Two energy experts endorse Jones Library renovation project

This first statement is from Todd Holland, an Amherst resident with four decades of construction experience who served on the Jones Library Sustainability Committee.

I want to be sure our new library is a financially responsible investment, a step toward sustainability, and a key to honoring our carbon commitment.

Choosing building materials is one of the largest variables in the carbon equation.  The baseline design used concrete and steel.  But the massive energy inputs required to make and move those materials would have created a huge carbon footprint, one that even a highly efficient building would take decades to erase. 

With wood timber construction, the embodied carbon will be less than one-third of the baseline.  While far-out solutions to climate change imagine massive machines to capture carbon from the atmosphere and store it underground, this project will take advantage of an existing solution: trees.  Trees pull carbon from our atmosphere, and building with wood sequesters that carbon, potentially for centuries. 

I know this because my house and garage were built from timbers salvaged from structures built in the 1800’s.  The carbon in those timbers was pulled from the atmosphere some 200 years ago and is still sequestered today. 

If the library went with the earlier design, it would take 30+ years to offset the embodied carbon with operational savings.  The lifetime carbon savings would be 4,500 metric tons.  That’s not insignificant, but the project before the voters will do far better. 

The proposed Jones Library will save 7,500 metric tons of carbon over its lifetime.  Its impressive energy efficiency will enable its low-carbon construction – and the relatively tiny footprint of demolition – to be offset in just over eight years.  And from then on it will pay a carbon dividend, year after year. 

This second statement is from Sara Draper, director of the R.W. Kern Center at Hampshire College, a net-zero energy building.

I am glad so many people in Amherst are thinking critically about building sustainability and about how the town should spend its energy and carbon “budget” to best fulfill our climate goals. The energy efficient, low-carbon Jones Library project is exactly where we should be spending those resources.

As a historic preservationist by training and a sustainable design advocate by trade, I was glad to be a part of the Jones Library Sustainability Committee. My litmus test for the Jones Library project was threefold: Does the proposed design improve the energy efficiency of the building without compromising the historic portion? Do the energy efficiency improvements of the new addition outweigh the carbon “cost” of demolition? And does the design help the Town of Amherst meet its sustainability goals? The answer to all these questions is yes.

By replacing the existing (leaky, inefficient) addition with a new high-performance structure, the overall energy efficiency of the Jones Library will improve by 60 percent. The new Library will have an EUI (Energy Use Intensity, a measure of energy use per square foot) of just 29 kBtu/sf/year, compared to the average 71.6 kBtu/sf/year for libraries nationwide. If we wanted to see comparable energy use improvements in the existing building, we’d need to undertake major work, like covering the existing stone walls with exterior insulation. This would drastically compromise the historic integrity of the original Library building, an outcome no one wants.

While these efficiency improvements are attractive, the Sustainability Committee wanted to make sure that the overall carbon impact of the project was positive — in other words, that the demolition and construction project would save more carbon than it emitted. The Sustainability Report put together by Finegold Alexander Architects shows that the overall carbon impact of the new Library would amount to
10,800 tonnes CO 2 eq over a projected 60-year span; this includes the carbon emissions associated with demolition and construction, and the carbon emitted during building operation (heating, cooling, electricity use, etc.). If left as it is, the current Jones Library will emit 18,300 tonnes CO 2 eq over that same
60 years — without the improvements in service and community space the proposed project will bring.

Critics of the project say that the “greenest” thing is to do nothing, to leave the building as it is. But we can’t do nothing. The Library heating and ventilation systems are at the end of their useful life and need to be replaced. Without substantial energy efficiency work to the current structure, the only feasible option would be to replace them with another gas boiler system, a course of action that directly contradicts the town’s goal to reduce fossil fuel use. We indeed cannot “kick the can down the road.”
The project will reduce the town’s dependence on fossil fuels, lower the energy costs of the Library, and better provide for the needs of all the town’s residents. That in itself would be enough for me, but I am excited that this project can also provide a valuable example of sustainable historic preservation, an essential component of successful climate action over the next 50 years.

At this point in the climate crisis, there is nothing worse than a missed opportunity. We need to reduce our energy use and associated operational carbon NOW. We need to lead the way in showing how to reduce the embodied carbon of our buildings. The Jones Library renovation and expansion project is the way to do that for the Town of Amherst, today.

Climate change: What is our town doing?

By Sarah Marshall

Climate change: what can our town do?

