In 2010, Natick became a founding member of the state’s Green Communities program focused on using clean and less expensive energy, and as such needs to share an annual report confirming that it’s keeping up this week.
Natick Sustainability Coordinator Jillian Wilson Martin shared the report with the Select Board this week to get its stamp of approval, and among the more interesting sets of data focused on the impact of COVID-19 on the town’s energy use among its municipal and school infrastructure.
The town, which has reaped some $1.7M in grants through its Green Communities participation, has seen energy use decline through various efforts, including LED retrofits and solar panel installations, by 27% since FY08. But as you can see in these charts, electricity use really plummeted since the start of this calendar year, particularly in schools that have been shut down since March. Electricity use has decreased at municipal buildings, too, though most of them have continued to operate with at least skeleton staffs, so the change isn’t nearly as dramatic.
Curiously, natural gas use has not really dropped off, so there’s an opportunity for savings if the town can address this.
“We really have been struggling as a community to manage our heating of our buildings efficiently,” Wilson Martin says. Even when data is normalized for weather conditions, the town’s natural gas use continues to be high. Energy controls operationalization is one key target, and Director of Facilities John Gadson is working on that. But the town is stuck in some situations, such as at Lilja Elementary School, which has a building control system from the mid-1990s that can’t be updated.
“It’s like having a computer from 1996, and so you wouldn’t have that computer anymore, you would have upgraded it by now, but we haven’t made those investments,” Wilson Martin says. Morse Institute Library’s control system is also out-of-date, with eBay among the options for finding parts.
On the bright side, the move from oil to natural gas in many town buildings is credited with much of the town’s energy use reduction over the past decade.
Finally, back to COVID-19, Wilson Martin addressed the issue of gauging the impact of leaving windows open at schools as the weather cools. Natick has reached out to other Green Communities, and energy costs for schools are expected to rise 20% to 25%.
For Natick, that rise would be attributed to heating costs as well as electricity costs for running new air purifiers in all the classrooms. “I don’t think the savings that we had from our energy reduction this past year will make up for the cost of these more intense operations,” Wilson Martin said.