Wellesley’s Sustainability Energy Committee has been promoting goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions since it formed more than 10 years ago, but now is proposing its most ambitious goals with the aim of achieving net zero by 2050. This would sync up with the state’s new law and other municipal plans aiming to offset greenhouse gas emissions produced by moving to clean energy, growing the tree canopy, and taking other approaches to removing emissions from the atmosphere.
The group is using Earth Day this Thursday to officially launch its Climate Action Plan, or more precisely, the process of creating that plan. The Sustainable Energy Committee seeks to complete and initiate the plan during the first quarter of next year in time to bring to Town Meeting 2022.
The plan will outline actions the town will take, a timeline for those actions, the cost and benefits of them, and implementation details.
The town, continuing to do its part to sustain the environmental consulting industry, has hired an outfit called Kim Lundgren Associates for $50K to help the Sustainability Energy Committee craft its plan. This firm has worked on more than a dozen such plans for local governments over the past few years, and teamed with Wellesley on its Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness plan in 2019. It was among 7 firms to respond to a request for proposals from Wellesley for assistance on its climate action plan.
“We know the actions we need to take to address climate change,” Sustainable Energy Committee Director Marybeth Martello said at a recent Select Board meeting, replying to a question about the consulting firm’s role. “But there’s a lot of really detailed decisions to be made,” such as determining where the biggest bang for the buck might be for Wellesley, and that’s where a consultant’s data modeling and other expertise can be valuable, she said. Among other things, such modeling could help the town figure out where it’s emissions will be in 205o if we continue along a business-as-usual routine.
Martello and associates have been making the rounds with town boards and committees—the Select Board, Planning, Advisory, Design Review, Municipal Light Plant, Department of Public Works, Natural Resources Commission, and School Committee—to promote its efforts. The Sustainable Energy Committee will need their ongoing support for its emerging plan and to achieve town climate goals. Working groups will focus on areas such as energy, buildings, mobility (see recent Sustainable Mobility Plan webinar), waste, natural resources, and governance. These groups will work in conjunction with town boards and staff, colleges, student groups, and organizations focused on equity.
While Climate Action Plans often come from a place of gloom and doom about droughts, flooding, etc., Martello says one reason she’s excited about the plan is that it also highlights opportunities, including cost savings, equity improvements (such as for building affordable housing), and job creation. She points out that Wellesley’s isn’t starting from scratch, having seen success from various programs ranging from food waste diversion to solar panel installations.
But when it comes to emissions, “an accelerated pace of reduction is really needed,” Martello says.
The town did meet its first greenhouse gas emission reduction goal, adopted by Town Meeting in 2009, to reduce emissions to 10% below 2007 levels by 2013. Wellesley has COVID-19 to thank for it hitting a second goal, adopted by Town Meeting in 2014, to reduce emissions 25% below 2007 levels by 2020. The pandemic resulted in greatly reduced emissions from transportation and building sectors.
Transportation and buildings account for the bulk of emissions, and of that total, residential makes up more than half, with commercial and colleges contributing their fair share. Examples of steps that could be taken with buildings would start with optimizing energy efficiency based on the current setup, such as by sealing and insulating, and then introducing green gear, such as heat pumps, where possible. Opting for renewable energy sources would additionally help to offset emissions.
Wellesley won’t go it alone on these efforts. The plan is to work with other communities on grants, as regional collaboration is looked favorably upon by those doling out the money. There’s also a lot to learn from neighboring communities. Other cities and towns, including Natick, are forging ahead with net zero plans as well.
Town Meeting prep
Martello and colleagues are fresh off of appearances before the Advisory Committee, which has been weighing in on articles for Town Meeting. It kicks off April 26.
Article 24 on the warrant includes 2 motions, one to update sustainable energy goals and one to amend existing bylaws about sustainability that would include renaming the Sustainable Energy Committee as the Climate Action Committee, largely to tie the group more closely with the emerging Climate Action Plan.
Sustainable Energy Committee members discussed during their April 2 meeting how to further address concerns shared by some Advisory members, who failed to vote unanimously on motion 1, related to the updated energy goals (net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and interim reduction goals of 50% below a 2007 baseline by 2030 and 75% by 2040).. They’ll look to pound home the point to Town Meeting that the committee needs to update its goals because they have expired, and to emphasize that these new goals are based on the latest scientific data and would be aligned with those of the state and peer communities. The town last fall declared a climate crisis.
There was also some concern from Advisory about whether the Sustainable Energy Committee might be looking to overreach. But the energy group stressed that it’s an advisory organization and looks to change its name to better line up with its mission. It could also serve to lessen confusion between this committee and the ubiquitous “sustainable” this and “green” groups in town.
The Sustainable Energy Committee, joined by town department heads, will hold a televised and online kick-off meeting on Friday, May 7 as it attempts to boost public awareness of and participation in development of the nascent Climate Action Plan. That plan will be a living document that will be revisited and adjusted as needed over time.
Embedded below is the Sustainable Energy Committee presentation planned for Town Meeting regarding the group’s new greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.