Local and Green with Darcy Dumont: Next time, electric

  • ValleyBike Share’s Florence Center station is located in front of Cooper’s Corner at Chestnut and Main streets. Gazette file photo

Thursday, June 10, 2021

An April column covered municipal best practices in the areas of zero-energy ready buildings, electricity powered by renewable energy, and battery storage and microgrids. This column will look at towns leading on fossil fuel powered vehicles, green technology and education, zero waste and environmental justice.

Many municipalities, like Amherst, have used the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program to help fund the creation of a Climate Action Plan. And more and more municipalities have now moved on, into taking innovative actions to accelerate emissions reduction.

Transition off fossil fuel powered vehicles

Towns are replacing fossil fuel powered vehicles with electric or alternate fuel powered vehicles in their fleets. Amherst is purchasing an ambulance that doesn’t burn fossil fuel when idling. Concord has obtained funding for a second electric school bus. The Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority has introduced 12 electric buses into its fleet and plans to replace its remaining diesel buses with electric models. In New Bedford, more than 25% of the city’s passenger fleet has been converted to electric vehicles, believed to be the highest percentage of electric vehicles in any municipal fleet in Massachusetts.

Ensuring safe bicycling and pedestrian networks has risen in importance. In the Pioneer Valley, the ValleyBike Share program offers an affordable and green alternative transportation network, with more than 500 bicycles available in six communities.

In Cambridge, bicycling is encouraged. The Cycling Safety Ordinance requires streets undergoing significant roadwork to include protected bike lanes in their design if they are part of the city’s priority bicycle route network.

Green technology and education

Somerville is home to Greentown Labs, an incubator that hosts more than 40 clean tech startups and is a national leader in developing the next generation of sustainable technology. In 2015, Somerville announced its Somerville Green Tech program allowing green technology innovators to partner with the city to adopt their technology on municipal properties.

In Northampton, Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School offers courses on renewable energy technology and theory giving its students the skills to join a growing industry.

Zero waste

Communities in Massachusetts are looking to reduce waste by limiting single use plastic and transforming their hauler systems so that they can have more control. Trash can be limited by paying per bag or container, recycling can be increased and composting can be made more available and convenient for residents.

Cambridge has incorporated curbside composting for residents in its basic service. Newburyport facilitates the use of local nonprofit compost companies.

Hamilton and Wenham recently became the first towns in the state to require curbside compost service by banning organics (compost) in the waste stream. Compost is useful and even profitable when processed. Their removal from the waste stream reduces waste by as much as 35%.

Community campaigns,environmental justice

Amherst may be on the forefront of environmental justice by its recent outreach and inclusion of Black, Indigenious and people of color community members in creating its climate action plan. BIPOC community members were sought out and included in each sector working groups of building heating and electricity, transportation, waste and land use. Participants were paid for their time and input.

Concord, Lexington and Wayland have initiated community interactive dashboards, using a format provided by MassEnergize, which give residents the opportunity to contribute to the effort to reduce emissions and to feel a sense of community.

Observing that many residents still face obstacles to switch to solar, Newton has developed a community shared solar program that enables residents to benefit from a solar installation in a central location.

It is gratifying that initiatives and technologies that once seemed far-fetched — like microgrids, net-zero energy buildings, and electric transit buses — are now becoming commonplace.

Amherst will unveil its Climate Action, Adaptation and Resilience Plan this month, which will lay out a roadmap for climate action implementation. To repeat the mantra: The time for climate action planning is over. The time for action is now.

Darcy DuMont is a member of the Amherst Energy and Climate Action Committee, founding member of Local Energy Advocates of Western MA and an Amherst town councilor representing District 5. Views expressed are hers and not those of the Town Council.