Push on for ‘zero-energy’ bylaw, one of 4 petitions for Amherst TM

  • Jones Library GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/26/2017 4:04:03 PM

AMHERST — Anticipating a slew of new and renovated buildings, including an expanded Jones Library and relocated Department of Public Works headquarters, members of a local climate action group are pushing for a town bylaw that ensures fossil fuels aren’t used to heat and power these completed projects.

A so-called “zero energy” bylaw is one of four petition articles that will come before fall Town Meeting, which begins Nov. 6.

The other three petitions include:

An article focuses on encouraging use of 100 percent clean and renewable energy in town;

An article seeking improvements to the North Amherst Library;

An article allowing terminally ill patients to request medication that would allow them to die.

Mothers Out Front Pioneer Valley is pushing for the bylaw that would mandate all new and renovated municipal buildings, including elementary schools, be “zero energy.”

“The idea is a building produces as much energy as it uses,” said Anne Perkins, a member of Mothers Out Front.

She points to the recent hurricanes and the election of President Donald Trump as reasons to support the bylaw.

“After the national election we realized we had to act locally and statewide,” Perkins said. “This idea is Amherst can do something relatively modest to help with climate action.”

The bylaw would put a mandate on municipal projects, but wouldn’t affect private developers.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said the bylaw hasn’t yet been evaluated for potential costs and impacts.

It will add costs, Perkins said, as reaching zero energy is done through having well insulated buildings and other requirements that go beyond the state’s stretch energy code. After two decades, though, the buildings begin to pay for themselves.

“There will be a bit of an extra cost over 20 years, but then that goes away and you have a gain,” Perkins said.

Meanwhile, the related article that encourages the use of 100 percent clean, renewable energy in town won’t add costs, but promotes a philosophy, said Andra Rose, another member of Mothers Out Front.

The article also endorses energy efficiency upgrades at town buildings and private businesses and dwellings and suggests that Amherst consider a community choice aggregation program. This would follow the California model that is known as community choice electricity in which the town would attempt to buy alternate energy sources through a collective buying program.

“We want to go as renewable as possible,” Rose said. “Aspiring to 100 percent is visionary and a way to frame the work we’d like our communities to begin.”

Rose said activists are working on similar proposals in both Northampton and Pelham.

North Amherst Library

North Amherst Library, which this summer got a portable toilet placed in its parking lot, could see further improvements in the future.

A petition is seeking design money that would guide extensive renovations to make the building, which it describes as the “cultural, educational, physical and social focal point of the North Amherst Village Center,”  fully accessible.

The specifics sought include an elevator, a bathroom, more efficient heating and cooling and doubling the interior space, in part by furnishing the attic and also allowing the basement to be used by patrons.

The petition comes from the Friends of the North Amherst Library and lead petitioner Patricia Holland, former Jones Library trustees president, whose father donated money to the library.

End of life

A final petition is to call on the Legislature to pass the “End of Life Options Act” that would permit doctors to prescribe dying medication to patients who request it. Patients have to be “mentally capable, terminally ill” at the time they make such a request.

The Pioneer Valley Death With Dignity Action Group, which is working with the Northampton City Council on a similar measure, submitted the article.

Amherst resident Nadine Shank, a member of this group, said the Legislature’s Joint Public Health Committee members are taking note of support, including in other communties such as Cambridge and Provincetown.

“Passage of this resolution will mean that people in Amherst and across the state will have increased options of the very personal end-of-life decisions facing each of us,” Shank said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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