By Trea Lavery
LOWELL — UMass Lowell has received a Leading by Example award from the state Department of Energy Resources for its work completing a comprehensive decarbonization study to determine its path to carbon neutrality by 2050.
The 15th annual Leading by Example awards were held on the university’s campus Thursday. Eleven state agencies, public higher education institutions, municipalities and public sector individuals received awards for their leadership in promoting initiatives that reduce environmental impacts and associated energy costs of state operations.
“Public sector leaders at the state and local level play a crucial role in contributing innovative approaches and solutions that help our state meet its ambitious climate and clean energy goals,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “Today’s award ceremony is an opportunity to celebrate the good work of our state and municipal leaders and the action they are taking to protect our environment, reduce costs and embrace forward-looking solutions to our energy challenges.”
UMass Lowell’s decarbonization study will allow the school to better understand the strategies and technologies needed to meet campus energy needs while progressing to carbon neutrality within the next 30 years.
The decarbonization planning team worked with similar teams at UMass Amherst, UMass Dartmouth and Salem State University, which also received awards, to share best practices and lessons that can be applied to further studies at other state facilities.
The Leading by Example program works with state agencies and public colleges and universities to advance clean energy and sustainable practices that reduce the environmental impacts of state government operations. The Department of Energy Resources’ Green Communities division provides similar support and funding for cities and towns in Massachusetts.
Through the program, the state government has collectively reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 34% from a 2004 baseline, installed more than 30 megawatts of solar panels on state land, reduced heating oil use by 84% or about 21 million gallons annually, installed 260 electric vehicle charging stations and created and maintained more than 280 acres of pollinator-friendly habitats on state properties.
In April, Baker signed an executive order that set goals and requirements to accelerate the decarbonization of fuels used to heat and cool state facilities, demonstrate new technologies and strategies necessary to meet energy goals and quicken the shift to electric heating and vehicles.
“State facilities continue to advance to a clean and resilient energy future and today’s awardees illustrate that all-electric HVAC systems, solar canopies and battery storage systems can be implemented affordably and contribute to our state’s overall ambitious climate agenda,” said Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock. “These clean energy and energy efficiency projects are reducing greenhouse gas emissions and lowering energy costs across the commonwealth in our cities and towns and at our universities.”
Other local awardees included the town of Acton for passing a climate emergency declaration last year. The town has since completed a greenhouse gas inventory and launched a climate action plan to identify strategies to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Acton was designated a Green Community in 2010, and has previously completed other emission reduction projects, including installing a 1.6 megawatt solar field on its landfill, procuring 100% renewable energy for municipal buildings, constructing an all-electric fire station and converting the entire police fleet to hybrid vehicles.
Ashburnham Energy Committee member Ed Vitone also received an award for spearheading energy initiatives in town, ensuring successful implementation of projects aimed at reducing energy use, costs and greenhouse gas emissions. As a member of the Stevens Library board of trustees, Vitone has also successfully pushed forward a comprehensive weatherization project and installation of air source heat pumps and electric vehicle charging stations, resulting in emissions reductions of close to 70%.
“The buildings we are creating today will still be in operation in 2050, and every day we make decisions that shape our climate future,” state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance Commissioner Carol Gladstone said. “This year’s winners exemplify the creativity, leadership, and commitment to our environment embodied by the Leading by Example Program that are necessary to make a positive impact on our communities and our state.”
Other awardees were the state Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, the Board of Library Commissioners Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program, Bridgewater State University, the city of Greenfield and Sean Donaghy, manager of energy programs for the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority.