Fox Town Hall 3-15-18

Foxboro Town Hall.

In this era of stagnant wages and tight budgets, you don’t often see people turning up their noses at free money.

Maybe something in the fine print generates sufficient second thoughts to preclude signing on the dotted line. Of maybe it’s just that nagging Yankee skepticism over things which look too good to be true (and usually aren’t).

Either way, local officials certainly seemed underwhelmed on Tuesday night by the state’s offer of funding through the Green Communities energy reduction program, which awards grants to cities or towns that cut municipal energy consumption by 20 percent over five years.

According to Joanne Bissetta, deputy director of the state Department of Energy Resources’ Green Communities Division, that target could be achieved by improving efficiency in municipal or school buildings, replacing fleet vehicles with energy-efficient model or approving zoning that incentivizes renewable energy projects.

Participants typically receive initial grants of $150,000, Bissetta said, and may be eligible to reapply for additional grants of up to $250,000. Easton, for example, has received nearly $1 million through the Green Communities program, with 273 of the state’s 351 cities and towns participating at some level.

The problem, according to Town Manager William Keegan, is that Foxboro would find it difficult to comply with a 20-percent target — not because of aging, wasteful assets or profligate energy practices, but because the town already has undertaken a number of infrastructure upgrades incorporating green energy initiatives which make the prospect of a further 20-percent reduction unlikely.

These projects have included major overhauls at the middle and high schools (with another pending at the Burrell Elementary School); consolidation of the police and fire departments in a new facility off Chestnut Street; developing solar farms at the former landfill off East Belcher Road and on town-owned land on Elm Street; and constructing a brand-new town hall with the latest green technologies and systems.

“I think we’d be hard-pressed to achieve that reduction because we’re already there,” Keegan observed.

Stepping up with a big-picture outlook, Edward Ferguson of Forest Road suggested that any incremental steps to avert climate change by reducing fossil fuel consumption are a step in the right direction.

Ferguson, who had enlisted Bissetta’s assistance in helping recruit Foxboro for the Green Communities program, suggested that many of the town’s department heads are receptive to that goal.

“This is the legacy we would leave our children and grandchildren,” he said with understandable passion. “But there is hope.”

While contending that not a single participating community has failed to achieve the 20-percent threshold, Bissetta still seemed to yield to Keegan’s logic.

“It’s a voluntary program,” she shrugged, “so if you want me to go away, I’ll go away.”

Wisely, selectmen did not take her up on that offer — instead extending the courtesy of keeping the door ajar to a future grant application.

But for now, at least, the town’s common-sense approach to upgrading outdated buildings and systems with green technologies appears to have paid off — even if it precludes certain opportunities for free money.

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