Smart Energy

In Brief: The focus of this Smart Growth / Smart Energy Toolkit module is to provide information on actions that can be taken by municipalities, developers, organizations, and individuals to promote smart energy. Generation of power from renewable sources is one important action this Toolkit encourages. Another is the conservation of energy through energy efficiency, green building, and reduced automobile use. These and other actions will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve environmental quality, and provide significant financial savings to consumers and municipalities.
The Problem
Drawing of house illustarating smart energy techniques.
Many problems are associated with our current energy consumption practices. We consume more energy than necessary, and much of that energy comes from highly polluting fossil fuels: coal and oil. Greenhouse gas emissions that are changing our climate through global warming are a primary concern of fossil fuel use. Foreign oil dependence with attendant national security concerns as well as air pollution, asthma and other public health impacts are among the other major negative impacts of current conventional energy generation and use. While renewable energy sources and reduced energy consumption offer an alternative, these smart energy techniques are just now being seriously pursued.

Benefits of Smart Energy
Smart energy is the more efficient utilization of energy through improved design, high efficiency technologies, and conservation, along with the use of clean renewable resources to create electricity, heat, and transportation fuels. Efficient use of energy is central to attainment of smart energy goals because reduced energy use results in long-term cost savings, reduced need for new generating plants, and enhanced odds of meeting our future energy needs through renewable sources.

Buildings are a major user of energy. By building green the Commonwealth can save water, energy, building materials, while providing healthy indoor environments that increase worker satisfaction and productivity. In addition to the efficient use of energy in buildings, reducing fossil fuel use and the associated environmental impacts through enhanced technologies and use of alternate fuels in the transportation sector is another major component of smart energy. Implementation of smart energy practices decreases global warming emissions and other pollutants, enhances public health, advances environmental justice, and reduces spending on fossil fuels. Additionally, promoting smart energy has strong economic development benefits, particularly in a high-skill state such as Massachusetts. Much of the economic value of using fossil fuels leaves the state, while energy efficiency and renewable energy alternatives generate many more jobs in both research and development and implementation and servicing of smart energy technologies.

Module Contents

This module is organized into the following sections:

  • Planning: Opportunities to promote smart energy through planning
  • Energy Efficiency: Attainment of smart energy goals through reduced consumption
  • Renewable Energy: Information on solar, wind, biomass and other technologies
  • Green Building: Tactics to reduce the environmental impacts of the built environment
  • Transportation: Energy implications of and smart energy solutions for transportation
  • Resources: Links for more information as well as financial and technical assistance

Recommended Policies and Actions

The intent of this module is to provide communities and other interested parties with ideas about what they can do to encourage smart energy, and information on how they can go about implementing those ideas. For example, municipalities can use their regulatory and financial powers to encourage owners of homes and businesses to adopt smart energy best practices. Municipalities also have the ability, through incorporation of building and fleet efficiencies, local power generation, energy purchasing practices, and other municipal policies and activities to foster smart energy, efficiency, and conservation. Cites and towns are encouraged to use this Toolkit and other available resources and technical assistance to promote smart energy through:

  • Completion of greenhouse gas inventories, building assessments, and other "baseline" studies;
  • Adoption of master, climate action, and other plans that address smart energy and establish greenhouse gas emission, energy consumption, and other measurable targets;
  • Passage of zoning and other land use regulations that facilitate the siting of wind and other renewable energy facilities and that encourage or require green building and energy efficiency measures;
  • Construction of green and energy efficient homes, businesses, and civic buildings; and
  • Reduction of fossil fuel consumption and air pollution from transportation through fuel-efficient fleet policies and increased use of transit, bicycling, and walking in addition to alternative fuels and technologies.

Desired Outcomes/Goals

As outlined in the Massachusetts Climate Protection Plan, the Commonwealth has committed to making the following reductions in its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions:

  • Short-term: Reduce GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2010
  • Medium-term: Reduce GHG emissions 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020
  • Long-term: Reduce GHG emissions sufficiently to eliminate any dangerous threat to the climate; current science suggests this will require reductions to as much as 75-85 percent below current levels.

In order to do its part and to lead by example, the Patrick Administration is working to meet aggressive smart energy goals for state facilities and fleets. The following are highlights of the commitments made by the Commonwealth pursuant to Executive Order 484 "Leading by Example" :

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions that result from state government operations by 25 percent by Fiscal Year 2012, 40 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050;
  • Reduce overall energy consumption on a BTU/square foot basis at state owned and leased buildings by 20 percent by Fiscal Year 2012 and 35 percent by 2020;
  • Procure 15 percent of agency annual electricity consumption from renewable sources by 2012 and 30 percent by 2020. (This can be achieved through procurement of renewable energy supply, purchase of renewable energy certificates (RECs), and/or through the production of on-site renewable power); and
  • Meet the Massachusetts LEED "Plus" green building standard established by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Sustainable Design Roundtable for all new construction and major renovations.

