Amherst continues push toward reducing emissions

  • This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

  • Steve Kelly, an employee of Corps Logistics, checks and resets bikes in the ValleyBike Share program in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS 

  • Stephanie Ciccarello, the sustainability coordinator in Amherst, with a rack of bikes in the ValleyBike Share program. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS 

  • Steve Kelly, an employee of Corps Logistics, checks and resets bikes in the ValleyBike Share program in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS 

Staff Writer
Published: 9/17/2019 11:04:33 PM

AMHERST — Often at the forefront of sustainability, Amherst is now embarking on its latest effort to develop a comprehensive plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the community and preparing to confront the effects of climate change.

Established by the Town Council, the Energy and Climate Action Committee (ECAC) is a successor to work the town has done over the past 20 years. That work included the unveiling of the Climate Action Plan of 2005, which called for a 35 percent reduction in municipal and institutional greenhouse gas emissions from 1997 levels by 2009, and becoming a Green Community in 2012. The hope was to reduce emissions townwide by 20 percent from 2011 to 2016.

“This particular ECAC group is going to be very active in engaging the community around reducing emissions,” said Sustainability Coordinator Stephanie Ciccarello.

Ciccarello, who has been involved in the town’s efforts to become more green for two decades, said the new committee shows how Amherst remains committed to not only pursuing initiatives that reduce the carbon footprint — such as mandating new municipal buildings to be zero-energy when they are built, a resolution calling on the town to move quickly toward use of 100 percent renewable energy and participating in the ValleyBike Share — but also to determining whether actions undertaken are meeting goals.

To that end, the town in 2017 hired Taylor Briglio, a fellow from the University of New Hampshire Sustainability Institute, to determine a baseline inventory of emissions broken down by sectors, such as transportation, buildings and open space.

That report showed that in the base year, fiscal year 2011, Amherst emitted 293,538 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, with these emissions decreasing five years later by 2.3 percent to 286,773 metric tons. In Amherst, so-called stationary energy and transportation made up 97 percent of total emissions, with waste and agriculture comprising the remaining 3 percent of emissions.

Ciccarello said it is important to be consistent in measuring these numbers so that changes are meaningful. “It’s not an exact number, but we’ll have a clear idea of where we are,” Ciccarello said.

The data indicated that municipal efforts are working, with Briglio writing that “the town has made a conscious effort to reduce its energy usage over the past several years and as a result municipal operations decreased by 21.4%, from 5,583 metric tons to 4,289 metric tons over the same five-year period.”

Ciccarello notes that the New England Municipal Sustainability Network adopted the Global Covenant of Mayors framework as the model for communities in the Northeast to approach greenhouse gas emissions reductions. The shared model will lead to consistency and access across other similar communities, such as Burlington, Vermont, and Northampton.

Making progress

Amherst’s track record from efforts so far shows that the town has seen reductions but not necessarily met its goals.

Nearly 15 years ago, the Climate Action Plan of 2005 came about after the Select Board, in 2000, agreed to participate in the Cities for Climate Protection campaign. Forming the Energy Conservation Taskforce — an ad hoc committee that involved the University of Massachusetts, Amherst College and Hampshire College, the Hitchcock Center for the Environment and department heads — the plan had an inventory of emissions in 2001, based on 1997 data. It set a goal of 35 percent reduction of those emissions by 2009.

But Ciccarello said the plan was limited in scope and didn’t have residents take part.

“That effort focused on institutional and municipal emissions,” Ciccarello said. “It didn’t look at the community-wide sector.”

Though Amherst became part of ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability and Cities for Climate Protection, the plan was abandoned as the town drifted away from it, turning instead to the state’s focus on becoming a leader in energy efficiency as a way to reduce the need for power throughout the town.

Even though not completed, Amherst saw a reduction in emissions by municipal buildings and operations from baseline inventories in 2001. In fact, in early 2008, the town was 40 percent of the way toward the reduction, cutting 43,532 tons of equivalent carbon dioxide from the 321,000 tons of equivalent carbon dioxide released in 1997. The new power plant at UMass, burning natural gas instead of coal and opened in 2008, was a large part of that reduction.

When the town became a Green Community, an energy reduction plan was also required with a goal to reduce 20 percent from the 2011 baseline within five years. The idea, Ciccarello said, is that the focus on more energy conservation is also a way to reduce carbon emissions.

The program came with money to pursue projects, with the boiler replacement at the police station the most recent, and another being the installation of LED streetlights. Annual reports are provided to the state. Even with the goal, though, the town hasn’t met it.

“Overall, we’ve reduced emissions, but not by 20 percent,” Ciccarello said.

Ciccarello added that one of the challenges she has noticed is that more electronics and devices are charged, such as laptops and smartphones, and that environmental benefits may be coming elsewhere, such as from less paper production.

Like other communities, Amherst is participating in the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Program and expects to have to deal with increased precipitation, more heat, extended droughts and extreme weather.

The precise efforts the ECAC will recommend will be unveiled later this fall and brought to the Town Council to be enacted.

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at

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