Rochester Planning Board members unsure about becoming state 'Green Community'

By Tanner Harding | Jun 26, 2018
Photo by: Tanner Harding Planning Board members Lee Carr and Mike Murphy listen to Chair Arnie Johnson talk about Green Communities.

Rochester — As Rochester town officials continue to examine the possibility of joining the state Green Communities program, Planning Board members had some questions about the criteria.

The Massachusetts legislature passed the Green Communities Act in 2008 in an effort to encourage towns to become more energy efficient.

Being designated as a Green Community would make the town eligible for a number of potentially high-value grants, but in order to qualify for the program, towns must: Have a plan to decrease municipal energy consumption by 20 percent in five years, replace various municipal vehicles with energy-efficient ones, have a designated area in town where renewable energy installations, such as solar panels, can be installed without special permitting, and adopt building codes that require builders of new homes and commercial buildings to use more energy-efficient methods.

Planning Board member Ben Bailey took particular issue with the solar designation – a topic that has caused a lot of controversy in Rochester in the past few years.

“What if no part of town wants to be part of the solar by-right area?” Bailey asked. “What’s going to happen when we tell some townspeople that they’re going to have even less of a right to object to a solar field?”

Chair Arnie Johnson agreed, but said that it was only one acre of land that needed to be designated, and he had his eye on the town dump.

“It has to be a real area,” he said. “It can’t be an illusion like swampland or something.”

He also reminded the board of the possibilities for the town.

“Acushnet has gotten over a half of a million dollars worth of grants,” Johnson said.

Possible uses for the grant money could include adding additional electric vehicle charging stations in town and adding insulation to buildings and replacing boilers – things that could help the town save money on energy bills.

Bailey, however, still wasn’t convinced: “All those promises [the state] is making, can’t they change those any time?”

Johnson said they could.

“And haven’t they already?” Bailey asked.

“They have,” Johnson said.

“So there’s no guarantee that we would get anything, but we would lose legislative power,” Bailey said.

Johnson said that he was also bothered by the fact the rules could be changed at any time, but noted  that the town could opt out at any time.

“There are over 200 towns that are part of it, and so far nobody has opted out and it’s been around since 2008,” he said.

In the tri-town, Marion has opted to join the program and is currently working to meet the state criteria.

For more information about the state Green Communities program, visit: https://www.mass.gov/orgs/green-communities-division.

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