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Press Release AG’s Office, DOER Celebrate Large-Scale Energy Efficient Project Funded by Settlement With Columbia Gas for Its Role in the Merrimack Valley Gas Explosions

Historic Stone Mill Building in Lawrence Will Be Fully Electrified and Transformed Into Affordable Housing; New Funding Opportunity Also Announced for Future Low- and Moderate-Income Residential Projects in Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover
For immediate release:
10/26/2022
  • Office of Attorney General Maura Healey
  • Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources

Media Contact for AG’s Office, DOER Celebrate Large-Scale Energy Efficient Project Funded by Settlement With Columbia Gas for Its Role in the Merrimack Valley Gas Explosions

Chloe Gotsis

LAWRENCEMassachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and the Baker-Polito Administration today celebrated plans to renovate the historic Stone Mill building in Lawrence, using funds from a $56 million settlement that their offices reached with Columbia Gas in 2020 for its role in the Merrimack Valley gas explosions that devastated thousands of homeowners and businesses in Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover in 2018. With this grant, the project will feature full electrification of the building for the 86 new affordable and sustainable units.

The vacant landmark building on Union Street in downtown Lawrence is the first, large-scale energy-efficient project made possible by the Merrimack Valley Renewal Fund, which is jointly overseen by the AG’s Office and the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER). WinnDevelopment will use a $2.9 million grant from the Building Excellence Grant Program from the Fund to fully electrify the mill building, improve indoor air quality, and reduce greenhouse gas emission impacts for low-income residents.

The Building Excellence Grant Program provides funding for projects like the Stone Mill building that maximize energy efficiency, electrification and clean energy technologies and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The projects must also provide a commitment to affordable housing for low- and moderate-income residents and local economic benefits through workforce opportunities.

“Our first-of-its-kind settlement with Columbia Gas invests millions of dollars in the Merrimack Valley and brings clean and efficient energy programs to this community,” said AG Healey. “We are pleased to award WinnDevelopment with the funds to fully electrify the Stone Mill building, reduce harmful emissions for local residents, and serve as a model for the construction of other historic buildings around the state. Our office, in partnership with DOER, will continue to prioritize the clean energy transformation of Lawrence, North Andover, and Andover, and provide the safety and economic benefits that their residents and businesses need.”

“The communities in Andover, Lawrence and North Andover experienced an unfathomable tragedy in 2018 and the Baker-Polito Administration is focused on reinvesting in the people and communities directly affected by the Columbia Gas natural gas explosions and aftermath,” said Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock. “The Administration’s goal for the settlement with Columbia Gas was to ensure maximum funding for the impacted communities and invest clean energy and energy efficiency in households and small businesses, especially low- and moderate-income customers. DOER will continue to work with community partners to use the Renewal Fund to help homes and businesses in the Merrimack Valley access modern energy efficiency programs and incentives.”

Stone Mill’s redevelopment will also bring jobs to Lawrence, as the grant funds require WinnDevelopment to have at least 30 percent of all construction work performed by minority and women-owned businesses as well as skilled labor from the area. Following its renovation, the building will use approximately 40 percent less energy and emit approximately 30 percent less greenhouse gases than a new gas-heated building otherwise would.

“Energy performance goals are the most difficult to accomplish in historic adaptive reuse projects because you’re working simultaneously to both preserve and modernize a building from another era,” said Christina McPike, WinnDevelopment’s director of energy and sustainability. “We are committed to pushing the envelope at Stone Mill to demonstrate that decarbonizing assets like this is possible with the right expertise, without jeopardizing the building’s historic fabric.”

According to WinnDevelopment, when the $52 million project is completed in early 2024, the 86 mixed-income apartments at the 2.3-acre site will be located within walking distance of a commuter rail station, several dozen businesses, a hospital, city offices, schools, and recreation areas. With several other new construction efforts underway nearby, the project is expected to serve as a key driver for economic development in downtown Lawrence and as a model for future mill building redevelopment in the Commonwealth.

“For generations, the Lawrence community has suffered from an acute shortage of affordable, high-quality housing. We face an urgent need to uplift our vast stock of non-code-compliant buildings to energy-efficient living spaces comparable to Stone Mill,” said Lawrence Mayor Brian. A. DePena. “The Stone Mill renovation project beautifully demonstrates how an old, shuttered mill can be converted to modern, energy-efficient dwellings.”