The Commonwealth calls on the public and private sectors, as well as individual citizens to take actions now to help Massachusetts meet these challenging goals. If the Commonwealth is to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets and achieve the Patrick Administration's stated objective of meeting all new electricity demand through energy efficiency a similar commitment to smart energy measures is needed from the communities of the Commonwealth. Through policies, programs, investments, and technical assistance tools, such as the Smart Growth/Smart Energy Toolkit, the Patrick Administration will be aggressively encouraging implementation of smart energy technologies and practices.

Planning for Smart Energy

One way in which municipalities can promote smart energy is to plan for it. Planning for smart energy can take place on a regional scale and as part of traditional land use planning activities, such as the completion of a master plan. It can also take the form of a climate action or other energy specific plan. Regardless, it is very helpful for a community to inventory and quantify its current energy use and energy related regulatory practices and set goals for future performance. If smart energy practices are considered early in the planning and design phase, they are far more likely to be effectively implemented in development projects.

The first step in energy planning is often the creation of an energy committee or task force; these groups are frequently instrumental in realizing smart energy goals. While widely varied in their membership, these committees typically include a mixture of paid and volunteer municipal officials as well as interested citizens. They may be created by a community (for example appointed by the Board of Selectmen) or simply an un-official group of concerned parties. Whatever their origin, these groups are time and again the driving force behind completion of plans and implementation of smart energy measures.

Cover of Climat Action Plan, Sommerville, MA.

Planning for smart energy can take many forms, though broad public involvement is important regardless of which type of plan a community pursues. Participation in the Cities for Climate Protection Campaign of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) is one way that communities can conduct smart energy planning. The Campaign assists in the adoption and implementation of policies and quantifiable measures to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions, improve air quality, and enhance urban livability and sustainability. Whether or not a community chooses to participate formally in ICLEI's Campaign, the five steps in this process offer a model a community can emulate:

  1. Complete a greenhouse gas emissions inventory and report;
  2. Set an emissions reduction target;
  3. Complete a local climate action plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
  4. Implement the local climate action plan; and
  5. Monitor the impact of emissions reduction measures.

A greenhouse gas emissions inventory is exactly that, determination of the amount of greenhouse gases presently being emitted in a community from various sources. ICLEI provides software and a methodology that communities can use to complete an inventory. Climate action plans outline measures that a community intends to take in order to achieve greenhouse gas reduction targets. Typical measures include reducing energy consumption through efficiencies and utilization of more renewable energy in place of fossil fuels. A number of Massachusetts communities, including Brookline, Cambridge, Newton, and Somerville, have completed plans that can be accessed on the Mass Climate Action Network's website. Information on how to do a greenhouse gas inventory and on specific actions that local governments can take can be found on the same page.

Another option communities can pursue is participation in the U.S. EPA's Community Energy Challenge. Through this program the EPA is encouraging communities to reduce air pollution by assessing their energy use, taking actions to improve energy efficiency, and seeking out renewable energy choices. The Energy Challenge involves the following steps:

  1. Make a Pledge: Submit a commitment letter to the EPA agreeing to assess energy use in municipal facilities and set an energy use reduction target.
  2. Assess energy use: Track energy use, costs, greenhouse gas emissions, etc.; the EPA provides a free ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager tool for this purpose.
  3. Understand opportunities for efficiency: Identify opportunities for energy efficiency and renewables within municipal operations and throughout the community.
  4. Publicize successes: Let EPA - and the nation - know about your successes. Buildings that perform well are eligible for national ENERGY STAR recognition.

The EPA provides technical assistance to communities that take the Energy Challenge.

Completion of a master plan (also known as a comprehensive plan) is another ideal time to address smart energy goals. These plans should be the overall guide to municipal actions; one that is followed by all departments of municipal government in the implementation of policies, programs, regulations, and expenditures. Master plans typically begin with a vision statement identifying the goals and policies of the municipality for its future growth and development. The purpose of which is to specify community values and goals in order to identify patterns of development (among other things) that will be consistent with these goals. Smart energy - generation of energy from renewable sources and energy conservation measures - is an important value that can and should be expressed in a community's vision statement.

Cover of Master Plan for the Town of Charlton.

In addition, the land use plan component of a master plan provides recommendations for conservation and development of land within the municipality. In the water resources module of this Toolkit communities are encouraged to plan in advance for the location and protection of future water supplies, and communities can do the same for potential sites for renewable energy production. For example, where it is relevant (largely coastal communities and those of higher elevation) as part of the land use planning component of a master plan communities should determine where good sites for wind power are located. Regulations can then encourage the construction of wind facilities in these locations. Hydro and to a lesser extent solar power can also be addressed in this manner.

