Great Barrington — As winter and its freezing temperatures set in, town residents have a unique opportunity to engage in a home heating program that is both cheaper and greener.\
Great Barrington is one of four community grantees statewide selected to participate in the first round of HeatSmart Mass – a community-based education and group purchasing program for clean heating and cooling technologies. A joint initiative of the Mass. Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), HeatSmart Mass aims to save residents money and slash emissions from the heating/cooling sector.
The program is modeled after the successful Solarize Mass program. HeatSmart simply takes the same community outreach and group purchasing model from Solarize and applies it to clean heating and cooling technologies – including air-source heat pumps, ground-source heat pumps, modern wood heating, and solar hot water.
“Innovative heating and cooling technologies represent the next generation of clean energy, and can help residents save money on their heating bills,” Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton said in a press release. “Reducing greenhouse gas emissions while driving down consumer costs is top priority of the Baker-Polito Administration, and these grants are another important step forward in those efforts.”
The pilot grant recipients were announced November 15th. Great Barrington is the smallest community selected and the only one located west of the Boston metro area. The other communities selected are Bolton, Carlisle, Concord, Harvard, Lincoln, and Nantucket.
“We very much appreciate it, and we’re happy to be the town out here that can see how this works in western Mass.,” Great Barrington Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin said of her reaction to the town’s selection to pilot the program. “Every time we are able to do another initiative, another step in building on our sustainability strategy, it’s really positive.”
Great Barrington recently approved a municipal aggregation contract for electricity that offers residents and businesses the option to purchase clean energy at a lower cost. Through that contract, the electricity supply comes entirely from wind power. Now, that green electricity can go towards powering the renewable heating-cooling technology that the town selected for HeatSmart.
Great Barrington will use its $9,000 HeatSmart grant towards community education and outreach for air-source heat pumps. This is a modern, highly efficient heating-cooling technology that uses indoor-outdoor air exchange to heat and cool your house.
Since air-source heat pumps are one of the most energy-efficient heating technologies available today, the potential for energy savings – and thus lower utility bills – is significant. According to the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships, annual savings are about 3,000kWh (or $459) compared to electric resistance heating, and 6,200kWh (or $948) compared to oil heating.
Massachusetts already ranks number one out of all states in the country for energy efficiency due in large part to the Mass Save program, which offers no-cost energy assessments and a range of other rebates, incentives and services geared towards energy efficiency. For residents – especially those in lower income brackets – who are considering switching to a cleaner heating source, the no-cost assessment is a game-changer. “Our secret weapon is not heat pumps. It’s Mass Save,” said Michael Feldstein, the HeatSmart “coach” for Great Barrington.
He explained that Great Barrington’s HeatSmart team plans to prioritize outreach to low-income residents, and that the program is designed with inclusivity and socio-economic justice in mind. “Part of our social responsibility is to make sure there isn’t a ‘green divide’ in terms of affordability,” he said.
According to MassCEC, 71 percent of households in Great Barrington use high-cost heating fuels – electric baseboard, oil, or propane. Air-source heat pumps are less expensive than any of these three heating methods.
“Heating costs, especially out here, are very high. So anything that can be done to help reduce heating costs for low-income people, and all of us, is really important,” said Tabakin. “It’s a critical aspect of anyone’s budget in the wintertime.”
According to an Edge news brief, Great Barrington will work with partner organizations the Great Barrington Senior Center, Construct, Volunteers in Medicine Berkshires, the Guthrie Center, Berkshire Center for Justice, and Greenagers to educate residents on financial aid programs that would help defray the costs of switching to more environmentally friendly heating sources.
“I am thrilled to learn that Great Barrington is participating in this program. Bringing air-source heat pumps to town will not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve local air quality, it will help folks save money,” said State Representative William Pignatelli (D-Lenox), House Chair of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.
Feldstein said his team is actively recruiting volunteers to help with outreach for the program. He hopes to build a model that can be replicated throughout the county.
“We want to build an infrastructure, so other towns in Berkshire County can repeat what we’ve done,” he said. “This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of our ambition.”