TOWNSEND -- The town was undercharged by about $48,000 for energy use in Memorial Hall over the last five years due to a defect in the building's gas meter.

Unitil is not asking the town to pay the back charges, even though they are entitled to charge to correct errors as far back as they can trace them, Town Administrator Andrew Sheehan said.

The error was discovered by Unitil during a random audit of Town Hall. At times over the last five years, the audit determined, a faulty meter was only reading 10 percent of the gas use in Town Hall.

Sheehan said that to compensate, the town is planning to add an additional $15,000 into its energy budget for next year.

"For the last three years we've been cutting back on our energy budget. We've sort of taken that cushion out of our budget and would have to add some back next year," Sheehan said.

Although this number could change based on feedback from Unitil on how much gas the town actually used, next year's budget will be substantially increased from the $75,000 that had been budgeted for the last few years.

That $75,000 covered all energy use in Town Hall, the library, the senior center and the vacant Hart Library building, Sheehan said.

Sheehan thanked Unitil for its help in correcting the error.

"They've been very cooperative and very helpful in not only bringing it to our attention, but in trying to get us back data so that we can plan accordingly," Sheehan said.

The error could also have implications for the town's progress as a "green community." Under the state grant program, Townsend is required to reduce its energy use in town buildings by 20 percent by 2015.

Although the exact impact isn't yet known, Sheehan said the error could wind up helping Townsend.

"We'll be updating our baseline year with the green communities division. It may actually help us because it may raise our base year usage. We may end up showing greater savings from some improvements, but we won't know that for a little longer," Sheehan said.

Land Use Coordinator Karen Chapman, who is working with the Energy Committee to coordinate implementation of the energy reduction plan, said that since the town's baseline for the reduction efforts began shortly after the meter was installed, she doubted it would have significant impacts.

"I have an email into the state just so they're aware of why the change in numbers. I'm hoping it doesn't affect our progress, but there may be a positive effect," Chapman said.

Unitil has installed a new meter in Memorial Hall to ensure accurate readings going forward.

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