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Sustainable Green Committee proposes Special Town Meeting article on energy code

by | Jul 11, 2023 | Business, Featured: News, News

The Sustainable Green Committee at its meeting Monday night unanimously voted to submit an article for the expected November Special Town Meeting requesting that the town adopt a building energy code so that all new buildings will be capable of being heated and cooled by electricity.

Member Nicole Simpson explained that the state energy policy, called the specialized stretch code, was adopted in January as an appendix to the state’s stretch code, which was enacted in 2010 and updated several times since. Seventeen towns in Massachusetts have adopted the specialized stretch code as of July 1.

There are three levels of energy codes in Massachusetts: base, stretch and specialized stretch. The specialized stretch code will bring the town closer to net zero status more quickly.

“The biggest thing about it is that it requires all new housing and commercial buildings to be at least wired for all electric,” Simpson said. “It doesn’t require that you go all electric unless you’re over 4,000 square feet.”

Implementing the wiring in existing buildings, she added, is “a huge barrier” to transitioning away from fossil fuel use because of the expense.

If the article is approved at the Special Town Meeting, it would go into effect on July 1, 2024. If the town waits to consider it until the May 2024 Annual Town Meeting, it would not be able to be enacted until Jan. 1, 2025. Once the date for the meeting is announced, the Sustainable Green Committee will have 10 days to submit a proposed article.

Simpson said that the Zoning Advisory Committee seemed “super receptive” to the idea at its meeting last month. It aligns with its goal of using green energy as well as state policy. The state has boilerplate language that communities can modify.

A question was raised because the current stretch code adopted in 2010 was not included in the town bylaws. Town counsel will be consulted to see if the article should ask for the policy to be adopted at the Special Town Meeting or incorporated into the town bylaws.

Based on annual projections, between 30 and 40 new homes each year would be affected by the specialized stretch energy code, not including new units at the Legacy Farms or Lumber Street developments. If the MBTA Communities Act is adopted by the town, the number of new units will be higher. Simpson said that developers may have concerns about the cost building all-electric homes, but they may be less costly than electricity conversions of older properties and will lower home energy costs over time.

“It’s a very technical concept that we need to get across,” said committee chair Geoff Rowland. While the current stretch code and the specialized stretch code have the same efficiency requirements, the difference is that new construction will have to be electric-ready. This would be the second Town Meeting article proposed by the committee in a year, he noted.

Added member Linda Chuss: “It’s the first one with teeth in it, so it’s a big deal.”

Greenhouse gas inventory presentation shared

Member Paul Gallagher gave a presentation on the town’s greenhouse gas inventory. It included an analysis of stationary emissions, which come from buildings, as well as emissions from private, commercial and vehicles.

Residential buildings, commercial buildings and passenger vehicles each count for slightly under a third of the greenhouse gas emissions. Other small contributors include municipal buildings, construction and wastewater discharge.

Fifty-two percent of the energy emissions are from electricity, compared to 29% from natural gas and 19% from fuel oil. Gallagher said this is “a good sign” because it shows a shift to electricity and away from fossil fuels.

He added that while some improvements have been made in overall emissions over the past five years, they may be countered by the impact of new development.

Said Gallagher: “The big struggle will be the electrification of houses and businesses.”

Committee hears about carbon sequestration from forests

Brendan McGowan gave a presentation on the forested area of the town and the amount of carbon sequestration it provides. He was the student member of the Sustainable Green Committee until he recently graduated from Hopkinton High School. [Editor’s note: This article was updated to provide the correct title for McGowan.] The forests are a part of the Northeastern Coastal Zone Ecoregion and contain white pine, read oak, white oak and red maple trees. The average age of the forested area is about 100 years.

There are about 10,800 acres of forests in town, McGowan explained. This comprises slightly more than 64% of the town’s land area. Sixteen percent of the forested area is in Hopkinton State Park.

Annually, the forests sequester about 7,920 tons of carbon. This equates to 29,041 tons of carbon dioxide per year. Trees process carbon as part of photosynthesis and then store it in the soil.

“Hence why when trees are cut down, that stored carbon is released back into the atmosphere,” he added. “That’s why it’s so important to protect the forests in Hopkinton from things like development.”

Chuss suggested that the committee present this information to other boards and committees, including the Select Board. A talk at the library also could be effective to inform the public, she added.

Select Board expected to make appointments at Tuesday’s meeting

Rowland announced that the Select Board at its meeting Tuesday night will vote on a permanent Department of Public Works director. Conservation Commission co-vice chair Kerry Reed is expected to be approved for the position, replacing interim director Thomas Temple.

Members hoped that the new director will move forward with a town partnership with Black Earth, a composting company with a location in Framingham. Members toured the facility recently and were impressed with the operation.

Earlier in the meeting, member Christine Coffman praised Temple for working with her to get recycling dividends refunded to the town . The amount is expected to be around $5,000.

The Select Board also is expected to vote for Julia Chun to become the town’s first director of economic development, equity and sustainability.

New members welcomed

The committee welcomed new members Deena Baker Nel, Daniel Eversole and Amit Tandon, who were appointed in June. They will be paired with buddy members to help them learn about committee processes. Members Amy Groves, Coffman and Simpson volunteered to serve as buddies.

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