BCT’s extension faculty member Ben Weil and his “Clean Energy Corps” students (from the BCT 597R course) were recently in the news with their efforts to make buildings more sustainable for Massachusetts’ municipalities:
Let Us Introduce the UMass Clean Energy Corps
Ask town officials what they think in Ware. Ask them in Natick, and in Greenfield. Palmer too.
These are some of the towns where the new UMass Clean Energy Corps has touched down in the few months since its founding. The Corps is a student-centered initiative focused on helping communities across the Commonwealth develop and meet their clean energy goals. It was created by UMass Clean Energy Extension, a research and outreach program that in its first two years of life has been helping transform communities and businesses into cleaner, more efficient places to live, work, and grow into the future.
UMass Clean Energy Extension is a program of UMass Extension (or as it was once known, Cooperative Extension), which, for over a hundred years, has been known as a go-to organization, a place to find helpful answers, real support and unbiased information. It is also a partnership with several UMass Amherst departments and is supported by the state Department of Energy Resources (DOER).
The Clean Energy Corps got its start in the summer of 2016 when Dwayne Breger, Clean Energy Extension (CEE) Director and Ben Weil, extension assistant professor in building energy, invited undergrads to help them pilot a new community outreach program.
Weil and Breger, along with staff members Chris Beebe, Lauren Mattison, and River Strong (all energy and/or mechanical engineers), are working closely with groups of students to provide energy analysis and consulting services to Mass. municipalities that are involved with the Green Communities program – a DOER effort dedicated to helping cities and towns identify and implement clean energy solutions that reduce costs and strengthen local economies. The Green Communities designation requires an energy-usage inventory and a plan to reduce energy use by 20% within five years.
CEE Assistant Director River Strong lays out two clear goals for the Clean Energy Corps:
- to help students obtain hands-on, real-world experience, and
- to link communities to the help they need to understand and reduce their energy use.
That help generally comes in two phases: first, students and staff – working in partnership with municipal staff, officials, and regional planning agencies – perform a baseline assessment of how much energy is used in public buildings and publically-owned vehicles. They analyze energy bills and total gas, oil, diesel and electricity usage. Next, the Clean Energy Corps assists the town to integrate these findings into the energy-specific portion of the Green Communities application. Once awarded status as Green Communities, the towns become eligible to receive funding to implement cost-saving projects.
The Clean Energy Corps is already proving its value. In its first summer, the Corps helped Greenfield eliminate dependence on an old steam system in their town hall and reduce wasted energy in some schools. In addition, UMass students worked with town leaders in Erving, Southampton, and Ware to submit Green Communities applications.