AYER -- Since Ayer became a Green Community in July 2011, the town has monitored its energy consumption, researched alternative energy sources and put energy-efficient practices into effect.
"To maintain Green Community status, the town is required to reduce its municipal energy consumption by 20 percent within five years," Green Communities Committee Chairwoman Carolyn McCreary said.
By tracking the town's energy usage through a monitoring tool, Mass Energy Insight, Town Hall electricity use has been reduced by 70 percent in two years, she said, by implementing automated controls on lights, heating and computers.
As another big energy saver, the town purchased one megawatt of solar power in 2011 from EPGSolar for $.08 per kilowatt hour (kWh). The projected savings for this investment is more than $1 million in 20 years. Power generation began in May 2013, when the project was completed.
Since the completion of the project, Department of Public Works Superintendent Mark Wetzel says it's too early to know exact numbers on energy savings.
"We are in the process of tracking the net metering credits," Wetzel said. "Our power purchase agreement is with Washington Gas and Electric. They invoice us for the net metering credits, which then show up on the following month's National Grid bill as a dollar amount."
Wetzel added that the exact savings from the solar array should begin to be ironed out soon.
While the solar array project is complete, there are currently two other projects the GCC is working on with the Energy Committee. One is the purchase of street lights along East Main Street and Main Street. The other is a study and possible construction of an anaerobic digester to be located at the Wastewater Treatment Plant.
"The town retrofitted 39 decorative street lights on Main Street with the Green Community Grant in 2012," Wetzel said.
The street lights are currently owned by National Grid and will cost the town $5,000 per light to purchase. If the town purchases the lights, they may then replace the bulbs with LEDs.
By purchasing the lights, the town will save 25 to 50 percent of their energy cost and an additional 25 percent by switching to LEDs. Although the town has not yet purchased the lights, the approval to do so will go to Town Meeting on Oct. 28.
An anaerobic digester that would generate heat and electricity while cutting down several other costs to the town is also being discussed, as Wetzel conducts a study that weighs the option of Ayer building its own anaerobic digester. The digester would consume the town's wastewater sludge and other organic materials from businesses and convert it into methane gas. The methane gas would then be burned to generate electricity and heat. Currently, Ayer disposes of all its waste by trucking it to Worcester about eight times a week, while paying trucking and disposal fees.
"We are looking at three implementation alternatives," Wetzel said. "One, privatize the construction and operation by leasing the land to a developer and buying the power generated at a reduced cost. Two, designing, constructing and operating the facility as part of our Wastewater Treatment Plant (we would keep all of the tipping fees from the outside users as well as the heat and power generated), or three, designing and constructing the facility and privatizing the operation."
"I think the digester is a win, win, win for us because not only will it produce some energy that we can use, it will also save us in trucking our sludge," McCreary said. "Also, it will be a money-maker in terms of it being a good way for food producers in town to dispose of their waste, and we will get money for doing that. I think it's a brilliant idea."
She said other towns are not able to do something like this because they do not have as large a space for it as Ayer does.
"DPW has a huge site and we can install something like this without any neighborhood impacts," McCreary said.
Although neither the street lights nor the anaerobic digester are implemented yet, Wetzel and the GCC continue to discuss, study and review the possible sustainable solutions to the town's energy consumption.
"We've been doing a lot of brainstorming for what we want to do in the future," McCreary said. She is noticing how many sustainable efforts are being taken at an individual level as well. "I have several neighbors that have purchased mini splits for their homes."
Mini splits are an energy efficient way to both heat and air-condition a home.
"It's essentially a new version of a heating pump that takes heat out of the air and brings it into the house, and in the summer it does the opposite," McCreary said.
The GCC is dedicated to finding new and alternative ways of using energy at both an individual and a town-wide level. The Green Communities Committee meets the first Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.
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