Let’s Change the Conversation

MY TURN by Nancy Hazard

January 5, 2010 – Let’s change the conversation. Let’s talk about what we want – not what we don’t want.

On January 2, the Recorder ran an article about Massachusetts solar energy program for 2010. It said that by the end of 2010, we should have about 50 megawatts (MW) of solar electric panels (photovoltaics) installed state-wide.

What caught my eye was the number 50. That number keeps popping up:

  • 50 MW biomass plant

  • 50 MW is what Franklin County needs to meet all of its electrical needs. (I discovered this interesting coincidence while doing research for the Greenfield Energy Audit.)

But instead of talking about building 50 megawatts of capacity of any kind, let’s ask some questions. How much energy do we really need? For electricity? For heat? For transportation? And how do we want to meet that need?

It is hard to get our arms around how much energy we have been using by talking about MW or other arcane units, so to get started, let’s look at how much money we have been spending on energy. According to Greenfield Energy Audit, in FY2008 we spent $28 million to heat, cool, and light our homes. Greenfield businesses and our government spent about the same -  $24 million. We also spent about $32 million for fuel for our cars and buses. This adds up to a grand total of $86 million dollars that we spent on energy in one year. That is a stunning number! Even worse, when we asked ourselves the question of how much of that goes out of our community to pay for gasoline, natural gas, or electricity, we discovered that $67 million left our community that year!

So let’s go back to our question. What do we really need? And let’s add, what can we afford? For example, could we heat our homes using only half of what we use today? Could we do even better and cut that energy by 80%? As for transportation, we could ask the same questions.

I think the answer to these questions is YES! For inspiration we can look to Europe and Japan. On a per person basis they use half the amount of energy we do today - and Switzerland’s goal is to reduce their energy needs by 80% by 2050. So if they can do it, so can we!

We may need help to make some of these changes, but others we can do today. For example, utility companies, the state, and the US government are all offering financial assistance today to upgrade our homes and businesses. As for how we get around, while we are waiting for mass transit, when looking for a new car, we could rethink what we need, and then choose the most energy efficient car possible. Some sedans get 50mpg today. These cars use half the amount of fuel of a car that gets 25 mpg. We could also choose to walk, use a bicycle more often, or car pool, etc.

We know we can cut our energy use…but we will still have energy needs. The question then becomes How do we want to meet our paired-down needs? While it may not be sexy, I think that talking about this is one of the most important issues we need to talk about today. How we answer this question will affect us for a long time to come. It affects our health, our pocketbooks, the environment, equity, wars, and jobs.

It is easy to get distracted with day-to-day personal demands on our time, and crises such as terrorism, the economy, climate change, or to fight what you may not want - like the proposed Greenfield biomass plant.

It is hard for us to focus on something that the press does not talk about. The press rarely talks about how many of the crises we face are inextricably intertwined and have to be thought of together, not one at a time. Consider the following facts and how they are intertwined. Most scientists agree that climate change, primarily caused by burning fossil fuels, is happening faster than most scientists thought it would. All fossil fuels are “peaking” which means that oil, gas, and coal supplies will be dwindling and becoming more expensive, contributing to economic stress. Additionally, over the past 50 years the world population has tripled from 2 to 6 billion people, and each person requires resources – food, water, shelter, and energy.

Add to these issues that the success of our economic system is based on “growth,” and our challenge really gets thorny!

The BIG question is – How are we going to feed, cloth, and keep warm all of our, and the world’s children and grandchildren and their children? This can be overwhelming! But this is also an opportunity for exploration of new and exciting ways of thinking about our future, and to seek out changes that could sustain life while improving our quality of life perhaps in ways that we have not yet imagined!

In a few weeks, the Greenfield Energy Audit Study Group will meet for the first time. The goal of the group is to look at the Greenfield Energy Audit as a starting point to better understand what energy we use right here in Greenfield – and who uses what. After we understand our energy needs, we will consider our other needs, such as clean water, food, housing etc.

We will then explore inspirational communities and thinkers. We will use these ideas to explore what we want our community to look like, what we really need, and how we would like to meet our needs. We will then draft a plan to start the ball rolling. If every town in the world did this, we’d be moving in a much better direction.

Please join this essential conversation by joining the Greenfield Energy Audit Study Group starting on Jan 25, at the NESEA meeting room at 50 Miles Street, or go to the “Sustainable Plan” section of the Greening Greenfield web site and download the Audit, explore what we use, and the options and resources discussed in the Audit and on the web site including “inspirational thinkers” and “making a plan,” and share your thoughts. To find out more, please go to or call me at 774-5667.

This is your town. Let’s start the conversation of what we want.


Nancy Hazard has lived in the Pioneer Valley for forty years. She is the former director of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA), and co-chair of the Greening Greenfield Energy Committee, and co-author of the Greenfield Energy Audit.


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