Going Green Could Help Harwich Earn Some

By: Alan Pollock

The solar array at the capped landfill covers about 27 acres of the 150-acre tract of town land. FILE PHOTO

HARWICH Should it meet the requirements, Harwich could become the fifth Cape Cod town to join the state's Green Communities program, earning cash for its energy conservation efforts.

Town officials met last Tuesday with program representative Seth Pickering, who said Harwich could receive an initial grant of up to $160,000, plus additional funding opportunities, for meeting five key criteria.

Town Administrator Christopher Clark said some of the requirements are well within the town's reach, but others might be tricky. The board of selectmen previously expressed interest in applying, he said.

To begin, a community must set aside part of its land where, by right, property owners can develop renewable or alternative energy facilities. Harwich can achieve this by simply rezoning the area around the public works and transfer station to accommodate the new rule. Because the 150-plus-acre tract is all owned by the town and is already home to a 27-acre solar farm, “it seems like low-hanging fruit,” Clark said. “We already have the site.” The zoning change would require town meeting approval. The second criterion requires that, within that zone, any applications for development are acted upon within 12 months.

The third provision requires the town to calculate its baseline energy use for town buildings and schools, vehicles and traffic lights, and then commit to reducing that energy use by 20 percent over five years.

“That one, I think, is going to be a bit of a challenge,” Clark said. Thanks largely to the efforts of town Facilities Manager Sean Libby, the town has already slashed its energy consumption. Further cuts might be difficult, “only because we've already been doing really well,” Clark said. He said he also has some concerns that, to meet this requirement, town department heads would need to spend additional time on record-keeping. But should the town seek to meet the requirement, it could be done without approval by town meeting or selectmen.

Requirement Four could also be a challenge. It stipulates that towns purchase only fuel-efficient vehicles for municipal use. Because the requirement does not apply to police cruisers and heavy-duty vehicles over 8,500 pounds – which make up about 95 percent of the town's fleet – only about 10 cars used for town hall business would qualify.

“The problem is, those cars are often hand-me-downs” from different departments, Clark said. Retired police cruisers and light trucks from the fire department are typically reused for administrative jobs, and tend to receive relatively light use. Requiring all such vehicles to be hybrids, electric vehicles or extremely fuel efficient would mean a change in policy from the board of selectmen, Clark said.

The final criterion requires the town to adopt a “Stretch Code,” an appendix to the building code that requires all new construction to meet energy efficiency requirements. Though this would require a town meeting vote, this goal might not be too difficult for Harwich to achieve, since current building codes already emphasize energy efficiency, Clark said.

Working in a different town eight years ago, Clark opted against joining the Green Communities program, but at the time it offered fewer incentives for participants, he said.

“It was a lot of 'stick' and not too much 'carrot,'” he said.

At the start of the year, 185 municipalities in Massachusetts had joined the program, which is administered by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources using energy efficiency funds collected from ratepayers' electric bills. On Cape Cod, only Mashpee, Provincetown, Wellfleet and Truro are designated Green Communities. Assistant Harwich Town Administrator Charleen Greenhalgh led Truro's successful application to the program, Clark said.

Since joining in 2010, Mashpee has earned nearly $450,000 in Green Communities grants, paying for new heating and air conditioning systems in certain town buildings and an interior lighting upgrade for two school buildings. Over the years, Provincetown, Truro and Wellfleet have earned a total of more than $770,000 from the program. Access to those kinds of grants would certainly be helpful in the future, so applying for the program makes sense, Clark said.

“It is a window in,” he said.