In addition, because of the importance of growing more densely to attaining smart energy goals (as well as land protection, water quality, and other environmental objectives) the land use component of a master plan is a particularly significant opportunity to encourage compact mixed-use development. Finally, community planning efforts should consider measures to adapt to rising floodplain levels. This is particularly relevant to coastal communities given that 100 year floodplain levels are changing due to sea level rise and increasing storm intensity.

The housing, economic development, and in particular the transportation elements of a master plan also present important opportunities to promote smart energy. Green building and energy efficiency practices should be reflected in the housing and economic development sections. The transportation element of a master plan will address transit opportunities, the road network, as well as facilitation of bicycling and walking. The more this element emphasizes alternatives to automobile travel, the better the community and the Commonwealth will fare in the effort to meet smart energy goals.

A community can also make important strides toward smart energy use by focusing specifically on their capital facilities. Completion of a capital facilities plan as part of the services and facilities element of a master plan can address investments in buildings and systems to implement smart energy practices. If a plan calls for building or remodeling municipal facilities, such as school, library, or town hall, this is a great opportunity to implement green building and energy efficiency practices. In addition, these plans typically address large scale infrastructure - roads, bridges, seawalls, etc. - and can be an opportunity to explore provision of district energy for more compactly developed portions of the community.

No plan is complete without an action or implementation section that specifies how goals are to be met, who is responsible, and when actions are expected to occur. Typically, action items include modifications to local regulations (zoning, subdivision, etc.) to reflect plan goals. This presents communities another opportunity to insert smart energy measures into land use bylaws or ordinances as well as other municipal regulations. A community could offer financial incentives or adopt regulatory measures that facilitate energy efficiency, green building construction, or the siting of wind, biomass, or other renewable generation facilities. For example a community could:

  1. Pass a zoning ordinance or bylaw specifying locations where wind facilities may be constructed and the conditions under which turbines may be installed;
  2. Allow or encourage district energy in a cluster subdivision under local zoning;
  3. Provide an incentive, such as quicker permitting or a density bonus, to utilize green building practices.
  4. Make tax increment financing available to developers of renewable energy facilities; and
  5. Require projects of certain size or type to meet LEED, Energy Star, or another green building standard.

Communities can also play an active role in the creation and implementation of regional smart energy plans. For example, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and the Franklin Regional Council of Governments are jointly developing a strategic plan called "Renewable Energy for the Pioneer Valley". An inventory of renewable energy activities in the Pioneer Valley has been completed and work on the plan is ongoing. Other regional planning agencies are undertaking energy planning, presenting an opportunity for municipalities and others to get engaged.

Finally, in addition to government entities at all levels, a wide variety of non-profit, advocacy, and public interest organizations have formed around smart energy issues. These include the Mass Energy Consumers Alliance, MASSPIRG, and the Mass Climate Action Network and its member organizations. All provide opportunities for participation as well as information and assistance in planning for and implementing smart energy measures.

In summary, planning is important to implementation of the all of the smart energy practices presented in this Toolkit Module. Energy efficiency, green building, renewable energy, and transportation measures all benefit from advance consideration of where and how they can be applied in a community and development of a strategic plan for their implementation.

Energy Efficiency
Illustration of Low-e window.
Photo of energy effecient window with insulation.
Energy Effecient Windows

Did your dad ever say to you "Were you born in a barn? Well, then close the door!"? If so, he was likely talking about wasting energy. Leaving the door open in the winter is an illustrative example of energy in-efficiency. Energy efficiency is a basic, yet effective strategy for reducing the demand for heating, cooling, and electricity. Significant energy (and utility cost) savings can be achieved through changes in behavior; light, appliance, and HVAC equipment upgrades; and installation of new windows and additional insulation. The construction of new or the substantial renovation of existing facilities offers great opportunities for incorporating energy efficiency through both design and techologies. In the big picture, using energy more efficiently not only saves money, but can limit the need to build more polluting power plants. Municipalities can implement energy efficiency programs for their own buildings, as well as provide training, incentives, and regulatory requirements for their residents and builders. The gas and electric utilities provide technical and financial support for many energy saving technologies that communities can access to assist with their efforts.

Municipal energy efficiency programs usually start by putting together a committee to oversee the process. The Mayor or Selectboard can issue a proclamation or policy on energy efficiency, drawing publicity and attention to the issue. Setting efficiency standards for new municipal buildings above the state minimum code requirements is certainly a press-worthy event. Initially, conducting a municipal energy assessment or audit will help guide the implementation strategy - start with the low hanging fruit and work up from there. Comprehensive energy audits will provide a clear picture on where local energy is being used and provide information on the costs and benefits of implementing various approaches and technologies. Following an audit with an action plan specifying energy targets is important, as discussed in the planning section of this module.