The goal of the Merrimack Valley Renewal Fund (MVRF), consisting of $41 million from the Columbia Gas settlement, is to fund clean and efficient energy programs and grants for homeowners, tenants, businesses, and municipalities in the Merrimack Valley through direct grants, competitive requests for proposals, leveraging existing programs, and local partnerships.

This week, DOER and the AG’s Office also launched the Energy Efficiency Enrichment Program to fund energy efficiency and electrification projects at homes owned or rented by low- and moderate-income residents in Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover. The program seeks to reduce barriers to installing energy efficiency measures, as a supplement to the energy efficiency incentives available under Mass Save and other clean energy technology programs. The Enrichment Program will provide end-to-end bilingual customer support, project facilitation services, and technical assistance to residents and their landlords. Proposals from teams to lead this project are due by January 6, 2023.

A bidders’ conference on the open program opportunity notice (PON) will be held at Lawrence Public Library on November 14, 2022 at 5:30 p.m. At the bidder’s conference, DOER and the AG’s Office will provide information about the recently issued funding opportunity, and attendees can network with other interested organizations they may want to partner with to respond to the funding opportunity. The funding opportunity (called the Merrimack Valley Energy Efficiency Grant Program: Program Management, Home Energy Project Facilitation, and Technical Assistance PON-ENE-2020-005) can be found on COMMBUYS, the Commonwealth’s official website for funding opportunities.

In North Andover, the AG’s Office and DOER directed MVRF funds for an analysis of municipal and school buildings that will present options for potential energy infrastructure-related projects the town should develop.  The AG’s Office and DOER also worked with the Town of Andover to provide a $500,000 MVRF grant for their planned rooftop solar installation at the Henry Sanborn Elementary School, which will generate sufficient electricity to allow the school to fully electrify its heating system in the future without increased utility expenses.

The settlement agreement with Columbia Gas of Massachusetts required the company to pay $56 million and stop doing business in Massachusetts. Since then, nearly $15 million in utility debt was canceled for approximately 17,000 low-income customers in Columbia’s service territories in the Merrimack Valley, Brockton and Springfield.

The company’s new owner, Eversource Gas of Massachusetts also agreed to improve the area’s gas distribution system to ensure safe and reliable operations going forward. The settlement resolved the AG’s investigation into Columbia Gas for violations of the state’s consumer protection laws, along with the DPU’s investigation into the company’s pipeline safety compliance and emergency response related to the September 2018 explosions and other open safety investigations.

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“The Columbia Gas explosions shed light on the need to invest in sustainable housing and clean energy initiatives,” said State Senator Barry Finegold (D-Andover). “I’m grateful to the WinnCompanies, Baker-Polito Administration, and Attorney General Maura Healey for working together to utilize part of the settlement funds to bring more affordable, equitable, and reliable housing to our city. I’m looking forward to seeing the completed project come 2024.”

“I am proud that the Commonwealth has committed to helping the Merrimack Valley rebuild from the horrible tragedy which rocked our communities several years ago,” said State Representative Marcos Devers (D-Lawrence). “This area of Lawrence in particular has been prime for redevelopment for many years, so it is gratifying to see such a worthy project funded with this settlement. I can't wait to see the impact this affordable and energy efficient housing has on the community.”

“The 2018 Columbia Gas crisis brought to light the need for safe, sustainable infrastructure. As the result of AG Maura Healey’s tenacity, she and her team fought Columbia Gas and won, bringing critical utility resilience dollars to our communities through the Merrimack Valley Renewal Fund,” said State Representative Christina Minicucci (D-North Andover). “Renovation projects such as this one at the Stone Mill are a first step towards a full transition to clean energy alternatives, and a future away from natural gas.”

“Attorney General Maura Healey fought tirelessly to hold those responsible for the horrific tragedy of the Merrimack Valley gas explosions accountable, and to establish the Merrimack Valley Relief Fund to provide financial relief to the communities impacted by this tragedy,” said State Representative Frank A. Moran (D-Lawrence). “Projects such as this are a testament to the success of this relief fund and represents another milestone in our state’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions and promote energy efficiency.”

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Media Contact for AG’s Office, DOER Celebrate Large-Scale Energy Efficient Project Funded by Settlement With Columbia Gas for Its Role in the Merrimack Valley Gas Explosions

Office of Attorney General Maura Healey 

Attorney General Maura Healey is the chief lawyer and law enforcement officer of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources 

DOER helps create a clean, affordable, equitable and resilient energy future for the Commonwealth.
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