A push to make buildings (and streetlights) more efficient in Concord

Monitor staff
Published: 3/14/2021 3:49:30 PM

Acknowledging that the cheapest energy is the energy that you don’t need to buy, Concord is pursuing improved efficiency in buildings and light poles.

Wednesday will see a COVID-delayed kickoff for Weatherize Concord, an effort to get more city businesses and residences, especially lower-income locations, to take advantage of money in the NH Saves program.

“On an average basis there have been about 40 properties a year in Concord using it. We’re going to try to double that,” said City Councilor Rob Werner, who chairs the Energy and Environment Advisory Committee. “We wanted to do this early last year before COVID took over.”

NH Saves is a long-standing program funded by the state’s electric and gas utility programs to subsidize energy audits, which find places where heat or electricity is being wasted, and weatherization programs that can help reduce the waste. It provides grants and rebates to cover some of the cost as well as advice and guidance for whether, and how, to proceed.

“It’s an opportunity to make their homes more efficient and save themselves some money,” said Werner.

The goal of 80 buildings is limited not just by the availability of NH Saves money but the availability of workforce.

“It’s constrained by availability of contractors, that’s what the utilities folks tell us. That’s why we’re being relatively conservative about it. We’d love to do more,” said Werner.

Lockdowns during the pandemic have led to a huge increase in home repair and upgrade projects, making it harder to hire people trained in such things as installing insulation and improving air flow.

In a separate move, the city will soon be seeking bids for contractors to replace Concord’s 2,100 streetlights with LED fixtures, which use much less electricity than the incandescent, sodium or mercury bulbs that have been used over the past half century. Depending on the circumstances, replacements can pay for themselves in as little as two or three years through lower power bills.

Lights along Main Street are mostly LED already, having been changed as part of downtown improvements.

Werner said the installation cost of roughly $720,000 will be covered half by a grant from Unitil, the city’s electricity provider, and half through billing.

Both of these projects are part of the city’s goal to use 100% renewable energy by 2050, including 100% renewable electricity by 2030. It’s easier to make that switch if you’re using less energy to begin with.

“This is a direct way, a granular way, of moving along that path,” said Werner. “At the same time, we’re advocating for a (state) net-metering bill to make it possible for governmental units to do net metering. The solar project on the landfill, we can’t do that without a change in legislation.”

The city of Concord will be hosting a Weatherize Concord Launch Event by Zoom on Tuesday, March 16, at 11 a.m. and will also mark the push with banners on South Main Street and Loudon Road.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)
David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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