Some energy efficiency measures are easy or simply require common sense behavior changes: turning off the lights when not in use, turning down the thermostat (particularly at night), and using compact florescent light bulbs wherever possible. Buying energy efficient appliances and high efficiency heating and cooling systems can make a big dent in energy bills. The federal government's Energy Star Program rates the efficiency of many appliances and is a good guide when purchasing new equipment. Again, the utilities also provide rebates for many energy-efficient purchases.

On a larger municipal scale, planting of street trees, replacement of street lights with more efficient LED lights, and combined heat and power (CHP) or district energy are also worth investigating for inclusion in capital facilities plans and local land use regulations. CHP means using the heat that is a by-product of electricity generation to heat buildings. This set-up is highly efficient and offsets large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions that would result if the heat were instead produced from fossil fuels. A district energy system is the use of one larger central facility to provide for the heating and cooling needs of multiple industrial, commercial, residential, or civic buildings instead of providing individual boilers and air conditioning units for each structure. This type of system is common on college campuses, and offers the opportunity for significant energy and cost saving in other settings. Combining the two, use of CHP as the power source in a district energy system, offers additional benefits, particularly to those communities with a municipal power and light department. A two page document on district energy and CHP produced by the Division of Energy Resources can be accessed here.

Another option for communities and owners of large facilities to consider is performance contracting, a creative way to finance major energy efficiency retrofit programs. A city hires a private energy firm (or energy service company - ESCO) and enters into a "performance contract" with them. The firm pays the upfront expenses for new lights, HVAC, and other efficiencies, and then pays itself back over time with the cost savings on utility bills.

Cities and towns can also provide education, technical support, and incentives to their residents and businesses regarding energy efficiency. Within a planning department or inspectional services department, staff can influence regulations and encourage development applications to consider adopting more energy efficient design. Combined heat and power plants could provide the energy needed for a large development, while dramatically reducing the emissions that would otherwise result. Some communities require that new developments above a certain size or projects using public dollars be Energy Star certified. There is obvious overlap between energy efficiency and green buildings, and communities can effectively push for both at the same time. Some communities are investigating whether they can require performance above that which is mandated by the state's building code. (The code is currently being reviewed for opportunities to increase the required environmental standards). Cities can also help publicize the services offered by organizations like MassSave, a public/private partnership. These services are paid for by a surcharge on all utility bills. They will come to your house and perform an energy audit and leave you with compact florescent light bulbs, weather stripping, low-flow showerheads, and other conservation devices. They can also provide information on how to access low fee loans that can be used for larger investments in conservation, such as insulating a house.

In summary, through partnership with utility companies and other organizations cities and towns can significantly improve the performance of municipal and other buildings and infrastructure, conserving energy, reducing environmental impact, and saving money.

Renewable Energy

As demand and cost of conventional energy rises, and the perils of global climate change threaten our security, health, ecosystems, and economy reducing greenhouse gas emissions and developing new smart energy technologies is essential to affordability and quality of life in the Commonwealth. Fortunately, the confluence of state and local leadership, broad-based environmental awareness, economics, and innovative technology and investment is creating opportunities to expand and employ renewable energy technologies in Massachusetts. Renewable energy technologies include: solar, wind, biomass, fuel cells, biofuels, geothermal, hydro, landfill gas recovery, and tidal.

Renewable energy resources are abundant and inexhaustible, continually replenished by nature. We can harness renewable energy from the Sun, flowing water, wind, oceans, the Earth's heat, and from wood, animal manure, crop residues and waste. These smart energy resources have many benefits for the environment, fuel supply and reliability, and the economy.

The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA), in collaboration with the state's Division of Energy Resources (DOER) and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC), are working to develop policies, guidelines, programs, and incentives for municipalities, developers, and residents to advance renewable energy development and implementation.

Renewable Energy Opportunities for Massachusetts

Description of Technologies

Solar Panels
Solar Panels

Sunlight, or solar energy, can be used directly for heating and lighting buildings, generating electricity, heating hot water, and a variety of commercial and industrial uses. Solar photovoltaic systems (PV cells/panels) use solar energy to produce electricity and are easily installed on homes, buildings, or property. A PV system can eliminate or reduce the amount of electricity purchased from a utility, and excess power can be fed back into the grid reducing the property owner's energy bill. Incentives and grants are available to reduce installation costs (see incentives below). The Division of Energy Resources has produced a Solar PV question and answer document that can be accessed here.

Mass Maritime Academy Wind Turbine
Mass Maritime Academy Wind Turbine
Wind, caused by the heating and cooling of the Earth's surface and atmosphere, is flowing energy. When this kinetic energy is harnessed by turbines, wind power is created to generate pollution-free electricity or mechanical power. As both a coastal and mountainous state, Massachusetts has plentiful opportunities to expand wind energy production, both on- and off-shore. Many of the Commonwealth's municipalities can capitalize on wind resources developing small-scale, on-site local generation as well as commercial-scale wind turbines, contributing to the power grid as well as reducing energy costs. A separate Toolkit module addresses wind power in depth and provides model bylaws communities can customize to suit their needs.

