Using Public/Private Partnerships to Reduce our Carbon Footprint

By Scott W. Lang
Mayor of New Bedford, Mass.

Energy efficiency is becoming an increasingly popular way for political leaders and local governments to find innovative solutions to deal with the impacts of global warming, rising energy costs and dwindling resources.

But localities cannot do this on their own. Teaming up with partners in the private sector enables localities to access expertise and financing they do not have in order to implement programs that lower energy costs.

That is what we are doing in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Located on the southern coast of the state, we owe our existence to the last great global warming event in earth’s history: the ice age. The retreat of the glaciers 12,000 years ago helped create the deepwater port and plentiful supplies of water that provide the basis for our City’s economy today.

Due to these incredible natural resources, New Bedford in the 1800s became the home of the country’s whaling industry and today we remain the number one commercial fishing port in the United States. Our dependence on water and our dynamic port makes us extra sensitive to the impact our City has on the environment every day.

That is why New Bedford is embarking on an ambitious initiative to reduce our carbon footprint while increasing sustainability—steps that could easily be undertaken in municipalities across the country. Through these aggressive measures, we hope to reduce our government’s energy usage by 20 percent within the next five years.

Our road map is a plan developed by a Sustainability Task Force we created five years ago. This energy blueprint will enable us to reduce our use of fossil fuels, lower costs and help make our City and our planet a better place for our children and grandchildren. Our plan includes building solar systems on city-owned sites, buying fuel efficient vehicles for our municipal fleet, installing electric charging stations for fishing vessels docked at our wharfs, encouraging private businesses to install solar systems, converting oil-heated buildings to natural gas, promoting business and residential weatherization, and installing super-efficient LED lighting throughout the city.

Our energy sustainability program has four clear goals: lower energy costs for government, residents and local businesses; create jobs; reduce carbon emissions; and help build our community.

To implement this plan, we are partnering with the private sector. In October, we announced that, in cooperation with Consolidated Edison Solutions Inc. and BlueWave Capital LLC, we will construct solar panels on city-owned sites with the goal of producing 10 megawatts of clean and renewable energy. That is enough to power 1,500 homes.

The program was made possible, in part, by an $80,000 Federal grant authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

This program will add value to City facilities, turn underutilized space into profitable resources and, we hope, encourage local businesses to follow our lead and install solar panels on their properties.

The rooftop and ground-based photovoltaic units will be installed on buildings, schools and other municipal land parcels and will be operational by 2013. By reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, these solar panels could produce up to 25 percent of the electricity consumed by city-owned facilities and could potentially generate savings as high as $10 million by 2033.

This is a classic “win-win” public/private partnership. New Bedford provides the facilities while our private partners provide the financing and the expertise. Together, we will be implementing our strategic energy plan and reducing our energy footprint for generations to come.

ConEdison Solutions will own the solar installations and enter into long-term power purchase agreements with New Bedford. The firm will also provide the financing and be responsible for installation, ongoing operations and maintenance.

Our solar initiative will also provide a boost to the local economy. BlueWave will work with us to bring solar energy to local businesses and residences, creating job and apprenticeship opportunities. And ConEdison Solutions has agreed to maximize its use of local construction contractors as it builds its solar installations.

Our public/private solar initiative is only one piece of our much larger energy efficiency program—one reason why our energy initiatives have made New Bedford a national leader in sustainability and renewable energy. Our complete energy program targets municipal, commercial, residential, transportation and port-related end-users.

At New Bedford’s Harbor’s Wharves, we have created a program, funded by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to lower emissions along the waterfront. We are installing 42 dockside electric pedestals— each with four outlets—to be used by boats using our port. These boats will be able to replace their fossil fuel with electricity. That means our port will use 310,000 fewer gallons of diesel fuel each year. This effort is crucial to maintaining the port as a vital ingredient of our local economy. The port now generates more than $1 billion a year in economic activity and is used by some 500 fishing boats.

We are also working to make our government operations more efficient. In addition to installing solar panels at government-owned sites, we will switch five percent of our municipal vehicle fleet to highly efficient vehicles within five years, convert our oil-

heated buildings to natural gas, and investigate the feasibility of biomass conversion for one of our oil-heated buildings.

Other facets of our energy sustainability program include installing highly efficient LED lighting at our commercial fishing piers and other public places and encouraging commercial businesses to implement a variety of energy-saving techniques.

We are also starting a community retrofit program to encourage businesses and residents to weatherize their property, which could be a key source of energy savings given our sometimes harsh winters. In partnership with local energy nonprofit organizations, we are reaching out to businesses and residents and hope to weatherize 5,000 homes and businesses by 2015.

Energy efficiency starts at home and that means mayors must take the initiative to promote energy savings in their local governments, in the private sector and in our daily lives. We in New Bedford are creating a platform that will help reduce our carbon footprint for future generations. It is a legacy for which we all are proud.