Climate Action Committee: “green” schools and solar energy

A regular monthly meeting of the Climate Action Committee on Monday, May 19, started at 6:00 pm in the northern first-floor meeting room at Town Hall, with 10 of the 15 committee members present, plus five members of the public and Doron Bracha, a Brookline resident giving a featured presentation on “green” schools. Co-chair Keske Toyofuku presided. Next Step Living, a solar energy firm in the Boston seaport district, was to present at this meeting but rescheduled for next month’s meeting.

Mr. Bracha, an architect specializing in energy-efficient school buildings, lives in the Devotion district, where his children attend. He is active in the Green Team at the school. He illustrated design features for school buildings that manage solar flux entering windows, reduce energy consumption with air heat exchangers, capture and store rainwater, and control acoustic reverberation.

Some of these features were illustrated with recent pictures of Wayland High School, where several “green” design elements have been employed. Committee member Dan Bennett asked about a high ceiling, looking to be around 20 feet, over the lunch room. Mr. Bracha acknowledged there had been tradeoffs between prestige appearance and energy efficiency but said some of the upper space was occupied by a mezzanine and balcony.

At Devotion School, Mr. Bracha said he noticed there was little recycling. In particular, the lunch room was discarding disposables and food scraps in refuse bins. He wondered whether other Brookline schools were also missing recycling opportunities. Committee member Benjamin Chang, who also serves on the School Committee, said he did not know but would ask Food Services director Alden Cadwell, who joined the school system at the start of the current school year.

Committee member Werner Lohe, who also serves on the Conservation Commission, said he had read that Boston University recycles both disposables and food scraps. Committee member Don Weitzman said some but not all schools have blue recycling bins supplied by the public works department. Co-chair Neil Wishinsky, who also serves on the Board of Selectmen, cautioned that the department lacks authority to require recycling by Public Schools of Brookline. An audience member recalled Green Teams at elementary schools organized several years ago by Mary Dewart, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, saying they had been less engaged recently.

Mr. Bennett asked about the variety of alternative energy systems considered for “green” schools, saying he believes cogeneration gives the most “bang for the buck.” Mr. Bracha replied, “Every project is different,” and “many projects don’t have the budget for environmental enhancements.” Committee members were concerned that could happen with current projects under review for Devotion, Driscoll and Lawernce. Mr. Toyofuku said he hoped Mr. Bracha would come to future meetings to continue the discussion.

The meeting turned to energy efficiency programs, alternative transportation and solar energy installations in Brookline. Mr. Wishinsky called attention to the Hubway bicycle station formerly at Town Hall and now near JFK Crossing, the intersection of Fuller and Harvard Streets. Mr. Lohe said utilization at Town Hall had been low. He hopes to see improvements to traffic signal coordination but realizes it is complex and costly.

Committee member Linda Olson Pehlke expressed concern that if town meeting rejects Article 16, submitted by Precinct 13 town meeting member Andrew Fischer, reducing parking at Brookline Place, it could not be proposed again for two years. The Planning Board, Board of Selectmen and Advisory Committee all recommend Article 15 instead, submitted by the Brookline Place Advisory Committee.

A question from the audience asked about the status of a program guide for solar energy. Lara Curtis Hayes, who provides staff support to the committee, said there is now a first draft and that the agency running the state’s rebate program has received a recent infusion of funds. Massachusetts makes available a comprehensive list of all the state’s subsidized solar energy projects since 2008.

After a slow start, the Massachusetts solar program became very active in 2012 and 2013, spurred by drastic drops in solar panel prices. The state offers rebates of up to $4,250 for a home installation, if the household income is not over $95,420. The federal government offers a 30-percent tax credit. In 2013, there were 4,262 installations of small solar systems in the state, rated at up to 10 kilowatts, peak.

Although small systems were 87 percent of the state’s solar installations for 2013, they provide only 11 percent of their rated power, because several large solar plants were brought online–mostly by cities, towns and utility companies. For 2013, Brookline had 16 solar systems installed, all of them small ones for homes, rated at a total of about 90 kW, peak.

Compared to a statewide average of 33 peak watts per resident, new Brookline systems for 2013 were rated at just 1.5 peak watts per resident. A fairly typical home solar system was rated at about 5 kW, peak, and it cost around $25,000 installed. However, installed system prices reported in Brookline during 2013 ranged from $3.40 to $6.98 per peak watt; they were similar to prices in other places.

For New England, small solar installations rarely realize capacity factors above 12 percent–ratios of average to peak power. Their unsubsidized prices are equivalent to around $40 per average watt. So-called “third generation” nuclear is coming online this year at unsubsidized prices around $8 per average watt. Of course, small solar installations deliver energy to the doorstep, while delivering energy from utility plants adds transportation and distribution costs–quite high in New England.

Committee members strategized about stronger efforts to promote solar energy. Next month’s committee meeting will feature several solar energy installers providing services in Brookline.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 20, 2014

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>