Biomass energy is produced from organic matter: plants, food waste, manure, wood, and agricultural crops that can be burned or converted to gas for heating or power generation. Biomass can be used to produce electricity, transportation fuels, or chemicals as well as for heating and cooling. Massachusetts has great potential for biomass energy. As the 8th most densely forested state in the nation with 3 million acres of forestland and a vibrant agricultural economy biomass fuel supply can be readily obtained. In addition, if forests are managed sustainably, such that new trees sequester as much carbon as is emitted through the burning of biomass, no net greenhouse gas emissions will result.

Fuel Cell Powered Public Transportation
Fuel Cell Powered Public Transportation
A fuel cell uses the chemical energy of hydrogen to efficiently and cleanly produce electricity, with water and heat as by-products. Fuel cells are unique in terms of the variety of potential applications; they can provide both stationary and portable power for systems as large as a utility power plant, or an automobile, and as small as a laptop computer. Fuel cells produce much smaller quantities of greenhouse gases and none of the air pollutants that create smog and cause health problems.

Biofuels can be generally defined as solid, liquid, or gas fuels consisting of, or derived from biomass, which is most often used in the form of a liquid or gas transportation or heating fuel such as ethanol or biodiesel. In the U.S., agricultural products specifically grown for biofuel production include corn and soybeans.

  • Ethanol is an alcohol, made by fermenting any biomass high in carbohydrates through a process similar to beer brewing. Ethanol is made from starches and sugars, however, new technologies are being developed to enable production from cellulose and hemicellulose; fibrous material that makes up the bulk of most plant matter. Currently, ethanol is primarily used as a blending agent with gasoline to increase octane and cut down carbon monoxide and other smog-causing emissions.
  • Biodiesel is made by combining alcohol with vegetable oil, animal fat, or recycled cooking grease. It is usually used as an additive (typically 5-20 percent) to diesel fuel or heating oil to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Geothermal energy is energy from the heat of the Earth, which can be tapped for a variety of uses, including electric power production and the heating and cooling of buildings. Due to the geology of the Commonwealth, geothermal energy in Massachusetts is primarily used for the heating and cooling of buildings. Geothermal energy is accessed by drilling wells into the ground.

West Springfield Low Impact Hydroelectric Project
West Springfield Low Impact Hydroelectric Project
Source: Low Impact Hydro Institute
The force of flowing water moving downstream creates energy that can be harnessed and turned into electricity. This is called hydroelectric power or hydropower. Hydropower is produced for mechanical power or electricity generation. Often stored and controlled by dams, hydropower is created when the kinetic energy of moving water (rivers, waterfalls) is converted by turbines and generators into electricity, which is then fed into the electrical grid to be accessed by homes, businesses, and industry.

Garbage that is "thrown away" is often buried in a landfill where it breaks down or decomposes creating biomass and methane gas. This gas can seep through the ground and into the atmosphere, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts. However, when the gas is captured in a closed system, it can be used to create electricity. Essentially, the gas is collected, purged of any water, and then filtered to remove waste particles. It is then fed through pipes to a generator that burns the gas to create electricity.

The kinetic energy created by the ocean's waves and tides can be harnessed to produce mechanical energy or electricity. This form of hydropower relies on the ebb and flow of tides, which is utilized to turn turbines, generating power. Tidal power takes two principle forms; one method requires large infrastructure (essentially huge dams called "barrages") to take advantage of the highs and lows of the tides, the other, tidal stream systems, capitalize on the energy of waves.

Municipal Applications

Cities and towns throughout the Commonwealth can save money and improve environmental quality by installing, encouraging, and purchasing power from renewable energy sources. From large-scale wind projects, to small-scale building retrofits for PV generation, opportunities to employ renewable energy generation abound. The geography and natural resources of a community will help inform the best applications of renewable energy systems; some communities may have abundant wind resources while others have bountiful agricultural and forest lands that represent potential biomass.

Some forms of smart energy, such as solar or biofuels, can be utilized by every community. Improving existing buildings and residences for maximum efficiency or reducing fossil fuel use in a municipal fleet, are objectives that municipal leaders can advance for their community through direct implementation or community education and incentives. Setting standards for new municipal construction - such as the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED certification - will not only support the application of smart energy technologies but will reduce energy demand and provide substantial savings over the long-term for cities and towns. Local zoning and other land use regulations can facilitate the siting of renewable energy facilities, such as wind power, and can address building orientation and other design considerations that influence the placement of solar PV systems.