Several local efforts to increase renewable power generation, conserve energy, and/or reduce or offset greenhouse gas emissions are under way. Some are recent and some are several years old, but all will soon bear fruit. Here is a roundup.

A landfill solar project will shortly begin construction at the closed landfill adjacent to the transfer station off Belchertown Road. Owned by Cypress Creek Renewables and built by Signal Energy, the system is expected to begin generating power (3.9 MW) next summer.  The Town, which will continue to own the land, will receive $78,000 per year over 30 years for leasing the land and in payments in lieu of taxes.  In addition, while the power will go on the grid, the Town will “offtake” all the generated electricity and pay a reduced rate.  This will cover most of the electricity demand of our municipal (but not school) buildings.

Photo by American Public Power Association on Unsplash

[Side note: A hitch in the planning (which began in 2012) meant that Town Council had to establish a conservation restriction on the other closed landfill, across the road, to compensate for loss of habitat for the grasshopper sparrow.  This restriction, voted in July of 2021, will be held by the Kestrel Land Trust. Plans for that southern part of the closed landfill now include not only Amherst’s first dog park but also 6-foot-wide trails around the conserved land.]

Commercial, industrial, and non-profit property owners such as houses of worship, as well as owners of multifamily housing of at least five units, will soon be able to participate in a greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction program called Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE). The Council authorized the Town to participate in PACE in August of this year. This state-wide program allows qualifying property owners to submit plans for energy improvements that result in net energy savings and reductions in GHG emissions and, should their plans be approved, receive loans for these improvements, to be paid off over time via the local property taxation system.  The Town will add what is called a “betterment” to the property tax bill, so that the obligation to repay the loan transfers to the new owner if the property is sold.  Owners of property that is not currently taxed (e.g., a church) will only be able to participate if the Town can generate a property tax bill for them.

The PACE website, https://www.massdevelopment.com/pace, contains the details about what sorts of improvements may qualify. For example, windows or insulation may qualify, but appliances such as refrigerators do not. Importantly, the owner’s proposal must demonstrate that the savings in energy costs exceed the cost of the improvements over the lifetime of the improvements.  Interested? For questions about the Town’s role, contact Stephanie Ciccarello, the sustainability coordinator, at ciccarellos@amherstma.gov.  For questions about the PACE program, consult the website and/or contact Julie Cowan at jcowan@massdevelopment.com.

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

Amherst is making slow but steady progress on its plan to aggregate its town-wide electricity demand with that of Pelham and Northampton. The aim is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency and the development of local, renewable distributed energy resources. Back in November, 2017, Town Meeting directed the Town to consider participating in the state’s Community Choice Aggregation, with the goal of evaluating the pros and cons of such a program (you can see the ensuing task force’s report here).  After receiving the task force’s report, Town Council authorized the Town Manager to pursue Community Choice Aggregation.  Stephanie Ciccarello reports that once the chief executives of each town sign a contract with the chosen consultant – expected within the next two months – that firm will begin developing the specific aggregation plan. Residents will be invited into a public participation process. Meanwhile, an advisory group has been developing a Joint Powers Entity with funding secured by State Sen. Jo Comerford and State Rep. Mindy Domb.  The JPE, which should be established soon, will house the CCA program.

CAARP

Last (but not least by any means), the Energy and Climate Action Committee, established by Town Council in 2019, issued its Climate Action, Adaptation, and Resilience Plan in June of this year (click here to access the graphics-heavy file).  It presents strategies to aid in achieving the goal of reducing GHG emissions in Amherst by 25% by 2025, compared to 2016 levels. I found two graphics (on p. 13) describing the 2016 baseline to be particularly noteworthy: the first indicates that 74% of emissions came from stationary energy sources, and within this sector, only 37% came from non-college, non-UMass sources. Moreover, only 1% of stationary emissions came from the municipal buildings covered by our recent zero-energy bylaw.

Reductions in GHG emissions can be made nevertheless in both the non-campus stationary emissions sector (primarily emissions associated with buildings) and the (non-campus) transportation sector. All of the programs described above will help. But given that most of the non-campus emissions stem from the actions of individuals and businesses, much of the Town’s role will be to educate, encourage, and facilitate participation in existing programs or adoption of best practices in construction.

CAARP

I am sure readers can think of other local efforts to respond to the urgent demands of climate change, but I find these municipal efforts encouraging.