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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, December 9, 2023

Medford reaches municipal energy reduction milestone

The new Central Energy Plant, located on Boston Avenue next to Dowling Hall, looks to help Tufts in its sustainability goals.

The city of Medford was recognized by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) for reducing municipal energy use by 20 percent since 2009, according to a statement released on the city's website on Nov. 2.

Mayor Stephanie Burke accepted a certificate from DOER for this achievement at the beginning of the month. She described Medford’s commitment to continue down a path of increased sustainable energy use.

“I am pleased that the City of Medford remains a leader throughout the Commonwealth in protecting our environment by using resources more efficiently, educating our community and developing renewable and sustainable energy projects,” Burke said in the statement. “Our Energy and Environment Office, led by [Director of Energy and Environment] Alicia Hunt, works diligently to implement energy improvements throughout our community and continues to advocate for instrumental initiatives throughout the City.”

Medford was required to measure, track and reduce its municipal energy use after joining DOER's Green Communities program in 2010, according to Hunt.

Hunt explained that municipal energy is strictly energy usage under city control, which includes municipal buildings and municipally owned vehicles. Electricity, natural gas and oil usage are the specific quantities reduced, she added.

A spokesperson from DOER explained that the main mission of the Green Communities Designation and Grant program is to help cities and towns in Massachusetts reduce municipal energy use and costs, along with greenhouse gas emissions.

“The Baker-Polito Administration has made strong state and municipal partnerships a top priority," the spokesperson told the Daily in an email. "Providing resources to municipalities for projects that reduce their energy use, carbon footprint, and bottom line while at the same time improving their facilities, not only has a great impact locally, but it is also a vital part of achieving the Commonwealth’s overall emissions reductions goals of 25 percent by 2020, and 80 percent by 2050, as described in the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA)."

William Moomaw, co-director of Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts, expressed doubts about Massachusetts' ability to reduce overall emissions by 25 percent by 2020, but praised Medford’s commitment to doing so.

“Medford has really been serious about this, and they’ve had a sustained push to reduce their emissions for at least more than fifteen years,” he said.

Moomaw explained that former Medford Mayor Michael McGlynn catalyzed the energy efficiency and sustainability movement in Medford, and noted that Burke has continued in the same direction.

“[McGlynn’s] successor, [Burke], picked up on it and really believes in it and is pushing as hard,” Moomaw said.

When a city is certified as a Green Community, it receives a grant that must be used on energy efficiency, according to Hunt. Cities are eligible to continue applying for grants once they spend this amount, which Hunt said Medford has done. As a result, Hunt explained, Medford received $235,935 in 2017 from Green Communities grants.

“Every project that I do, I either have to find grant funding from somewhere, or else it’s competing with other municipal needs, like filling potholes, fixing sidewalks and hiring policeman, so I try really hard to find grant money to pay for the work we do,” Hunt said.

The city is currently in the process of building a new police station and is working with energy consultants to make the building as efficient as possible, Hunt explained.

Hunt also described how Medford schools have converted lights to LED and how plans for a new library will also include energy-saving measures, which will reduce the city's energy consumption.

Community outreach and education about energy-saving practices seem to have had the greatest effect in reaching their goal of minimizing energy use, according to Hunt.

“What I found to be the number one thing was to work with the occupants and the facility managers to understand how they’re using the building and how they’re turning things off and setting temperatures to manage their building well and doing maintenance on their systems,” Hunt said. “So some of our biggest savings have actually been from the occupants being smart about their energy use on the buildings."

With a 20-percent reduction achieved, the city wants to continue reducing its energy use further, and not just maintain, according to Hunt. She added that the city wants to reduce not only municipal energy use, but city-wide use as well.

“It’s absolutely something that we want to keep doing. In this past year, Mayor Burke signed an agreement with the 14 communities around Boston, including Boston, to go carbon-neutral by 2050," Hunt said. "That’s a region-wide agreement and that’s for everything — it’s not just buildings and stuff we control."

Other than being part of the Green Communities program, Medford is also a part of the U.S. Department of Energy's Better Buildings Challenge, as well as a signed member of the Global Covenant of Mayors, a UN effort to support the Paris Climate Agreement, Hunt explained.

“[The Paris Climate Agreement] required that we create a greenhouse gas inventory for the city," Hunt said. "As soon as you start measuring something, you’re more likely to reduce it, and that requires us to do a climate vulnerability assessment, which is something that I’m actually working on with Tufts graduate students."

As a part of the Medford community, Tufts’ energy practices and usage affect the city’s overall use. Hunt said that energy used by Tufts buildings, and by Tufts students living in Medford, contributes to the city's greenhouse gas inventory.

Hunt explained how students living in off-campus housing in Medford should encourage their landlords to get energy audits on their buildings.

“Asking your landlords about getting an energy audit of the building really does help contribute in a very tangible way,” Hunt said. “We would like every homeowner and property owner in Medford to get an energy audit and to consider the recommendations, so pushing landlords [to do so] is great."

Tina Woolston, director of the Office of Sustainability at Tufts, said the school is supportive of the work of Medford's Department of Energy and the Environment.

"Alicia Hunt, the director of Medford’s Office of Energy and the Environment, is a wonderful advocate for the environment and energy programs in Medford and we have a great relationship with her," Woolston told the Daily in an email. "We’re proud to be part of a community that takes action on climate change. "

Woolston noted how Tufts has partnered with Medford in the past.

"Tufts students often intern in her office and we collaborate on initiatives where possible, such as when Tufts installed solar panels on Dowling Hall as part of the Solarize Medford campaign, which allowed the residents of Medford to benefit from the lowest price tier available for residential solar," Woolston said. "Tufts has been the recipient of the Medford Green Award and often participates in the Harvest Your Energy Festival."

Even with the progress made so far, Medford can still continue to reduce energy usage, according to the DOER spokesperson.

“DOER hopes to see Medford continue to build on their impressive accomplishments by reducing energy use further, pursuing renewable energy opportunities, and expanding programs to their residents and businesses," the spokesperson said.