trails that need to be constructed. We’re not out there blazing trails where there was nothing before.”

Initially the committee simply wanted to connect the green spaces in town—playing fields and open spaces like Great Meadow, but they soon expanded their vision. “We realized that there are connections in town from neighborhoods to the town center and to the schools that would encourage people to leave their cars behind,” Ohmart says.

Making Lexington more walkable is the ultimate goal. “If we can get more kids, parents and elders out of their cars, walking to school, walking to the town center—that will make the community more sustainable,” says Abrams.

The Pilot Route was completed on October 15th and is 5.5 miles in length. The route starts in the town center and takes a walker through 4 conservation areas—Lower Vinebrook, Willard’s Woods, Chiesa Farm, and Parker Meadow—ending up back on the Minuteman bikeway.

Since the Pilot Route was opened they have received positive feedback and they want to hear from more Lexingtonians. “We are a committee that wants feedback,” Abrams laughs. The more people that test out the route the more they hear.

 

The Board of Selectmen have established the Rick Abrams ACROSS Lexington Fund
to support the trail network by creating new directional and interpretive signage, electronic and/or print maps, and web/software development to incorporate current technologies. The mailing address for donations
(Write- Rick Abrams ACROSS Lexington Trust Fund on the memo line of the check) is:
Board of Selectmen
ACROSS Lexington Trust Fund
Town of Lexington
1625 Massachusetts Avenue
Lexington, MA 02420

 

In the end, the goal of the committee is to link forty miles of streets and open spaces to traverse the entire town in many directions and link us with our center, the schools and other points of interest in Lexington. The Greenway Corridor Committee is hoping to complete the additional work over the next three years.

“The town of Lexington found some money to purchase the signage and some poles,” according to Abrams. But, he stresses, the majority of the small markers are affixed to existing structures—a telephone pole or a tree—and few posts have had to be added. All of the work has been completed by volunteers from the Conservation Stewards and the Greenways Corridor Committee.

THE PILOT ROUTE

An initial group of about thirty enthusiastic walkers initiated inaugurated the route. They broke up in small groups to explore the 5.5 miles of Lexington. “It was amazing,” Abrams says. “All of these people were avid walkers, but they always walked the same old routes. There was constant surprise among the walkers—they never knew these spaces existed in Lexington!” Throughout the walk people were amazed at the amount of time they could go without seeing a house. What we’re doing is helping everyone in town figure it out for themselves following the signage.”

This is really the point of ACROSS Lexington. Many of the spaces are hidden from the street and marked only by a modest trailhead. It is very easy to travel through town and never know about the 1,300 plus acres of town-owned conservation land.

MY ADVENTURE

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My adventure on Hathaway Road from left to right-the trailhead facing the street, the trail facing in, the ducks fishing for dinner!

Based on my conversation with Rick and Keith, I went looking for a trailhead on Hathaway Road (off Adams Street) and drove all the way to the end of that dead end street without finding it. As I was turning around, I stopped to ask a boy in his driveway playing if he knew where the trail was. He didn’t even know! Driving out I noticed an opening to my left and there it was—only a few houses from where the boy was playing!

I got out of the car and walked a short distance into the woods. Just a few feet into the woods I came upon a beautiful little stream complete with pairs of ducks fishing for dinner! What fun I had watching their “bottoms up” diving and paddling around! Rick says that just about every neighborhood in Lexington “has one or more of these areas of open space to explore.”

Next up—Chiesa Farm. I am ashamed to say that I have always loved driving by—and I used to love watching the horses—but I hadn’t even noticed that an opening had been established from the street and you can easily walk up over the hill toward the beautiful rock wall and the benches. On my way up the hill I meet Randy Kinard and David Parker with their dogs Parker (a Westie named for Captain John Parker) and Theo that David proudly called a mutt. Both men were used to walking the dogs in this spot and loved to let them go off leash for a little freedom and fun. When I tell them what I was up to, they were highly complementary of the new ACROSS Lexington markers. “You know you’re going to end up somewhere,” Randy says and both guys feel that the guidance will encourage more to venture forth without being afraid of getting lost!

Chiesa Farm is a busy place on a Saturday and soon I am chatting with Jim and his son Luke who were very familiar with the various open spaces around—Lower Vinebrook, Parker Meadow and of course, Chiesa Farm. Both were ruddy from a good walk. Luke went to Diamond Middle School and used to walk through the field on his way home from school. Then there was the goat lady who was out walking with her very small herd of 5 or 6 goats! I make my way through the second gate and am rewarded with a beautiful view of yet another pasture. A little bit of heaven right in Lexington. And, I recall that Larry Whipple wrote of this very spot—he loved it so much.

There are many beautiful places to explore in Lexington and now thanks to ACROSS Lexington you can venture out for a lovely walk that will invigorate and revitalize you, boost your creativity and land you right back in Lexington Center for a bite to eat, or a latte with friends.

Try it and then get in touch with any of the ACROSS Lexington folks—they’d love to hear from you!

 

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