My Turn: One town’s response to a changing climate

By IAN RAYMOND

Thursday, September 28, 2017


Albert Einstein said, “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”

This statement inspired us to get involved in addressing climate change in our community of Sanbornton. According to scientists, climate change is accelerating as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have reached their highest point in over 3 million years.

There are many signs of climate change here in New Hampshire: extreme weather events, changes in wildlife behavior, droughts and changes in maple syrup production to name just a few. These changes pose a serious threat not only to our environment but also to our state’s economy.

I offer one New Hampshire community’s effort to address climate change, and volatile energy costs:

Despite having little experience in energy efficiency or renewable energy, we decided to get involved by establishing the Energy Committee of Sanbornton. The largest opportunity to cut carbon emissions in our community was in our largest energy consumer: the Winnisquam Regional School District. When we first approached them with our ideas, we were told by the school board, “If it costs a penny, the answer is no.”

As you can imagine, that created quite a challenge. But, through rebates, grants and a performance contract with Honeywell, we were able to cobble together a financing package for a $3.6 million project without putting any additional burden on our local property tax payers.

Energy efficiency and renewable energy led the way.

We installed 2,635 high-efficiency lighting units and 76 occupancy sensors.

Upgraded the building envelope and energy efficiency at all six schools.

Replaced a roof on one school building.

Installed heating system and control upgrades, including energy-efficient pumps with variable frequency drives.

Constructed a $2.3 million, wood-chip burning biomass plant at our high school/middle school campus with a classroom designed to teach green technologies.

Our accomplishments are performing better than expected. This first phase has been cash-flow positive from day one, and has saved more than $1.3 million in avoided energy costs to date, and is projected to save more than $5 million over the next 20 years.

By switching to sustainably harvested woodchips, this project displaces roughly 100,000 gallons of fuel oil, eliminating more than 935 tons of carbon emissions per year.

Since the original energy saving changes, Sanbornton has also added:

A new Department of Public Works garage that uses approximately one-third the energy per square foot compared to the original building.

High-efficiency lighting in all of our municipal buildings.

A wood-pellet biomass plant at Sanbornton’s elementary school.

And 432 photovoltaic (solar) panels at Southwick Elementary School, through a power-purchase agreement. The clean-energy solar project is estimated to save $1.4 million over its lifetime and prevents 144,000 pounds of carbon from entering our atmosphere each year.

So, as you can see, there is much that can be done at the local level, and we must continue to do more.

Energy conservation policies, such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, Systems Benefit Charge, Renewable Energy Certificates and net metering provide funding for investment in critical efficiency upgrades and renewable energy sources for our homes, businesses and community infrastructure, lowering our energy costs and protecting our environment. This is win-win.

In a 1983 interview, the photographer Ansel Adams said: “It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save our environment.” But that is exactly where we are today.

Many of our leaders have not only failed but would have us go backward through funding cuts, deregulation and dismantling of the EPA, which will only make matters worse. When leaders fail to listen to the will of the people, we must take advantage of opportunities at the local, grassroots level to initiate and support energy projects that will lower our carbon emissions.

With climate change, we do not have the luxury of time.

Local action is even more important since the Trump administration is defunding programs aimed at mitigating climate change. In our state, Gov. Chris Sununu has been skeptical about the economic benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy but recently approved the extension of the energy-saving Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

There is no sitting this one out. I invite Gov. Sununu and other school districts to come tour our schools and learn how we were able to take cost effective, positive steps to lower our carbon footprint.

So much more needs to be done.

Climate change will continue to bring more frequent and more costly catastrophic weather events. We have no time to waste. Let’s get busy.

(Ian Raymond is a former state representative for Belknap County District 4, Tilton/Sanbornton, where he served on the Science, Technology, and Energy Committee. He also served as the chairman of the Energy Committee of Sanbornton and currently he serves as a member of the New Hampshire Wood Energy Council.)