On-site generation and district energy systems are opportunities for distributive local generation, enhancing supply reliability and reducing energy costs. As municipalities plan new construction - whether it be neighborhood development or a business district - renewable energy systems can be incorporated into design and construction. If on-site generation is not feasible, municipalities also have an opportunity to reduce their ecological footprint and support renewable energy by purchasing clean power, such as hydropower directly or through the acquisition of renewable energy certificates.


The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA), the MA Division of Energy Resources (DOER), and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC) are working with municipalities across the Commonwealth to advance various smart energy applications. For example, EEA, DOER, and MTC are working with local officials and developers to increase the adoption of wind power through wind assessments, planning, technology development, financing mechanisms, and environmental review and permitting. EEA and DOER have created model bylaws for small and large scale wind turbines (which can be found in this Toolkit) to help municipalities site wind turbines. Click here to view the model wind bylaws.

Leading by example, the Commonwealth is adopting many strategies to implement smart energy technologies. For example, in August 2006, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Administration and Finance issued Bulletin 13, Establishment of Minimum Requirements for Bio-Fuel Usage in State Vehicles and Buildings by Executive Agencies. Bulletin 13 sets the stage for making the transition from fossil fuels to biofuels in diesel and No.2 oil-fired applications. This includes biodiesel and ethanol E85. Bulletin 13 directs the Commonwealth to do the following:

  • Beginning in Fiscal Year 2008, all agencies must use a minimum of 5 percent biodiesel in both on-road and off-road diesel engines.
  • By Fiscal Year 2010, all agencies shall use a minimum of 15 percent biodiesel in both on-road and off-road diesel engines.
  • Set a minimum percentage requirements for E85 usage in state flex-fuel vehicles.

Cities and towns can also adopt similar goals for municipal fleets. Click here for more information.

Beyond technical assistance, the Commonwealth, MTC, and the federal government support renewable energy projects and research and development through direct investments (in the form of grants) as well as through tax credits and reductions. Often barriers to renewable energy development are associated with capital costs to build infrastructure deterring many local communities from investment - EEA is working to change this providing support to communities that will result in long-term municipal savings.

For more information about renewable energy technologies, funding opportunities, and incentives, please visit the MA Division of Energy Resources' Renewable Energy Programs web site and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative's Renewable Energy Trust web site.

Green Buildings
Boston Nature Center
Boston Nature Center
Source: Mass Audubon's website
Buildings account for more than 50 percent of energy used in the U.S. As the need for new homes, businesses, and municipal facilities grows, there is a great opportunity to ensure that these buildings become more sustainable in the way resources are utilized, provide healthy living environments for workers and residents, and save consumers money. Green buildings are high performance structures that through innovative technologies and common sense strategies minimize the adverse environmental impacts of the built environment. Municipalities are beginning to incorporate green building strategies into their own facilities as well as to encourage or even require green buildings for private development. This section will briefly describe the components of green buildings and outline various ways that cities and towns can encourage the development of these high performance buildings.

There are five major considerations to building green: site location and design; building materials; energy efficiency and air emissions; water use and conservation; and indoor air quality.

Site location and design begins with selecting an appropriate place for development. Preferred sites include downtown areas, places with existing infrastructure capacity and locations with multi-modal transportation access. Areas to be avoided include: farmland, habitat areas, water supply zones, and other important natural resource lands. Once a site is selected, sensitive site design can make a huge impact on the overall performance and impact of the building. Understanding the site is critical - how water drains, what habitat areas and tree species exist, and what is the orientation to the sun - are key questions that shape high quality site design. Through good site design, a structure can take advantage of natural light, solar access, existing wind breaks, and work to replicate the pre-development hydrology, thus saving significant dollars for drainage, lighting, heating, and cooling.

Builders today can choose from a wide array of building materials - from wood to masonry to engineered materials. Each have life cycles costs associated with them - the cost it takes to produce, ship, install, and recycle/dispose at the end of the material's useful life. Wood harvested sustainably and close to the site is much more environmentally preferable to wood harvested from a clear-cut tropical rainforest thousands of miles away. Similarly, the use of recycled wood saves energy and produces less waste than newly harvested wood. Construction waste is another area where good practices can limit the amount of waste generated and divert the waste or demolition material from a landfill to new and productive uses.

Massive savings on the use and cost of energy are achievable through energy efficient practices and technologies. Density alone contributes to efficiency. New York City uses the least amount of energy per person compared to any other U.S. city. Heating and cooling are typically the largest users of energy in buildings. Designing with nature by maximizing solar heat gain in the winter months and minimizing it in the summer can dramatically drop heating and cooling loads. Operable windows, shades, reflective and "green" roofs, and low-e windows all contribute to a more comfortable indoor climate. In addition, using natural daylight can minimize the amount of artificial lighting needed - cutting electric bills and helping to ensure happier employees. When heating and cooling is needed, employing high efficiency air conditioners and furnaces limit the waste of energy. Combined heat and power or district energy can provide huge energy savings for large developments. Utilizing renewable energy can replace the use of fossil fuels to support the building. Wind, solar, and geothermal technologies can all be applied to buildings of all types.

