Editorial: Welcome decisions on energy, housing, pool

The new Hitchcock Center for the Environment building on the campus of Hampshire College.

This editorial was originally published in the Amherst Bulletin.

Three welcome decisions in Amherst now require net-zero-energy municipal buildings, ensure affordable housing at Presidential Apartments, and restore public swimming at the middle school pool.

Town Meeting on Nov. 8 voted 123-54 for the bylaw that mandates construction so all new and expanded town buildings produce, through renewable sources, as much energy as they consume. Supporters of the measure, led by Mothers Out Front and Climate Action Now, believe that Amherst is the first town in the state to adopt such a bylaw.

Proponents argued that Amherst should be a leader in responding immediately to the climate crisis, and that zero-energy buildings will become more common in many communities during the next decade. Before the vote, 40 Town Meeting members gave the Select Board a letter favoring the bylaw that stated: “The urgency related to climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions is increasing each year. Amherst must be bold in planning for resiliency in the face of the environmental and economic disruption.”

Though such buildings are more costly to construct, supporters contend that financial savings eventually result from their energy efficiency. The Kern Center at Hampshire College and the Hitchcock Center for the Environment building, also on the Hampshire campus, are two net-zero-energy structures recently completed in Amherst.

The bylaw governing municipal buildings such as a fire station in South Amherst and a new Department of Public Works headquarters was approved over the objections of the Select Board, whose members wanted more study before the town committed to rules that some fear are too restrictive.

No doubt town officials will face new challenges along with the architects and builders they hire to achieve the zero-energy standard. Supporters pledged to help town officials carry out the bylaw. Precinct 4 Town Meeting member Andra Rose said Monday, “We will work with the Select Board and DPW/Fire Station Advisory Committee to seek funds from state and federal governments, and private grants, and to connect officials and committees with experts who can answer technical questions.”

Town Meeting last week also adopted a resolution calling for Amherst to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. That goal, along with the net-zero-energy bylaw, are the kind of bold leadership needed in response to the climate crisis.

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