Friday, February 7, 2014

Mark Gold- Letter to the Editor

The following Letter to the Editor appeared in today's Longmeadow News....

Imagine my surprise when I read Alex Grant’s opinion article in the January 23, 2014 Longmeadow News (see below for article) and once again found out the that majority of the Select Board was wrong when we voted to apply for a $155,000 Green community grant to begin to purchase and install high efficiency street lights. Reading Mr. Grant’s opinion, it is inconceivable that a majority of the Select Board would vote differently from him, particularly because the “facts” so clearly favored his preference: the replacement of school boilers.

Just in case there are readers of the Longmeadow News who did not watch the Select Board debate on this issue (see video clip below), it is probably worthwhile to have the “facts” that supported the majority position reviewed fully in this forum.

The primary factors that were taken into account when the potential subjects of our Green Community grant were under debate were: Benefits and breath of impact on the community; cost savings; and ability to extend the grant through annual reinvestment. The conversion of street lights to high efficiency lighting was, in the opinion of the majority of the Select Board members, clearly advantageous over boiler replacements in all three areas.

Benefits and Breath of impact: The upgrade of street lights is a program that has been studied by independent consultants, town employees, and the Select Board several times over the past 5 years. There is no alternative way to achieve the projected $600,000 in annual savings in the street light line of our budget other than the proposed project. Demonstrated benefits of the program include both cost savings and improved safety for all town residents. Every street and every resident has the potential to benefit from the lighting changes as well as the cost savings. Contrast this impact with the replacement of school boilers whose savings potential is not only lower, but is a predicated on a project that has not been evaluated, or for that matter even appeared on any previous list of capital needs, and for which a repair alternative that may be an option has not been offered. The decision to request Green Communities’ funds for street light efficiency indicates a preference for that project over boiler replacement, and does not preclude the town from pursuing truly needed heating system replacements using our capital stabilization funds when an overall plan has been developed.

Benefit comparison: Mr. Grant properly quoted the relative MMBTU values projected as savings for each potential project. What was not sufficiently emphasized was the significantly higher dollar value to the town of the street light retrofit program. For anyone who has reviewed the cost of heating a home with electricity vs. natural gas, they need no reminder that it costs far more to provide the equivalent energy with electricity as it does with gas. Simply put – high efficiency lighting is a better return for the town than a boiler where the actual savings are impacted by weather, thermostat settings and other system operations. A higher efficiency boiler isn’t going to drive energy savings when, as they were during the winter of 2010, the windows of Glenbrook School had to be opened every day because the system controllers failed in “full heat” mode. Street lighting costs are based on a fixed formula (tariff) and are not influenced by any other factor besides the type of light being used (surprisingly, not even the hours per day the light is actually on – or even if it’s on at all).

Annual Reinvestment: Because the lighting project saves more money, the savings from one year can be reinvested in programs that will allow us to compound our savings. A $155,000 investment in year 1 can generate savings to allow the conversion of all street lights in a +/- 5 year period. Savings in General Government costs (street lights) are in fact easier to reassign to other energy savings projects in future years than are savings to school department projects. One only needs to look back at the 2013 purchase of the town-wide fiber optics network and the subsequent FY2014 debate over the $100K per year in savings the project provided for verification of the difficulty of allocating capital investment based annual savings outside of the school department budget.

This past weekend the Longmeadow Select Board members attended the Massachusetts Municipal Association meeting in Boston. At that meeting we all got the opportunity to hear and see the progress that has been made on the technologies related to purchasing and high efficiency retrofitting of street lights. Such an action by Longmeadow that would have been cutting edge 5 years ago is now mainstream – if not overdue. The decision by the Select Board to pursue this project over the others that were reviewed is like many of the Select Board decisions, based on more history, debate, and evaluation than can be presented in a 700 word opinion article.

I welcome the discussion and debate that accompanies the decision making process of the Select Board. I believe in the collective decision making process that comes with a five person Select Board and am disappointed that there seems to be an ongoing need to explain the majority decision beyond the televised debate that led to the vote. In my five years on the Board I have been on the minority side of several votes. During each discussion I thoroughly expressed my opinion, and after the vote I respected the opinions and decision of the majority. I would like to think that such grace in victory and defeat is not a bygone trait.

I hope this letter clarifies why I support the decision to request Green Community grant funds to begin the process of upgrading the street lights throughout the town of Longmeadow.

Mark Gold
Member, Longmeadow Select Board

Below is the opinion column Anatomy of a Decision written by Alex Grant, Longmeadow Select Board which appeared in the January 23, 2014 edition of the Longmeadow News.

click to enlarge

Below is the LCTV video of the January 14, 2014 Select Board meeting during which there was discussion of the various energy related program candidates.