Water can be used much more efficiently with a bit of fore-thought. Planting native shrubs, grasses, and flowers and reducing the amount of turf lawn will scale back irrigation requirements. Using Low Impact Development techniques, such as green roofs, slow stormwater runoff and treat excess water on-site. Inside the building, low-flow toilets, showerheads, and sinks reduce water demand. Water can be re-used on site as well - greywater from sinks and showers can be used to flush toilets and rain stored in barrels or cisterns can be captured and used for watering the lawn.

The last component of green building is indoor air quality. As buildings have become more energy efficient, there is less air leakage. From an energy standpoint this is a good thing, but a detrimental side effect is that fresh air doesn't recycle as much and pollutants can get trapped inside. Many traditional building materials contain toxic chemicals that can sicken residents - especially children, seniors, and those with chemical sensitivities. Installing good ventilation systems can prevent the build-up of these pollutants. Carpets, fiberboard, adhesives, and paints also can give off such chemicals as formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Fortunately, substitute products and low - or no-VOC adhesives and paints are now available.

There are a number of green building certification programs in existence. Perhaps the best known is the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. LEED sets standards for new construction, retrofits, commercial and industrial buildings, and now has a pilot program for entire neighborhoods. LEED uses a checklist that provides points for various green building technologies and practices. Depending on the level of "greenness" achieved, a building can be rated "certified", "silver", "gold", or "platinum".

Municipal Applications

By applying green building standards to municipal construction projects, cities and towns can lead by example. In addition to improving the environmental performance and health of facilities, green buildings can save on the bottom line through reduced costs for utilities and over-sized HVAC equipment. The utilities have funding available for high-efficiency building shells and equipment. The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative also offers financial support for using innovative technologies. Generally, green building construction can cost between 2 to 3 percent more than a conventional building, but has relatively short pay-back periods due to the cost savings in energy use and efficiency. In addition, many of the techniques don't cost money - they just require the knowledge and execution. Site design, building orientation, plant selection, and managing construction waste are all examples of no-cost green building techniques.

From retrofits and renovations of existing municipal buildings to new construction, cities and towns are able to set their own standards for the level of performance they expect from their buildings. A good starting point is to develop a list of preferred or recommended technologies/practices appropriate to this climate and local geography/topography, and use this as a basis for developing a checklist that will guide construction projects.

Municipalities can also affect development practices through their education activities, regulations, and incentives. Cities and towns can serve the important role of conducting outreach to raise the profile of green buildings, educate developers, builders, and homeowners, compile resource guides to the technologies and where to find them, and serve as catalysts to encourage the wide-spread adoption of green buildings. The local permitting structure provides a mechanism to encourage green buildings. If a building meets a locally-adopted green building standard, the use could go from a Special Permit to Site Plan Review standard. Density bonuses could be offered for green building developments or they could be eligible for faster review and approval. Form based codes provide another opportunity to incorporate vernacular architecture (that is climate-appropriate) and standards on orientation to the sun. The idea is to make it easy to do the right thing by building green and reduce any unnecessary delays or barriers to a relatively new idea.

Some cities around the country have adopted green building standards or programs that apply to a specific sector or size of building. In other cases, some now require green buildings for all new development and even most rehab work. In 2007, Boston adopted green building standards for all new buildings over 50,000 square feet as well as all new municipal buildings. Others have targeted the residential sector. Austin, Texas was the first city to develop a city-wide green building program. Boulder, Colorado requires that all new homes meet city standards for green buildings. While they don't mandate any particular technique, each home must meet a point threshold for incorporating various techniques and technologies. Scottsdale, AZ takes a softer approach through a voluntary program. The City's green building office provides technical assistance, publicity, and support for builders who want to build green.

There are many approaches available to municipalities who want to build better buildings and encourage the private sector think a little bit more broadly and long term about the impacts and advantages of green buildings.

Illustration of how Hybrid Vehicles work.
Hybrid-electric vehicles (HEVs) combine the benefits of gasoline engines and electric motors and can be configured to obtain different objectives, such as improved fuel economy, increased power, or additional auxiliary power for electronic devices and power tools
Biodeisel photograph.
Source: zuma press
The transportation sector accounts for more than 43 percent of energy used in the U.S. (Clean Communities on the Move). Exhaust fumes from vehicle emissions also cause respiratory problems such as asthma and lung cancer. Ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter are all components of automobile exhaust. Massachusetts has the highest rate of asthma in the nation - with over 110,000 kids diagnosed. (Source from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) continues to rise and overall fleet fuel efficiencies have not increased. Our inefficient and fragmented land use patterns are the major driver of VMT. Most people don't have options for getting to work, taking the kids to school, or buying groceries other than to drive. Municipalities can profoundly affect these gas-guzzling land use patterns by changing their zoning so concentrated, mixed-use development is encouraged and achievable. Through policies and procurements, cities and towns can clean up their own fleets and make it easier for employees and residents to travel without relying on the car.

