Carlisle’s Energy Task Force – the Invisible Committee

by Bob Zielinski

Debbie Bentley introduced herself to the Selectmen as the Chair of the “Invisible Committee,” actually the Carlisle Energy Task Force. She said, “Other boards and committees come to the Selectmen asking for stuff. We come up with solutions. Every project we do saves money.” She presented a summary of the group’s accomplishments along with a budget request for $30,000 in order to fund an energy manager for two days a week.

The Energy Task Force was created in 2009 to help the town improve the energy efficiency of town facilities. In 2012 Carlisle earned designation as a  Massachusetts Green Community which brought eligibility for Green Communities grants. The 2014 Spring Town Meeting authorized $14,750 to fund a two-year grant-supported pilot program that was suggested by the Energy Task Force.

In testimony to the behind-the-scenes nature of the Task Force’s activities and those of the energy manager, Selectmen Vice Chair John Gorecki asked, “We’ve had an energy manager for two years—what has she done?” Bentley presented a graph of the $369,253 in energy-related grants received by the town during the past four years. In 2012 the town received $143,794 in energy-conservation grants. The following year, grants received dropped to $1,576. The energy manager was hired part-way through 2014, when $55,294 in grants were awarded. Last year, the town received a total of $176,994 in grants.

Why now, why more?

Bentley explained that a grant application can be complicated. “Often we have one month to apply,” she said. “There are complex forms for Massachusetts. A 14-page Excel spreadsheet is typical and there is an annual report. Finally, lessons learned. On deadlines there is no leniency.”

Energy Manager Pamela Cady works for Carlisle one day a week to help coordinate energy-efficiency projects, collect data and prepare grant applications. The rest of the week she works with Concord.

Truncated discussion

Bentley ran through an 11-page presentation. Some high points were made:

• Just related to Town Hall, seven grants were received, totaling $78,502. Improvements lowered energy bills by an estimated 37%.

• In 2015, the cost for energy used was $281,184. Task Force improvements saved $11,226. A chart showed the municipal energy use broken down by source: 51% electricity, 20% diesel, 16% natural gas and 13% from gasoline.

• A saving of $25,918 is projected for this year.

• 10% of a grant can go toward covering administration costs.

• Improvements in efficiency result in savings that are compounded year on year. A graph of estimated savings included: $36K in FY13, $38.6K in FY14, $49.8K in FY15 and $75.8K in FY16, for a cumulative estimated savings of about $200K over four years.

Some low points were also made:

• Carlisle has the sixth-highest amount of trash per household, among the 72 towns reporting data to the state. There are 351 towns and cities in the state.

• Bentley estimated that 4% of Carlisle’s total energy bill goes to trucking trash from the town.

• The Transfer Station and trucking costs $178 per year per household.

Selectman and Task Force member Claude von Roesgen entered the discussion: “The state is trying to encourage towns to lower our carbon footprint. This position is dealing with all of the paperwork.”

Gorecki asked if Housing Coordinator Elizabeth Barnett could handle the energy manager’s tasks. Administrator Tim Goddard said, “We could look into it.” Von Roesgen noted, “There is a lot of expertise. It is not just grant writing.” Bentley added, “We are a small town; often with a small contract with a large contractor. That means more management [of projects].”

With a tight agenda, Gorecki cut off discussion: “This evening we were trying to understand the proposal.” Closing her computer Bentley said, “I could talk forever on this.” ∆