How Green is Green? Franklin’s Efforts to Go Green Also Help Its Bottom Line
By Judith Dorato O’Gara
It’s old news at this point that Franklin is a Green Community. The town received that designation in 2018, which opened it up to various grants on the state level. With Earth Day celebrated this month, Franklin Local Town Pages spoke with Jamie Hellen, Town Administrator, on what has been happening lately to further a clean environment in town.
“We did get certified as a Green Community in 2018. Since then, the couple grants we’ve gotten have been around getting our first electric vehicles, and we’re getting a couple more from a grant this year,” says Hellen. “We also got a grant for some (energy efficiency) mechanical adjustments.”
One big project that reduced the town’s carbon footprint was streetlight conversion, says Hellen. “This was a huge project, and no taxpayer money went to that. It was a combination of grants and one time revenue we cobbled together. The whole town has been converted to LED streetlights.”
Hellen also notes that the municipal aggregate electricity program not only saves the town money, but also directs its consumers to clean energy sources. “The municipal aggregate program is saving people 4 cents off their electric bill per kilowatt. That adds up to a lot, but the sub bullet to the aggregation savings is that all that electricity is from wind – turbine power in the west.” About 12,000 to 15,000 customers get that clean energy, says Hellen.
Hellen says Franklin has been going green for a long time now. In fact, part of the Green Community certification four years ago required submitting an energy reduction plan.
“We struggled to find, and the state certified this, they struggled to find how we were going to reduce our energy consumption by 20%, because our energy use was so low as a town, there weren’t any new ways to save energy. Most towns that have an energy reduction plan are going to have old boilers, old buildings, bad facilities and schools. Here, if you look at the school facilities analysis, it shows our buildings are incredibly well maintained and modernized.”
Virtually all municipal buildings, Hellen explains, draw their electricity from a solar farm on Union Street owned by Cistercian nuns.
“That whole solar field was supposed to be 7-8 megawatts, now it’s at 10-11 megawatts. That easily takes 98% of our municipal load – including schools, town streetlights, underground lights. We are virtually a net zero organization. We can’t claim it’s 100%, but we’re pretty darn close. Now, we’re getting electric vehicles – staff vehicles, and all that fleet is going to be turned over to electric vehicles probably by the end of this year.”
Hellen explains that fire trucks and dump trucks, vehicles of that nature will still be fossil-fueled, because “as a society, we’re not there yet, but as fate would have it, National Grid is offering a program to do a fleet audit for us on nearly 200 pieces of apparatus.” That audit, says Hellen, could illustrate how Franklin might replace those vehicles with what’s available on the market.
Hellen notes that having Franklin resident, Rep. Jeff Roy as House Chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy is useful. “Not only do we have a great relationship and friendship,” says Hellen, “but it really does go hand in hand when your state rep is working on this.”
With gas prices high, the town, says Hellen, the Franklin is “going to be hurt at the pump” to fuel that high level apparatus until more efficient ones are available.
“We have to test, and we have to think about it and not just run in because of politics,” says Hellen. “You have to make sure you can still provide the services, especially with emergency management.”
Franklin, says Hellen, is going to continue to compete for the DOER grants. “Alecia (Alleyne) has taken over our Green Communities, and we’re continuing to be competitive (through that program).”
Looking forward, Hellen notes, “We are updating mechanicals in municipal building, like boilers, getting energy efficient air conditioning systems. That’s the next big capital project – this building is 20 years old.”
Hellen wants the residents of Franklin “to know, they have staff members on both the town and the school side who are deeply committed to becoming a net zero community to the best of our ability. We really have, as an organization speaking louder with our actions than our words, and I think the state has recognized us for that. It’s going to take some patience, as products get developed, but we’re going to be on the forefront.”
As far as town waste, Hellen explains that the company, Waste Management, is the town’s hauler.
“We actually (recently) announced, that of all the municipalities in Norfolk County, we had the highest recycling rate. The DEP just did an audit, and our percentage was that only 7% was unrecycled,” says Hellen. The town, he says, has gotten DEP grants to do local audits and compliance checks, “and the reason is not to be punitive, it’s not about fines, it’s saving the system money, so I don’t have to raise rates,” says Hellen, adding the recycling rate reflects “not just the town, that’s the residential commitment. The town is deeply committed to recycling and preventing all that other garbage from going into the waste stream, which then saves money in tonnage.”
One project coming up next year will be the solid waste master plan, that will take about two years. “Part of that (will be) a state-of-the-art recycling center down on Beaver Street.” Recycling is such a great thing. It does save money on us having to pay people to take away more garbage. It saves time, and when you save time, you save money, especially these days, when personnel costs are going through the roof. It’s not just about the Earth, it’s also about saving money in your budget when other things are going up.”