Municipal Applications

Municipal fleets encompass police, fire, school, public works, and other official cars and trucks. Decreasing fleet reliance on imported fossil fuels and switching to less polluting technologies can have a big effect on air quality and energy use. An important first step is switching to biodiesel. Biodiesel refers to diesel fuel combined with a certain percentage of vegetable oil. B5 refers to a blend of diesel with 5 percent vegetable oil. Many diesel engines can run on blends up to B20 without modifications. More and more cities are switching to biodiesel as their fuel source. Recognizing the importance of this issue, a statewide effort to retrofit all diesel buses is underway. Vehicle procurements can also focus on more efficient cars and trucks. Purchasing or leasing compact cars, hybrids and plug in hybrids, compressed natural gas (CNG), and electric vehicles all have positive impacts. Some examples of municipal purchasing policies can be found here.

Municipal policies on building location and on employment matters can also decrease VMT and emissions. Examining the greenhouse gas impacts of development projects, and requiring mitigation, much as EEA is now doing as part of project reviews under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act, is one way of using the permitting process to encourage smart energy. By re-using or rehabbing existing buildings and locating new facilities in smart-growth consistent locations, unnecessary auto trips can be prevented. Limiting the availability of free employee parking, offering parking cash-outs, subsidizing bus or subway passes, offering flexible work hours and locations (allowing telecommuting one day a week) are all effective strategies for reducing single occupancy vehicle trips. Cities and towns can also provide support and leadership for encouraging alternative modes of transportation. Offering secure bike facilities, bike racks on buses, showers, and changing rooms are simple but important considerations. Working on bike paths, especially with regional partners, also expands transportation choice. The Safe Routes to School program is another creative initiative to promote safe and alternative transportation. Regionally, towns can work with their regional transit agency to support bus routes and other transportation alternatives.

Bike racks on public transportation.
Source: MBTA
Bicycle parking at the Alewife subway station in Cambridge located at the intersection of three cycle paths

In Massachusetts, state law (M.G.L. Chapter 90, Section 16A) and DEP regulations (See 310 CMR 7.11(1)(b) in the complete Air Pollution Control Regulations) limit vehicle idling to no more than five minutes in most cases. Having a law on the books is only half the battle though. Education and enforcement are critical components to an effective law. MassDEP provides information and resources particularly targeting schools and idling school buses. Actions including posting signs, limiting the exposure of children, and upgrading vehicle technology are ways of reducing the damage from excessive idling. For more info click here.

Incentives and Regulations

Perhaps the most significant action a municipality can take is to update its zoning, so low-density segregated development becomes a relic of the past. By encouraging or requiring higher density, mixed-use development, communities can create high-quality walkable neighborhoods. Cars will not be required for every daily trip and tail-pipe emissions can be minimized. Parking regulations also can have a major impact - by setting maximums or utilizing shared-parking systems. See the Parking section in the Toolkit for more detailed information. Ensuring that the road network is interconnected (and not composed of endless repetitions of cul-de-sacs) affords more options for biking, walking, slower vehicle speeds, and can help create high quality neighborhoods. Traffic calming and transportation demand management strategies (TDM) are other useful techniques for creating more pedestrian friendly and car-independent neighborhoods.

Planning ICLEI
EPA's Community Energy Challenge
Pioneer Valley Planning Commission's Renewable Energy Project
Pew Center on Global Climate Change
Mass Climate Action Network
Clean Air-Cool Planet

Green Buildings
EPA NE resource pages
U.S. Green Building Council web links
Green Roundtable
Northeast Sustainable Energy Association
Energy & Environmental Building Association
Sustainable Buildings Industry Council
BuildingGreen, Inc.
MTC green building

Energy Efficiency
American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy
Alliance to Save Energy
Home Energy Saver web-based energy audit tool
Energy Star
Massachusetts Energy Consumers Alliance
Rocky Mountain Institute

Renewable Energy
MTC - Renewable Energy Trust
American Wind Energy Association
Solar Energy Industries Association
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
U.S. Department of Energy/Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
EPA Climate Protection Division
Renewable Energy Research Laboratory at UMass-Amherst

Surface Transportation Policy Project
Union of Concerned Scientists Clean Vehicles
Institute for Transportation and Development Policy
Victoria Transport Policy Institute
VTPI TDM encyclopedia
Northeast Alternative Vehicle Consortium

Massachusetts Technology Collaborative
Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
Massachusetts Division of Energy Resources