A View from the Hill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 14, 2000
CONTACT: Tommy Voltero (617) 722-2240; E-mail:Thomas.Voltero@hou.state.ma.us
KEEPING OUR ENVIRONMENT IN "GOOD SHAPE"
If there is one person in history I really feel sorry for, it is Phidippides of Athens. This poor guy was sent on a mission in 490 B.C. to seek help against the invading Persian army. He left Marathon for the city of Sparta, 26 miles away. Under religious law, he could not get the needed help until after the next full moon. And so, on September 4th, he ran the 26 miles again, returning to Marathon without Spartan troops! The Athenians were still able to win the battle at Marathon. Wounded, Phidippides took to the road again, running to Athens to carry the news of the victory. His last words, before dropping dead of exhaustion, were: "Rejoice, we are victorious."
Assuming that the story is true, it is quite amazing that a human being was actually capable of running a distance of 26 miles- not once, not twice, but three times- in sandals. Having participated in the 100th Boston Marathon myself, I can readily testify that running a marathon is an extremely challenging task. It requires that one be in the best shape possible, since only the most disciplined runner will ever cross the finish line. Our tragic hero crossed the finish line three times, although unfortunately, he never made it to the victory celebration.
This year, as we cheer on those dedicated athletes who have worked so hard to get themselves in shape for the oldest marathon in the country, we should pay due attention to another important event is taking place the very same week: Earth Day. In the same respect that the Boston Marathon celebrates physical well-being, Earth Day is an event in which we recognize the importance of environmental well-being. As all of us know, a healthy planet is crucial for a healthy civilization.
One important aspect of Earth Day that is aimed towards making our planet a healthy and sustainable place to live is the "Clean Energy Agenda." The goal of this agenda is to break our current "addiction" to coal, oil, and nuclear power and convince the federal government to quadruple its investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. This mission is certainly progressive with respect to the fact that it is geared towards preserving the environment not only today, but for many generations to come. By recognizing that our current energy consumption habits are unsustainable, the Clean Energy Agenda reminds us that our actions have a large impact upon the future.
Here in Massachusetts, we have been more than receptive to the ideas presented in the Clean Energy Agenda. This state has a proud history of enacting environmental measures that are often far ahead of those of the federal government. Take, for example, the Bottle Law, Toxics Use Reduction and Clean Air Acts, vehicle emission standards, and the many other initiatives that have made the Commonwealth a leader in environmental issues. These critical pieces of legislation have truly made a positive impact on the quality of the environment in our state.
Some of the newest environmental programs to join the ranks have been undertaken by the Division of Energy Resources (DOER). The Electric Industry Restructuring Act of 1997, which required that customers contribute a small portion of their electricity bill to activities that reduce the consumption of electricity, has played a role in creating initiatives that are specifically in accordance with the Earth Day Agenda. Specifically, the DOER has been performing such services as: home energy audits, education about reducing electric bills, replacement of high-energy appliances, and installation of energy-saving devices such as compact fluorescent lighting. Many of these services are performed at no cost whatsoever.
The greatest portion of the energy efficiency expenditures we earmarked for the DOER was invested in "retrofit" programs. These programs encourage the replacement of outdated and inefficient electrical or mechanical equipment, such as lighting, heating and cooling systems, motors, energy management systems, and process design/improvement. The DOER used rebates as a way of persuading customers to invest in higher efficiency equipment that provided program participants with both immediate and long term savings.
Based upon a 1998 report to the Legislature, these efforts have already proven to be very successful. The DOER claims that those consumers who participated in their programs saved a total of $19 million in electricity costs. On a micro level, this translated into an average savings of $62 a year for low-income individuals, $2,521 for businesses, and $7,173 for major industries.
In addition to the purely monetary savings, the energy efficiency measures also made positive strides in the area of pollution control. It is estimated that, in one year, the programs prevented 340 tons of Nitrogen Oxide, 535 tons of Sulfur Dioxide, and 220,000 of Carbon Dioxide from being released into the atmosphere. Reducing air pollution, of course, slows down the rate of environmental degradation and decreases the health risks posed to humans and animals alike.
Another positive benefit of the programs was the creation of jobs in Massachusetts. The DOER estimates that its projects will provide over 800 new jobs and $30 million in associated employment income over the next decade. Other benefits include: increased economic activity stimulated by energy cost savings, increased worker productivity, and property improvement for homeowners and businesses.
All in all, the programs that were created by the Legislature in the Electric Industry Restructuring Act of 1997 have brought us closer to our goal of making Massachusetts a cleaner and healthier place to live in. They are not, of course, the final steps that will be taken towards improving the environment. We still must contend with the fact that efficiency and conservation are only half the battle. The other is changing the kinds of energy we use. Coal is an unsustainable fuel, and oil is no better.
If we truly desire a future in which our air is free from pollution, our water is safe to drink, and our energy resources are plentiful, then now is time to start thinking about change. Otherwise, our race will inevitably run out of breath before reaching the finish line.