Energy Efficiency: Recent Grants, Ongoing Projects and Upcoming Events

By AnnMarie French

Cities and towns across the state and the nation are focusing on energy efficiency and sustainability efforts, large and small. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) allocated significant funds through the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) program to aid local governments in jump-starting projects intended to reduce energy use and develop sustainable sources of energy for the future. There has never been a better time for New Hampshire municipalities and schools to tackle energy efficiency projects aided by an array of organizations offering programs, services and funding opportunities. The following outlines some spring highlights and news of interest.

Economic Stimulus Funding

ARRA Funding Awarded for Municipal Projects

In mid-March, the state Office of Energy and Planning (OEP) announced the award of $6.6 million in EECBG funding to 65 municipalities. Grants were awarded to projects ranging from preliminary building energy audits—measuring energy use and identifying inefficiencies—to the development of broad scale community energy plans. Awards will fund such projects as building weatherization, lighting upgrades for buildings and streetlights, vehicle idle reduction systems and renewable technologies.

Municipalities Explore Renewable Energy. Roughly one-third of the EECBG funding was awarded to renewable energy projects, enabling several municipalities to launch such projects as installing solar photovoltaics—solar panels—on the roofs of town buildings. The Town of Hancock will install panels on the roofs of the public works building, fire station, highway garage and transfer station, with an estimated savings to the town budget of $3,500-$4,000 a year at current energy prices. The EECBG funding enabled the community to try a project of a scale that would likely never be achieved without this grant opportunity. As Hancock Public Works Director Kurtis Grassett enthusiastically noted in a recent Keene Sentinel article, “We want this technology to become widespread.” The success of this and other grant-funded renewable energy projects will provide real world examples for other communities and demonstrate the long-term value of such investments.

Reduction of Vehicle Emissions. Several communities received funding for proposals designed to reduce vehicle carbon emissions from both municipal and commuter vehicles. Among the projects to watch, the Town of Salem was awarded funding to install a coordinated traffic signal system that will improve traffic flow at high use intersections and reduce commuter vehicle fuel use—and carbon emissions—by reducing the amount of time cars spend idling. In addition to reducing carbon released into the atmosphere, such projects have positive impacts on public health through the reduction of particulate matter in the air.

ARRA-Funded Technical Assistance Program for Municipalities

In late March, OEP announced the award of a $2 million ARRA-funded grant to CLF Ventures and Peregrine Energy to launch a technical assistance program to further assist local governments in achieving energy efficiency. At this writing, specific program details were unavailable but, according to the program press release, the 30-month project “is intended to provide New Hampshire’s 234 municipalities and 10 counties with customized strategies and technical assistance services.” The program is expected to dovetail with work already underway through regional planning commissions and other organizations to maximize the funding and enable municipalities to progress toward achieving efficiency goals. Municipalities seeking more information are encouraged to contact Eric Halter at 603.225.3060.

Statewide Initiatives

A number of energy efficiency and emissions reduction initiatives are presently underway in New Hampshire.

New Hampshire’s Climate Action Plan: Tracking Progress

In April 2009, the State of New Hampshire published the New Hampshire Climate Action Plan, a roadmap to address the need to reduce carbon emissions and set the state on a course for a sustainable future. The plan outlines 67 recommended actions within 10 overarching strategies designed to achieve the Plan’s target emission reduction goals. Strategies include maximizing efficiency in existing buildings, reducing vehicle emissions and addressing land use patterns, as well as increasing renewable energy sources and leading by example in government operations. The New Hampshire Energy and Climate Collaborative, consisting of 18 organizations representing business, nonprofit and government sectors—including LGC—is currently tracking progress toward achieving these goals through an inventory of organizations presently working throughout the state. The goal of this initial inventory is to identify areas that are achieving success and where additional funding and assistance should be targeted. With so much activity occurring across the state, this inventory will serve as a guide to maximize available funding resources and avoid duplication of efforts. For more details and to submit project information visit the New Hampshire Energy and Climate Collaborative's website.

Among the efforts to lead by example in government operations, the State Interagency Energy Efficiency Committee is working to reduce emissions produced by state buildings and vehicles. State government as a whole is the single largest energy user in the state and, as such, is undertaking a thorough review of efficiency opportunities large and small. The committee is facing many of the same challenges local governments face—such as finding the funding to foot the bill for projects, even those that will ultimately pay for themselves in the near future. State agencies will share their lessons learned in hopes that local governments may find the information useful in achieving local efficiency goals.

Integrated Municipal Energy Services Committee

Formerly known as the Public Sector Working Group, this newly renamed subcommittee of the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Energy Board is working to “encourage municipalities and counties to increase investments in energy efficiency and sustainable energy through financing tools, and to create local energy committees.” This committee is focused on municipal needs and working to make funding programs available to assist local governments with getting projects off the ground. For more information, visit the PUC website.

New Hampshire Municipal Energy Assistance Program

Presently, 48 municipalities are participating in the New Hampshire Municipal Energy Assistance Program (MEAP), including Alstead, Chesterfield, Dunbarton, Franconia, Hampton, Hollis, Lebanon, New London, Peterborough and Washington, among others. Thirty-five of the 48 participating municipalities completed EECBG applications, of which 24 communities were approved for funding. Visit the MEAP website for project updates and links to resources for your community.

Upcoming Events

There are numerous energy-focused informational events happening at venues around the state, including several initiatives coordinated by many New Hampshire Regional Planning Commissions. Several statewide events are planned for May and June:

OEP Spring Planning and Zoning Conference, May 8. On Saturday, May 8, the OEP hosts the annual Spring Planning and Zoning Conference at the Radisson Hotel Nashua, with a special track dedicated to energy efficiency and climate change. Featured sessions will address energy efficiency and the community master plan, adaptation planning for climate change, and tools for tracking energy use and funding for project implementation. Visit the OEP website to register.

Practical Steps for Planning Community Transportation Workshop, May 27. In collaboration with the Central New Hampshire Regional Planning Commission, LGC will host a half-day workshop on Thursday, May 27, outlining resources for municipalities to address lack of available transportation services as well as methods for managing transportation demand and how to work with neighboring communities to coordinate efforts. Three sessions will feature panel presentations followed by facilitated roundtable discussions to identify opportunities for implementation. Visit the Calendar of Events on LGC's website for complete details.

Local Energy Solutions Conference, June 19. The second annual Local Energy Solutions conference will be held on Saturday, June 19 at the Grappone Center in Concord. This event features an array of sessions focused on funding and technical assistance resources for municipalities and schools to achieve energy efficiency goals. Sessions are designed for local governments and energy committee volunteers with an emphasis on how volunteers can best serve the municipality in achieving the local government’s efficiency goals. Details of the OEP Technical Assistance Program (funded through EECBG) will be outlined at this event.  

In addition, planning for LGC’s 69th Annual Conference is already underway, and energy efficiency will once again be among the many topics covered. Let us know what energy-related topics you’d like to see, and mark your calendar for November 17-19, 2010 at the Radisson Hotel Manchester.

New Hampshire’s Energy Future

Local governments can be leaders in reducing emissions and launching New Hampshire’s energy future. Visit the LGC website for links to organizations and resources available to assist local governments. Tell us what your community is working on and help us compile municipal Best Practices to share. Every action, large and small, is an important step toward achieving a brighter energy future.

AnnMarie French is communications specialist for New Hampshire Local Government Center and the LGC representative to the New Hampshire Energy and Climate Collaborative. She can be reached at 603.224.7447, ext. 133, or by e-mail.

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