(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers)
This week’s breezy, cooler temperatures might make it easy to forget that only a few weeks ago, the city had to open cooling centers as we endured the third heat wave of a summer that’s only halfway over. So why am I still sweating this week? I’m sweating the undeniable scientific facts about climate change, driven by human behavior, and the warming of the planet that scientists have long been predicting.
Somerville is positioned to lead the way on tackling climate change. Cities are collectively responsible for over 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions across the planet, according to the United Nations. If each city sweats the small, local stuff we can make a big, global change. So how do we do that? The same way we approach any issue in Somerville: by studying the facts and making prudent, patient investments today with an eye on tomorrow. That is our approach on any issue, from redesigning our city squares to the city’s operating budget, and it is exactly what we are doing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Five years ago, we invested over $7 million in energy efficiency and clean energy projects in Somerville city buildings. Thanks to that upfront investment and our ongoing work, we are on schedule to reduce our energy use 20 percent by 2014. That is not only better for the environment, but better for your wallet. Over four years, our energy performance contract with Honeywell International Inc., has saved the City over $2 million in energy costs.
As a designated Massachusetts Green Community, we updated our building code to require a 20 percent higher energy efficiency standard for all new construction and have committed to higher fuel efficiency standards for our vehicle fleet. We also made it easier for every homeowner to increase the energy efficiency in their homes by launching the Somerville Residential Energy Efficiency Program in 2011. Since then, in partnership with the Mass Save program, we have conducted over 500 energy audits in Somerville homes and provided direct grants to over 65 residents for energy efficiency upgrades, including new boilers and insulation.
Energy efficiency is the “first fuel.” It is the cheapest, safest and cleanest way to manage our energy supply. There are myriad ways for cities and towns to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but energy efficiency is the most compelling. It is right there for the taking. We only need the will to make prudent, patient decisions now with an eye on the future.
Again, investing in energy efficiency in our public buildings is not only critical for the health of our environment, but for our cities’ long-term fiscal health. It increases the values of buildings and substantially reduces operating costs, easing long-term costs to taxpayers, as Lexington-based Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP) pointed out in its 2012 report Greening the Public Sector – Maximizing Energy Efficiency. In fact, for all of New England, energy efficiency programs reduce electric demand by nearly 1,200 megawatts per year — that’s roughly the size of the Seabrook nuclear power plant, according to non-profit ISO New England. To put it another way: without these programs, we would need to build another Seabrook-sized power plant to maintain our current demand in a reliable way.
Of course, we are not stopping with only energy efficiency programs. We have to address a different kind of environment, the systems that create the environment all around us and influence human behavior. We are shaping our environment by painting more than 35 miles of bike lanes and sharrows in the last three years. We are ensuring that the first new MBTA station in 25 years will open next year at Assembly Square and that the Green Line Extension is finished. We are creating an environment that reduces our reliance on cars and makes it easy to choose to walk, bike and take transit when getting around.
For the last 17 years in a row, the state has honored us with the annual Tree City USA award for our efforts in planting new trees in Somerville, which is not only better for the environment, but as the results of our Happiness Survey show, better for our residents’ overall happiness too. Even our urban agriculture ordinance that passed last September—with Somerville the first city in Massachusetts to pass such an ordinance—helps cut down on vehicle miles and the pollution created by shipping.
Somerville residents should be proud of our reputation for leadership on climate and environmental issues. Along with the state, we are demonstrating that smart, prudent decisions now pay dividends long into the future. We are showing that our progress is not hindered by climate and environmental issues, but is a part of our progress as we make Somerville an exceptional place to live, play, work and raise a family, and our children’s families. And our grandchildren’s families.