Grant boosts energy audits

BROOKLINE – A local initiative to study climate change and energy needs has received a boost from the Nashua Regional Planning Commission.

NRPC is using a $35,000, two-year, federal grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to finance the creation of seven local energy committees across the region, including one in Brookline.

The grant makes concrete what Dennis Skey, a member of the town’s Carbon Coalition, has been considering: a plan to audit energy use in town and school district buildings.

Brookline, Amherst and Milford are the first group of towns to receive the grant, and Brookline is the first town to take action, according to Jill Simonetti, outreach coordinator for NRPC.

The process begins with a community meeting scheduled for Monday, Dec. 8, at 7 p.m. in the art room at Captain Samuel Douglass Academy.

The venture depends on local volunteers, with or without experience, Skey said.

He will be assisting Simonetti in running the meeting.

A self-employed electrical engineer, Skey runs a consulting business.

He said the group’s first order of business is educating volunteers who will have the opportunity to attend a one-day course at the University of New Hampshire to learn how to do energy audits using computer software.

“I’m looking to recruit young people, no experience necessary,” said Skey, adding that initially volunteers will be asked to collect data.

To assess energy needs and costs, volunteers must identify where energy loss is occurring, he said. This means looking at computers, lights, windows, heating systems and more.

Skey said the group’s efforts could have some immediate, positive effects, both environmentally and financially.

A proposed $2 million police station, for example, could cost the town more in the long run if no one studies the design for energy efficiency.

“The building that went before voters at Town Meeting is not LED-certified, and the windows have a north side exposure,” Skey said of a version of the proposal that voters rejected last year. “It’s not close to a green building.”

Skey said he is particularly interested in getting students involved in the project. He also wants to educate the public.

“I’m really interested in what they’re doing in Colorado and New Mexico,” Skey said of innovations that have captured his imagination.

He said the Brookline Local Energy Committee needs 10 volunteers to audit school and municipal buildings, five for each sector.

Taking steps to protect the environment and conserve energy could require an up-front investment, Skey continued, explaining why public education is key to making changes.

“You have to spend money for a proposal to save money down the road,” he said.

To improve energy efficiency, protect the environment and save money, the town could have to buy new electrical systems and boilers, Skey said.

“If we don’t do it now, it will never happen. We’ve got to start doing something now,” he said.

Simonetti of the NRPC said the goal of the grant is to help the local energy committees become self-supporting.

She said energy audits that examine a year’s worth of utility bills could provide a baseline, necessary for the group to set goals and create a plan of action.

“The first step was to go to the board of selectmen for approval,” Simonetti said, adding that Amherst recently put together an energy committee while Milford is now recruiting volunteers for its committee.

In Brookline, it wasn’t difficult to convince the selectmen.

“The buzzword right now is ‘green,’ ” Selectman Clarence Farwell said. “Whatever we can do to save energy costs is a plus.”