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Northampton, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission join renewable energy pilot program

NORTHAMPTON — The city of Northampton and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission will participate in a clean and renewable energy program.

Both have been selected, along with four other municipal governments and planning authorities, to join the Community Energy Strategies pilot program run by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and the state Department of Energy Resources.

The $500,000 project will advocate energy efficiency, renewable energy and other types of clean energy. It will provide financial backing and technical assistance from industry experts.

The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission will use the program to develop projects in Amherst, Hadley, Holyoke, Easthampton and East Longmeadow.

Chris Mason, Northampton’s energy and sustainability officer, said the program will propel the Sustainable Northampton comprehensive master plan, allowing it to develop more in-depth planning about energy.

“The city has accomplished a lot,” said Mason, “but we may be missing something that we don’t know. This grant opportunity came up and we said, ‘Hey — let’s apply.’”

Mason said he hopes that the program will allow the city to pinpoint how to switch to renewable energy and reduce energy use by the end of the summer.

The grant coincides with the five-year review of the Sustainable Northampton plan, produced in 2008. The plan is helping the city tackle land use, economic development and transportation issues, as well as concerns about energy use and climate change.

“It has been a guiding principle to improve renewable energy across the city and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Mason.

Catherine Ratte, the PVPC’s principal planner, said her agency is pleased to win funding.

Ratte said Easthampton and Holyoke were among the first to receive Green Communities certification, and East Longmeadow, Hadley and Amherst are looking to go further down that path.

“We were very pleased when the PVPC asked us to participate in this. Regional initiatives can be much more effective than individual initiatives,” said Easthampton Mayor Michael Tautznik.

Tautznik said that Easthampton — as a green community — has studied energy efficiency and renewable energy options in depth. The city hosts a solar power system on a former landfill.

“The goal is to help communities start at the very beginning with renewable and clean energy,” said Andy Brydges, senior director of renewable energy generation for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. “We want to set aside time to have a discussion, so we can help communities decide what they want to use,” he said.

Brydges said the program is lining up the technical consultants who will work with each community.

“These technologies and concepts are new to people and we’re excited that this program allows us to dive in deep and plan for the long term,” Brydges said.

Commissioner Mark Sylvia of the Department of Energy Resources said his agency feels a duty to support citizens’ clean energy goals as well as the state’s goals.

Watertown, Newburyport, the Franklin Regional Council of Governments and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council have also been selected to participate.

Because it lies at the end of the energy pipeline and lacks its own energy supplies, Massachusetts faces some of the highest energy costs in the nation. The state spends $22 billion on energy annually, of which $18 billion goes to out-of-state and foreign sources, the center says.

According to the 2012 Massachusetts Clean Energy Industry Report, clean energy jobs have grown by 11.2 percent since 2011 as a result of the state’s clean-energy policies.

The center was created in 2009 as a result of the Green Jobs Act of 2008, with the goal of helping promote clean energy technology, companies and other projects in Massachusetts and improving long-term economic growth and green job creation.

According to its website, the organization invests in early-stage clean energy companies to help them bring their products to the marketplace and builds programs to develop the clean-energy workforce. It is funded by a small surcharge on energy bills.

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