Sheffield: Please rethink Green Communities

In a letter to the editor, Martin Mitsoff writes, "Perhaps some voters will label me a leftist liberal for supporting Sheffield’s leaders in trying to adopt Green Communities legislation. But the reality of adopting this legislation is that it is highly conservative."

To the editor:

Sheffield residents might want to note the recent news that the town of Great Barrington was awarded a Green Communities grant in the amount of $163,725 for energy efficiency measures that will reduce future operating expenses for the town. Reducing future operating expenses means that tax rates, at least as they relate to such operating expenses, can either be reduced or held in check, to the benefit of our environment and the community.

Sheffield’s past selectboards had only superficially considered, and then flatly rejected, bringing Green Communities legislation to a town vote; that is, before the current selectboard chair was reelected to the board. Under her leadership, the effort was renewed and the town held community information sessions that provided the opportunity to hear the facts behind this program.

At Sheffield’s annual town meeting held June 29, 2020, the Green Communities effort was derailed by two individuals. In the first instance, we heard an emotional appeal from a building contractor that adopting such legislation incorporating the stretch code would increase the cost of a new four-bedroom home by $10,000, making it, in his opinion, unaffordable for families seeking to build new homes. That there are currently zero such homes being built in Sheffield was a point not made, and this is more due to high land values than a probable increase in building costs alone (of 2% or less, by my estimate). The facts show that additional building costs for new residential construction under the Green Communities program, and accounting for associated tax credits, are recouped in energy savings within 12 to 24 months after project completion; ongoing energy savings then accrue to the homeowner’s bottom line. There are precious few riskless investments that one can make that have paybacks that are so short or that continue to provide savings for years to come.

In the second instance, our effort was further undermined by statements from an unhappy former member of the selectboard who had previously voted in favor of the town adopting this legislation, noting at such vote that she had a better understanding that the additional expense associated with the concomitant adoption of the stretch code for new residential construction effectively meant adopting the 2015 Massachusetts building code. Note that our Commonwealth towns and municipalities don’t have a choice in adopting the 2015 building code because that building code is currently mandated by the state. It is reasonable to assume that the next edition of the building code will be the stretch code itself, and possibly then some as Massachusetts continues to strive to enact meaningful responses to climate change and energy efficiency goals.

Many of Sheffield’s neighboring towns have adopted Green Communities legislation, including Becket, Dalton, Egremont, Stockbridge and Sandisfield, joining 266 other communities in the Commonwealth. Egremont alone has been awarded a total of $146,205; Dalton a total of $411,481; and Great Barrington a total of $306,425 since their respective adoptions of this legislation.

Perhaps some voters will label me a leftist liberal for supporting Sheffield’s leaders in trying to adopt Green Communities legislation. But the reality of adopting this legislation is that it is highly conservative: Conserving energy, making our buildings more efficient, and reducing local outlays as well as homeowner operating expenses are all decidedly conservative measures. Our town buildings, from Town Hall to our police station to our treasured public library and senior center, will benefit from Green Communities funding opportunities and energy conservation efforts. So will our residents.

Martin Mitsoff

The author is a Sheffield resident and a member of the Sheffield Board of Selectmen. Opinions expressed are his own.