By Jack Minch
LEOMINSTER -- The state Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard Sullivan and Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Mark D. Sylvia visited the city to announce Leominster, Townsend and Berlin together are being given more than $542,000 in grant funding for clean energy projects as rewards for their designations as Green Communities.
The DOER in July designated all three municipalities green communities after reaching five clean energy benchmarks, including adoption of the stretch code.
"They are not easy criteria to meet but by adopting them you are on the path to reduce energy costs, stimulate the local economy and improve the local environment," Sylvia said.
As part of the designation Leominster is receiving $245,575, Townsend is getting $156,825, and Berlin $140,350.
They will be eligible for competitive grants in the future from a pool of available funds normally worth about $2.5 million annually to support renewable power and energy efficiency projects, Sylvia said.
Conservation Agent Joanne DiNardo, who was put in charge reducing energy costs for the city when she was hired in 2008, said she and her committee will review spending proposals for the grant money next week.
"We can't spend a dime until we submit a plan and how we will spend the money," she said.
The Townsend energy efficiency committee is looking at several options for improving energy efficiency, said Town
"Looking forward to putting this money to good work and seeing the returns over the years," he said while accepting a ceremonial check.
As part of the five benchmarks, Leominster, Townsend and Berlin committed to buying hybrid vehicles for administrative uses.
Leominster can use some of the grant money to fund the difference between conventional vehicles and hybrids, DiNardo said.
The communities must reduce their energy consumption by 20 percent and create expedited zoning and permitting for companies in the renewable energy industry.
The city also had to adopt the stretch energy code which requires builders to use energy efficient materials during construction.
State Rep. Dennis Rosa attended the announcement and said his business started making energy conservation efforts several years ago and has enjoyed a reductino in energy costs.
"What we're doing today is not only good for the environment, but our tax bill," Rosa said.
Leominster at-large City Councilor Claire Freda was a founding member of the energy committee and said it was difficult to reach the designation.
"I think getting the stretch energy code through was a difficult decision but it was the right decision," she said. "I'm proud of the city getting to this point."
Gov. Deval Patrick signed the Green Communities Act in 2008.
He combined energy and environmental affairs under one secretary and promoted Sullivan from commissioner to secretary in 2011.
Sullivan is responsible for curbing greenhouse emissions and energy costs for the state.
There are now more than 64,000 state residents working in the green energy field, which is a 6.7 percent increase over the previous year.
"It has been a smart economic growth model," Sullivan said. "I think the genius of the green communities act is it causes ... us to have that energy efficiency discussion."
There are now 103 designated green communities in the state.