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Local towns to test DOER's pilot energy program

Date: 4/18/2011

April 18, 2011

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

SPRINGFIELD — Residents of local municipalities will soon have the opportunity to have a better idea of just how energy efficient their homes are.

Members of the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) unveiled a pilot program at Springfield City Hall on April 12 — aptly named the Greater Springfield Energy Efficiency Pilot — which will put a number value on a home to help owners better understand the energy efficiency of their property, similar to the miles per gallon (MPG) rating of a car.

"Let's say you live in a three bedroom house and nine people live there. Obviously, you're going to have higher energy usage than the empty-nesters living next door," Ian Finlayson, DOER manager of buildings and climate programs, told Reminder Publications after the presentation. "This will give homeowners an idea of what the energy usage of the 'average' family would be in your house."

Finlayson spoke to an audience that included Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, Patrick Sullivan, Springfield's director of Parks, Facilities and Recreation, Joseph Forest, facilities engineer for the city of Springfield, Belchertown Selectman and Regional Coordinator of the Massachusetts Green Communities initiative James Barry and Springfield City Councilor Clodo Concepcion, among others, about the program, which will encompass Springfield, Belchertown, East Longmeadow, Longmeadow, Palmer, Hampden and Wilbraham.

The purpose of the program is to inform homeowners of ways they can save on their energy bills, something Sarno found very appropriate, given the state of the economy and rising oil prices.

"If homeowners can internally reduce their energy consumption, it's good for the environment and good for their bottom line," he said. "What better timing could we have? Increased energy costs are something that take right out of homeowners' pockets."

Massachusetts is one of four states participating in such a pilot program, which is being conducted through a grant from the National Association of State Energy Officials and with the help of the Earth Advantage Institute, which created the MPG rating system for cars. The state received $2.6 million of the $11 million allocated to the participating states, which include Alabama, Virginia and Washington.

The DOER, has a partnership with National Grid, Western Massachusetts Electric Company and Columbia Gas Company, which will do much of the field work on the project.

Sagewell Inc. of Woburn already started its aspect of the program on March 22, targeting 40,000 homes in the participating communities for thermal imaging, with the permission of those municipalities. The thermal image produces colorful analysis of a home's energy performance.

Finlayson said Palmer had put a hold on the thermal imaging because of concerns of possible violation of privacy issues, but have since allowed the process to begin after receiving assurances that residents can opt out.

Those interested in opting out may do so by e-mailing or by calling 1-888-586-1726. The Palmer town Web site also offers the option by clicking on the "Mass Save Thermal Imaging Opt Out" link at the top of the page.

Finlayson explained that homeowners can receive a home assessment by a certified professional, who will be able to provide a provisional energy score and an initial recommendation on updates and repairs that may be performed to improve that rating.

Those interested in receiving an assessment may do so by going to

Residents who take advantage of the cost-free assessment will also gain access to their own personalized Web site, which will outline the home's energy use score and a projected score if the homeowner completes the recommendations by the energy use assessor. It will also display the carbon emissions produced by the home.

"We think that eventually there will be an energy use value based on carbon count," Finlayson said. "At this time [use of carbon counts] is not very widespread, but we want to make people aware of the carbon their homes are producing because we think eventually it will be."

The site also offers a feature through which homeowners can release a request for proposals (RFP) for the improvements suggested by the assessor. Once the RFP is sent out, contractors authorized through the DOER will have the opportunity to see the results of the assessment and make bids.

Finlayson added that the DOER is currently talking to local banks about becoming partners in the program for the purpose of getting homeowners pre-qualified for low or zero-percent interest rate loans for the improvements.

Finlayson said the full energy efficiency program, including the Internet interface and training for assessors and contractors, is expected to be in full swing by this summer.

In its current form, the program is designed for one family homes and possibly two-family dwellings. Finlayson told the audience the DOER is currently working on a system for larger properties, such as "triple-deckers," a service, he said, would be very beneficial in urban areas, such as Springfield.

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