Opinion: Should Marion remain a Green Community?

Apr 7, 2024

To the editor:

In late 2018, Marion was accepted into the Massachusetts Green Community Program. To date, 83% of Mass municipalities have joined the program. To achieve this status, the town had to meet five criteria aimed toward helping the town reduce energy use and transition away from fossil fuels (see Mass.gov for details). Becoming a Green Community opened the door to state funds for improving municipal energy efficiency and thus saving tax dollars. Marion has received nearly $550,000 in grants that have paid for numerous improvements and upgrades to our municipal buildings and infrastructure. Thanks to these upgrades, our annual energy use has dropped by nearly 25%, which represents a savings of more than $180,000 this past year relative to energy costs in 2017.

Despite these substantial successes and benefits to the town, questions are now being raised about whether Marion should remain in the Green Community Program. The rub arises from the requirement to adhere to the so-called stretch building code, which involves more energy-efficient construction than that required by the base building code. The stretch code applies only to new construction and major renovations. Both the normal and stretch building codes have evolved over time to promote additional energy efficiency, as we knew would occur as the state strives to reduce carbon emissions.

Substantial incentive payments are provided by the state to offset additional costs for the more energy-efficient construction required by the stretch code. For example, a new all-electric 4,000-square-foot home, after state rebates, costs about $20,000 less to build relative to one constructed under the base building code, and the cost savings per year for the home buyer (through changes to the down payment, 30-year mortgage payment and energy savings) amount to $548 per year (see Mass.gov for other examples). The stretch code and associated incentives were developed to save energy, reduce building costs and lower homeowners’ energy bills. And remember that the base building code does not differ appreciably from the stretch code — in a few years, it will become the same as today’s stretch code.

If Marion decides to stop complying with the stretch code, we cannot remain in the Green Communities Program. We’d be only the second town in Massachusetts to leave the program. Access to grants for additional municipal improvements and cost savings would be lost. Given the savings we’ve achieved through being a Green Community, why would Marion want to exit the program? The opposition being raised by a few misinformed residents would eliminate these substantial and ongoing benefits to us all.

Jennifer Francis, PhD

Member of Marion’s Energy Management Committee