By Sandra Storey
Special to the Gazette
“Can JP Power Itself?” was the tantalizing title of a community gathering and potluck sponsored by JP NET (New Economy Transition) and JP Forum on July 29.
Related questions were posed: Can Jamaica Plain transition away from fossil fuels? Reduce its carbon footprint? What would be the costs of that? What are the issues? Realistically, what could be some goals?
After the presentation by Lynn Benander, president and CEO of Co-op Power, JP resident Elsa Bengel offered an excellent suggestion during the comments-from-the-audience session. She proposed that a group of interested residents “gather data” and “challenge ourselves about where we want to be as a community regarding powering our lives with renewable fuels and determining how to get there.”
Initial research indicates JP can’t independently obtain 100 percent of its own renewable energy supply any time soon. Creating sufficient renewable sources and retrofitting or rebuilding existing structures to accommodate them would be difficult and expensive, said Loie Hayes in a recent telephone interview. Hayes had attended the July 29 event. A long-time local environmentalist, Hayes is the Renew Boston Outreach Coordinator at Mass Energy Consumer Alliance, a 35-year-old nonprofit based in JP.
For example, it isn’t possible to power and heat an entire triple-decker from a solar array on the roof, she said. A wind turbine farm to supply enough energy to all of dense JP’s businesses, institutions and residences would take a huge amount of space in a windy setting that we don’t have. Peter’s Hill in the Arboretum and the hill nearby in Mission Hill (already zoned for this) might host a couple of turbines that would help a little, Hayes said.
Some hope comes from the idea of putting solar panels in streets, on parking lots and the roofs of commercial buildings, Hayes said, but the technology is still expensive and a long way from practical implementation.
The outlook is good for JP to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.
Right now, individual residents and business people can switch to using all renewable energy to generate their electricity for just extra cents a day. And that cost is tax deductible. Mass Energy is offering two options where people can buy clean energy generated nearby. See massenergy.org/renewable-energy/nstar for details, including a personal Green Power calculator. Any company offering distribution from an alternative electricity source should be asked to provide all relevant information in writing with plenty of time to review and research before anything gets signed.
Weatherization and other conservation measures, including using new technologies and gadgets, could help, too, according to Hayes. Some steps are simple, like getting heating system tune-ups and buying Energy Star appliances. Renew Boston (See renewboston.org.) offers residents information about how to save money by saving energy.
Conditions are also favorable for people who want increased local energy independence. JP folks could form a member-owned Community Energy Cooperative to affiliate with the regional Co-op Power network to obtain and manage sustainable energy sources. Six such grassroots groups, each with different focuses, exist already. For more information see cooppower.coop.
As individuals and as a neighborhood, we can use our human energy to improve the ways we power our lives.