Reducing energy costs in Peabody: A strategy for revitalization in 2012

Submitted by Jerry Halberstadt on Thu, 12/09/2021 - 02:13

I presented this document to Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt in 2012. That's right, nine years ago. Now compare the ideas of 2012 with the ideas in the letter I just wrote to Mayor Bettencourt, in 2021.

In the almost decade between these presentations, the Peabody Municipal Light Plant has signed on to Project 2015A, the fossil fuel peaker plant. And the first public presentation of a project to prepare Peabody for a net-zero future has just been announced. Too little has changed for the better!


Peabody faces an energy challenge. We now depend largely on carbon-based sources of energy, and these pose major challenges: they are expensive and costs are uncertain, supplies are vulnerable, and the use of fossil fuels threatens society as well as all forms of life through greenhouse gases and global warming. But Peabody can seize the opportunity to transition to renewable sources of energy and save money while reducing harm to the environment.

We can work towards saving money on energy through the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy. According to the EPA,

“Energy efficiency is the fastest, cheapest, and largest untapped solution for saving energy, saving money, and preventing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Communities similar to ours have begun a transition to a sustainable energy future, demonstrating and proving programs for planning and community involvement.

The Mayor and other elected officials can lead Peabody to a more sustainable, less expensive energy future. They can begin with a planning process that explores different methods of moving ahead, and engage stakeholders and citizens in making a commitment to a sustainable future and saving money.

Saving energy in Peabody

Sustainable energy from renewable sources, coupled with conservation and improved energy management, can provide significant savings for the city, residents, business, and industry. Reducing energy use by conservation and shifting to renewable sources of energy not only is good for the environment, it is a proven way for a city to save money.

Save money for Peabody in municipal buildings and  schools by a combination of reducing energy use (managing, retrofit, insulation, eliminate waste) and shifting to renewable energy. Typical results are a ~25% annual saving on energy costs.
Enable residents, business, and industry to save money on energy by managing and conserving energy and using renewable energy.

Revitalize Peabody’s economy. Create new industry and jobs for sustainable growth. Building on a renewable energy foundation, Peabody can create, possibly in concert with other towns in this area, a focus on entrepreneurial business in renewable energy industries; their success can lead to manufacturing, jobs, new business, expanded tax base.


  • Begin now a process of exploration, research, planning, and community education and participation.
  • As a possible guide for Peabody, explore the experience of nearby communities that have done significant projects in sustainable energy. (see list of local programs below)
  • Consider and evaluate programs for community action and planning, we can see if any of them would work here.
  • Designate one or more employees or consultants to manage the research and planning process, to involve citizens and stakeholders in education, planning, research, and oversight, and to bring in technical expertise.

    Save on energy costs in municipal buildings

Retrofitting and insulation in tandem with renewable energy sources can be implemented in municipal buildings and schools, and provide immediate savings for energy costs. Other benefits can include lower maintenance costs and improved information and management systems. Such programs can save 20-30% in energy costs: electricity, heating/cooling, etc.

Instead of Peabody having to raise capital for new infrastructure or upgrades, there are government programs, and programs offered by for-profit firms, such as Energy Service companies (ESCO). An ESCO contracts to provide energy through efficiency upgrades and by using renewable sources and to keep municipal outlays no higher than present, and/or to split the savings with Peabody. They make the investment, plan and manage the installation, and get paid out of the savings.

A well-designed school can provide a positive, healthy environment with significant savings on energy expenses—money that can go to improve education and reduce the tax burden. There can be savings on electricity (design to use daylight, efficient lighting), water, and use of sustainable energy. Surprisingly, even geothermal can work in this area, since efficient heat pumps can do much of the heating and cooling with only 25% of traditional energy costs. The near-surface constant temperature of 50-60 degrees F is adequate to replace most of the energy requirements for heating/cooling. A building designed to best-practice standards can pay back the additional investment within a few years and then continue to provide savings every year. Perhaps an ESCO could cover some or all of the needed extra investment.

Examples of effective energy programs

The cost-saving potential of sustainable energy has been documented in many communities. In our region, there are several examples of nearby cities achieving significant energy savings in their schools and municipal buildings (25% is frequently cited) and they are within easy driving distance


  • MEDFORD, Pop. 56,000. Local Energy Action Plan targeting savings in municipal, residential, and commercial buildings.

  • WORCESTER MA Population: pop. 175,011 The goal of Worcester’s 2006 Climate Action Plan is to reduce the community’s energy use and greenhouse gas emissions through a combination of cost-recoverable and cost neutral actions.

  • REVERE MA Program by AMERESCO to provide sustainable energy in the existing public schools. (link to video)

  • LOWELL MA. Lowell contracted with AMERESCO for a city-wide infrastructure upgrade and energy efficiency project, which included 47 municipal buildings. It is expected to produce annual energy savings of more than $1.5 million over a 20 year contract. This represents approximately 25 percent savings overall.

  • Nationally, there are many examples of innovation and effective community planning processes. There is professional guidance and information available from government agencies and non-profits. {See a short reading list below.}


Fox-Penner, Peter S., Smart Power: Climate Change, the Smart Grid, and the Future of Electric Utilities. Island Press, 2010 ISBN: 978-1597267069 An excellent analysis of alternative futures in power by an economist, taking account of the complex regulatory and industry environments. Provides a rounded assessment of the challenges facing an electric utility as well as examples of those who have transitioned to new business models.

Goldstein, David B. Goldstein, Saving Energy, Growing Jobs: How Environmental Protection Promotes Economic Growth, Profitability, Innovation, and Competition. Bay Tree, 2007) ISBN 978-0972002165

Lovins, L. Hunter and Boyd Cohen, Climate Capitalism: Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change.(New York: Hilland Wang 2011. ISBN 9780809034734. Many examples of what people are doing to deal creatively with power and climate.

Mackres, Eric and Borna Kazerooki, Local Energy Planning in Practice: A Review of Recent Experiences, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy; 2012 )

Rifkin, Jeremy, The Third Industrial Revolution. Palgrave McMillan 2011. Rifkin’s vision of how we can create a better economic future and avoid climate change. One element of his model is the use of distributed energy production, where every building generates power from solar, wind, or geothermal.

Shulman, Seth, Jeff Deyette, Brenda Ekwurzel, Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living. Island Press, 2012. ISBN: 9781610911924 Based on an in-depth, two-year study by experts at The Union of Concerned Scientists. Science-based strategies to cut carbon, including chapters on transportation, home energy use, diet, personal consumption, as well as how best to influence your workplace, your community, and elected officials.


Smart grid: an information and power distribution system that connects every home and business to the energy utility. Households, and even individual appliances, have meters and the homeowner as well as the energy utility can monitor demand in real-time. Consumers receive information about the momentary price of electricity so they can manage their costs and thus reduce peak loads. Energy can flow into the grid from any node on the grid, thus a home or business can sell electricity produced by solar panels or wind in addition to significantly reducing energy costs.