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By Anne O’Connor

AYER — When Massachusetts cities and towns set out to improve their energy efficiency, the state is there to help.

The Green Communities Designation and Grant Program provides municipalities with funds and technical assistance to reach energy goals.

The catch? Each town or city must qualify as a Green Community. The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs set the criteria each community must reach.

The state gives an initial grant to a municipality that becomes a Green Community. Once that is expended, additional competitive grants are available. So far, Ayer has qualified for $368,221.

The town became a Green Community in July 2011. With the designation came $151,175 in state funding to help the town reduce its energy consumption by 20 percent in five years.

“Ayer has met that,” said Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand. He credited the town’s Energy Committee, appointed by the Board of Selectmen, with the success.

Using the initial grant money, the town tackled one of the biggest municipal energy users. The heating system in the wastewater treatment plant, dating from 1983, was replaced and the fuel changed from oil to natural gas.

“It was beyond obsolete, defunct, if you will,” Pontbriand said.

Other projects, like automatic climate control and smart power strips for computer stations in Town Hall, rounded off the effort.

In July of this year, Ayer received another $217,046 from a competitive Green Communities grant. The town had to evaluate its energy use and identify future improvements.

“We’re really excited about it,” Pontbriand said.

Next on the list of modernizations is converting streetlights to LED. Not only will the new lights be more energy efficient, they will be brighter and improve public safety, he said.

A new variable-frequency drive for a well pump and LED lighting for the fire station and Department of Public Works administration building are in the works.

The town also applied for funds to convert the interior lighting at Town Hall to LED but did not receive the funding. The state requirements for payback on investment were not met, Pontbriand said. The change may be something the town can do within the budget in the future.

Follow Anne O’Connor on Twitter and Tout @a1oconnor.

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