Sustainable Marblehead and Unitarian Church talk protecting the planet

on the left: Lynn Bryant, moderator and Sustainable Marblehead board member. In the middle: Lisa Wolf, Vice chair of the Marblehead Municipal Light commission, and also Wellesley Municipal Light’s sustainability coordinator, as well as a member of Sustainable Marblehead’s Clean Energy and Public Policy working group. On the right: Mark Adams, Chair of Sustainable Marblehead’s Green Homes and Buildings working group. Photo by Courtesy photo Sustainable Marblehead

Sustainable Marblehead partnered with Unitarian Church to host a Meetinghouse Talk Nov. 13 focusing on teaching Marblehead residents how to save money, energy and protect the planet this winter at a local level.

Former executive director Lynn Bryant started the discussion by pointing out the United Nations Annual climate conference (COP27) that took place on Nov. 6 of this year, warning that global emissions from fossil fuels are likely to reach record highs this year.

She also pointed out that a draft of the United States National Climate Assessment stated the United States has warmed 68 percent faster than the Earth as a whole in the past 50 years.

“Not surprisingly, it also highlights the fact that extreme weather events such as heat waves, heavy rainfall, droughts, and wildfires corneum rock and will continue to increase in number and severity if global temperatures keep rising,” added Bryant.

For that matter, Bryant believes that real change can begin at the local level and in fact that local change often begins with the individual,” we can use the power of our choices to make a difference right here.” Said Bryant.

Lisa Wolf, vice president of the Marblehead Municipal Light Commission, stated that the United Nations secretary-general has  put it in very stark terms, that we are headed towards collective suicide if we don’t dramatically reduce our emissions. “I personally find it very interesting that as a species, we are intentionally destroying our habitat,” said Wolf.

According to Wolf, in this country, we’re relatively sheltered from the worst effects of climate change, but the economic impact in terms of loss and damage from natural disasters is growing.

A graph provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) annually, shows the number of billion-dollar climate disasters in this country and the cost and billions of dollars are rising the bars show the different types of climate disasters that are occurring in this country and the costs are also rising.

“Over the course of the last 40 years or so, the constant billions of dollars from climate change have risen from about 10 billion to 150 billion or so. These are the economic challenges that we’re facing but this doesn’t take into account even the unquantifiable impacts, the impacts on vibes, on the loss of species, on the loss of habitat. So of course, this is the result of increasing the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is contributing to climate change, which is a result of burning fossil fuels. So, what we all need to recognize is we need to eliminate fossil fuels from our lives and in a word,” said Wolf.

To help reduce carbon emissions, Wolf suggests converting oil heat to a heat pump can reduce carbon emissions by seven times as nearly half of the average emissions. Wolf also suggests converting to a heat pump which could reduce emissions by 4.7 tons.

“Heating our homes is the single biggest carbon producer in our lives. Next comes cars as some of you suggested so converting your gas guzzlers to electric vehicles 3.4 tons,” said Wolf.

Avoiding one long-distance flight can reduce emissions by 1.6 tons, and installing solar panels on the roof can reduce emissions but yet are far down the list since the number of solar panels depends on the size of the roof. The typical size of a solar roof is five kilowatts, equaling 1.3 tons and a plant-based diet is fairly low on the list.

According to Wolf, electrifying your home and your transportation are the most important steps to reducing carbon emissions. 43 percent of Marblehead’s electricity comes from non-carbon emitting sources and a third of Marblehead’s power supply is nuclear while another third is hydro-generated.

“Forty-three percent: That’s the total amount of renewable energy that we can take credit for in our portfolio. The state has a 50 percent non-emitting goal by 2030, 75 percent by 2040, and 100 percent by 2050,” said Wolf.

“We anticipate coming online in the next few years, some offshore wind which should make a significant difference. Also, the light department is talking about adding community-scale solar in Marblehead and elsewhere out of town and the light department is adding community-scale battery electric storage, which will help us meet this challenge of what we call flattening the peak or shifting or shaping the peak or flattening the demand,” added Wolf.

According to Wolf, by 2035 Massachusetts will mandate that all new vehicles will be electric. She suggests starting planning early. Peak shaving will help start adjusting habits by shifting the electricity use from peak demand hours (5-8 p.m.) on weekdays. “It’s free. This is the cheapest way that you can have a significant impact on your carbon emissions. It significantly reduces energy costs and reduces carbon emissions,” said Wolf.

Within the next year, Wolf hopes that the light department will institute, “time of use” rates or “time of day” rates, which means that you will be charged higher rates during peak hours and lower rates during off-peak hours to more accurately reflect the actual cost of your energy during the day. “It would be good to start to change your habits and start thinking about that now adjusting your electricity usage. When the time of use charges actually do come into place that you’re ready. You’re not seeing sticker shock on your electric bill,” added Wolf.

Mark Adams, Chair of Sustainable Marblehead spoke about the major cause of carbon emission within Marblehead being the homes and gave steps to reduce the home’s carbon output.

“If you’re currently burning oil or natural gases or heating source, you have a huge opportunity to reduce your carbon footprint through electrification and then to bring it all home now that you’ve electrified now that you’ve tightened up your envelope now that you’ve electrified everything and you’re no longer burning fossil fuels inside your home, why not put on solar panels, so that you now have a net zero house?” said Adams.

Net Zero is available to renters and homeowners of Marblehead for the contractor to recommend ways to weatherize homes and provide guidance on the available rebates.

“The federal government passed a big bill over the summer called the inflation Reduction Act that included a number of new incentives for weatherization including a $1,600 upfront discount to low- and middle-income taxpayers for weatherization projects. Middle income is defined roughly in this area as $165,000 or less in taxable income for a two-person household,” said Adams.

From the federal level, even if you don’t qualify for the low and middle-income $1,600 upfront discount as a high-income earner, you can qualify for a $1,200 tax credit because that is not income dependent.

Net Zero, another program available to Marblehead customers only, the program provides up to $500 in rebates for installation projects. Compared to Mass Save, only available to National grid customers, cover 75 to 100 percent of the cost of an installation project.

Adams also spoke about Mini Splits heating and cooling systems’ benefits including that they are highly efficient at converting existing heat into energy because they do not create heat. “They take existing heat from the atmosphere and run it and run it into a refrigerant line which brings that heat into your house. It’s a very complex technology but this is what makes them more efficient, in terms of turning energy into heat or houses and as a result, fewer greenhouse gases are produced. It significantly lowers your energy bills,” said Adams.

According to Adams, there is a demand for Mini Splits in the United States and across the globe, because of the escalating tensions between Ukraine and Russia. “These global suppliers are extending their timeline on when they can deliver inventory for new customers. So, if you’re in a crisis situation, it’s February, and your boiler doesn’t work. You’re planning on getting another boiler, start thinking about this before that happens,” said Adams.

For those who fall under the middle-income category, the federal government will provide an $8,000 upfront discount directly to the installer. If a Contractor is hired, it’s a $2,000 tax credit. Next zero will give a $500 rebate that applies after the installation.

On the contrary, Mass Save has a $10,000 rebate. Mini-Splits cost for an average-sized home between 30,000 – $45,000, depending on the contractor and your particular situation.

“Most of the carbon output or the majority of the carbon output at 44% is coming from our homes and we really need to take this seriously. We need to take the steps to bring this down. We’re a coastal community, right, who’s going to be affected by rising oceans more than us? We’ve got to take this seriously by investing in green operations, we can lower our emissions, save on our energy bills and make our homes more comfortable. Green operations will increase the value of your home and take advantage of those state and local immune and utility incentives to bring the cost of these upgrades down,” concluded Adams.