I meant to link to this interesting article in the Sunday Globe about how to make cities greeener by “retrofitting” existing infrastructure. The piece, by Michael Fitzgerald, points out that, while there might be lots of innovation out there on new envirornmentally friendly technologies, many aren’t well suited to fully built environments like Boston’s. At the same time, cities don’t have the money or inclination to “tear down blocks full of drafty old structures and start from scratch” — either with their built environment or their networks of electrical conduits, gas and water mains, etc. But that doesn’t mean that our hands are tied. Belmont has its own climate action plan, which is well thought out. But Fitzgerald has a number of cool ideas here, some of which may be accessible to near-urban suburbs like Belmont, as well. Among them:
+ Smart grid — Fitzgerald focuses on smart metering for homes and businesses so that consumers can understand how much power they’re consuming and take steps to cut it down by shutting off or replacing power hungry appliances. He also mentions peak pricing — charging consumers more for using electricity during periods of high demand. Presumably, consumers would cut back on use during these times to avoid the higher fees. Both ideas are ones that Belmont, which owns its municipal power station, could try. Belmont Municipal Light Dept. has generally set a low bar on green initiatives, but I’ll follow up with BMLD Chief Tim Richardson to get an update on plans for doing this at the town level.
+ Re-skinning — Belmont has lots of wonderful, historic buildings. Unfortunately, not all have been updated to make use of the newest developments in insulation. The Wellington School was a classic example of this: with a decades old steam heating system and single pane glass that cost the town thousands each year. Belmont spent more each year to heat and maintain that building than the three other elementary schoold combined. A new Wellington will save an estimated $80,000 a year in energy and maintenance costs — thats almost two full time teaching positions that we add just by not throwing money out the window at Wellington. So too the High School, which has an aged, 800lb steam heated water tank just to supply hot water for bathroom sinks (the BHS pool has an entirely different and equally fuel inefficient heating system). Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Presumably, as Belmont starts to replace or rennovate some of its older buildings (Belmont Police Station, Library, etc.) it will make sure the new or refurbished buildings are greener. In the meantime, Fitzergald notes that reskinning buildings with insulated, triple paned glass can save companies and cities lots — the owners of the Empire State Building in New York City estimate that new windows will save$4.4m a year in energy costs. Towns like Belmont can also look into ways to deploy new insulating materials between walls to cut down on heat loss without changing the exterior of historic buildings.
+ Solar rentals — Lots of homeowners and towns would love to go solar, if not for the cost. (I profiled a friend and Arlington neighbor’s Solar project last month.) Roof mounted solar panels can still set homeowners back $25,000 or more, putting the ROI in energy savings at a decade or more. That’s tough to justify for those of us who have a bottom line mentality when it comes to environmental issues. FItzgerald notes that some companies are now offering an alternative: solar leasing that lets homeowners get into solar with a small downpayment, then charges them a fee based on their monthly energy savings. His article mentions SunRun, a panel-leasing program in Massachusetts.
+ Bike sharing — This program would involve stationing a network of town owned bicycles in the various town centers, allowing folks to use them for short, one way or round trip errands about town. The idea is to cut down on short car trips to the store, etc. and its very feasible in a small, condensed town like Belmont. Lots of cities have tried this in Europe and, to a lesser extent, here in the U.S. Fitzgerald mentions Paris and Lyon, as well as Barcelona and Washington D.C. In Belmont, I can imagine a bike stations, outside Shaws and in Waverly for use by citzens who need to get around. Baskets or tag-alongs for folks who need to cart stuff back with t hem? Interesting idea.