Town of Amherst Partners with UMass Campus on Clean Energy Resiliency Initiative

AMHERST, Mass. ­­– A technical assistance grant recently awarded by the state Department of Energy Resources is allowing the Town of Amherst and the University of Massachusetts Amherst to receive expert advice at no cost on whether to expand the campus’ “micro grid” and install renewable energy systems at campus and town facilities to enhance energy resiliency in the event of future power outages and major weather events.

The UMass Amherst Central Heating Plant (CHP) provides power to the campus through a micro grid that makes the campus an energy resilient system conducive to providing emergency sheltering and critical services to the region, explains Ezra Small, campus sustainability manager. He and Stephanie Ciccarello, the town’s sustainability coordinator, worked together to win the state grant, which will provide an evaluation by the Cadmus Group of Waltham, a technical and strategic consulting firm, at no cost to the town and campus.

Small says, “We agreed there was a great opportunity here. One of the early ideas we felt the grant could help us to explore is whether to have the ability for our campus micro grid to support the town’s wastewater treatment plant because we are a major user and we have the capability to serve as a backup power source for that critical facility in the event of an emergency. The same is true for the North Amherst fire station that serves our campus.”

“This grant means we will get an expert opinion within the next few weeks on which town facilities might lend themselves to greater energy resiliency or flexibility by extending our micro grid to those facilities. We also want to explore which facilities on campus can provide crucial sheltering services during regional emergencies by adding renewable energy systems coupled with energy storage technology which would allow full ‘island mode’ operations.”

Amherst Town Manager John Musante says, “This town-gown effort on energy resiliency will build upon our successful environmental sustainability partnerships including town water re-use for irrigation and campus power plant needs and our UMass Transit/PVTA public transportation system that serves nearly 2 million riders each year in Amherst.”

The consulting firm’s report will give the town and campus planners important information on the feasibility of making energy supply changes to increase the use of clean energy in the event of an emergency and will identify which projects would bring the highest return on investment. It is expected to be complete in time for the campus and the town to meet an Oct. 15 application deadline for DOER’s implementation grants, which would fund the actual work, Small explains.

Small adds, “Thanks to our partnership we didn’t miss this. Stephanie and I brought all the key stakeholders to the table and had a very productive meeting at the Town Hall with regional police and fire officials, town managers, utility and environmental health and safety personnel from campus. We all agreed that exploring more ways to use our campus micro grid, coupled with clean and renewable energy technologies should be the number one priority for creating more energy resilient facilities for our community.”