Lowell Goes Green

Lowell grant goal: Save energy while saving local history
By Robert Mills, rmills@lowellsun.com

LOWELL — The Lowell National Historic Park and downtown historic-preservation district could soon come close to using the same amount of electricity that hydropower facilities produce in the city, thanks to a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

In the process, city planners and park officials will seek to make the downtown an example to the nation that historic preservation and energy efficiency can go hand in hand, according to Peter Aucella, acting superintendent of the Lowell National Historic Park.

Vice President Joe Biden announced 25 recipients of $452 million in grants from the Department of Energy’s Recovery Act Retrofit Ramp-Up program yesterday, including the funds to help Lowell improve energy efficiency in some of its oldest buildings.

Assistant City Manager Adam Baacke said the $5 million will be available to those who own buildings in the historic-preservation district.

The city, in cooperation with park officials, made what was thought to be a longshot bid for $10 million in funding that would have been used to reduce electricity use in the district to the same level produced by Boott Hydropower via four hydropower plants in the city.

“Our goal is to get consumption down below the production,” Baacke said. “I suspect we’ll get close, but I don’t think we’ll achieve that with half as much.

“But we’re tremendously excited to give this program a shot.”

According to Enel North America, which owns Boott Hydropower, four hydropower plants in Lowell produce a total of 24 megawatts of electricity.

Baacke said the funds will be combined with rebates offered by National Grid for buildings that improve energy efficiency. He said planners worked with National Grid on the grant application.

U.S. Rep Niki Tsongas and Sen. John Kerry both wrote in support of the application.

Owners who take steps like improving the energy efficiency of lighting in their buildings, or improving insulation and weatherization, will be able to get rebates from National Grid, and then additional dollars from the grant money.

That will leave some owners with a minimal cost from their own pockets, according to Baacke.

The grant funds will be distributed through the Lowell Development Financial Corporation, Baacke said.

Meanwhile, the city will work with the engineering program at UMass Lowell to document the energy savings and provide evidence that historic buildings can be made energy-efficient.

Aucella said that although officials in Lowell know from experience that historic preservation and energy efficiency can work together, others across the nation still question the concept.

“The goal of this project is to illuminate how, even when you’re working with an existing building and the fairly rigorous historic standards of downtown Lowell, you can have a big impact,” Baacke said.

City Manager Bernie Lynch said the program will tie in well with the city’s move to make $21 million worth of improvements to city buildings to save energy, and with City Councilor Patrick Murphy’s push to make the city greener.

The council recently approved a motion Murphy made to adopt a more energy-efficient building code. The Massachusetts “stretch building code” rules go into effect on July 1.

“This is really going to pay dividends, and it’s consistent with what we’re trying to do in the city with making the city more green and more sustainable,” Lynch said.

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