SHIRLEY -- At a ceremony held at the Town Offices last week, Shirley and two other Massachusetts towns that were awarded "Green Community" designations this year received checks from the state totaling $456,575 to fund energy-saving programs.
Shirley was awarded $152,975. The money is targeted for two main purposes: to pay a performance contract for full-blown energy audits of town buildings and to install added insulation and other energy-saving upgrades, as necessary; to purchase gas-saving "Idle-Right" equipment for the town's police cruisers.
The towns of Barre and Maynard received $143,575 and $160,102, respectively.
Selectman Andy Deveau called it an historic event for the three towns.
In Shirley, getting the green designation and the grant was a team effort, he said.
"A lot of activity preceded this proud day," Deveau said, recognizing Energy Advisory Committee Chairman Bryan Dumont and members Ann Towne, Kevin Johnston and Frank Esielionis for achieving "so much in such a short time."
Exploring renewable-energy options was one of his campaign promises when he ran for office and he has been an active proponent throughout his two-term tenure on the board.
Now, some of his cherished goals are "coming to fruition," he said.
Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Mark Sylvia, who previously headed the Green Community Program, said he's attended similar award ceremonies as more than 80 cities and towns across the
Individually and collectively, the communities' energy-saving goals dovetail with Gov. Deval Patrick's statewide vision. The governor hopes to create an energy-reform package to "grow green energy" initiatives, Sylvia said.
Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard K. Sullivan Jr. presented the awards.
Sullivan gets the green concept, too.
He was a DER commissioner before becoming EOEEA secretary a year and five months ago. Previously, Sullivan was mayor of Westfield. On his watch, the town capped its landfill and now captures methane released by the buried waste to produce energy for the town's power grid. Westfield has its own municipal utility operation.
Sullivan praised the efforts coming together under the Green Community banner. More than a network of programs, "It's a clean energy revolution," he said.
Businesses, neighbors, selectmen, everybody had to "buy in" to make it work, he said.
"You had to start the conversation," educate the public and take it to the local level," Sullivan continued. "It's a process."
One that is well under way in Massachusetts.
The state is at the end of the "energy pipeline," Sullivan said. Thus, its most valuable tool is conservation. "We're number one" in the nation in energy efficiency, he said.
But there's still a long way to go.
Citing $22 billion spent on energy each year, he said 80 percent goes "out of state" and even out of the country, which translates to "lost economic opportunity."
The good news is that 64,000 people are currently employed in energy-related jobs and 4,900 companies across the state have energy-conscious programs in place, Sullivan said, with "12 to 15 percent projected growth in this sector" of the economy.
"If we make smart, clean, green-energy decisions, we reduce greenhouse emissions and hit our environmental goals," he concluded.
Besides Sullivan and Sylvia and officials from all three towns, state Reps. Jen Benson, whose district includes Shirley, and Kate Hogan, who represents Maynard, came to congratulate their respective communities.
Faced with financial difficulties and seeking ways to "take control" of its fiscal destiny, Shirley turned to energy initiatives as part of its plans for the future. "They took this (Green Community program) and ran with it," Benson said. "It makes economic sense."