It Takes a Community of Exemplary People and Projects.
Shaun Mulholland, the City Manager of Lebanon, New Hampshire, has a lot to do, even without worrying about energy and climate change. He is very much aware of the need for planning for the future, planning that is all the more difficult because the environmental needs are a moving target, and the technologies available to meet them are constantly changing. His job is all about economics. And it is also all about ensuring that Lebanon is a nice place to live. But it is also all about resilience and emergency management.
Speaking on the issue of sustainability, Mulholland emphasized to Green Energy Times the complexity and extent of the job, “One person cannot do all the work.” Far too much for a city manager, the subject may even be too big for a single dedicated Energy and Facilities Manager. Fortunately for Lebanon, there are many people already deeply engaged. Lebanon is a hotbed of activity for solving the problems of energy, efficiency, pollution, and climate change. There are many stories begging to be told of many active people and many organizations engaged in many active projects.
Lebanon started working on sustainability and climate change years ago. Its emissions began to come down in a meaningful way a few years ago, when it started to flare the methane coming from the landfill, one of its biggest greenhouse gas problems. Lebanon’s City Council moved the issue along more, when it committed the city to abide by the goals of the Paris Climate Accord. Then last summer, the city undertook a comprehensive greenhouse gas inventory with help from the UNH Sustainability Institute.
A landfill gas project is nearing the point where it will be turning that gas from a problem to an asset, in which the gas is no longer flared but used for energy. The landfill is divided into sections of ten to twenty acres each. One is capped to prevent methane from escaping. The trash in another has to be dug up, so it can be lined and capped. About ten acres are in use as a landfill, and part of this is capped. About six acres are to be permitted for future use. Gas extracted from the landfill is largely methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas that should not be released, but which can be used for a lot of things, including generating electricity and heating buildings. So, a gas that is dangerous to the environment is at the same time a fuel that could reduce costs for the town.
James Donison, Director of the Department of Public Works (DPW), has been very active on the landfill gas project, overseeing each of the various stages of activity. To give an idea of the size of these projects, the city has allocated $2.8 million, but more may be coming. Donison told us about the city’s vision also to have a biodigester that would convert organic waste from the region into compost and bio-methane, reducing the electricity needed to operate the water treatment plant, supplying heat in addition to electricity from the landfill gas project. Organic waste will produce methane as it decomposes in nature and using it to produce electricity or heat converts it to carbon dioxide, which is a far less powerful greenhouse gas.
Clifton Below is the Assistant Mayor of Lebanon, chair of the Lebanon Energy Advisory Committee (LEAC), a former state senator and member of the NH Public Utilities Commission. He has been heavily involved in energy issues locally, state-wide, and across the region, having helped to write five pieces of NH legislation this session alone. Perhaps the most important of these involves municipal aggregation (see separate article on this page). Aggregation is important because it makes it possible for residents of the city to reduce energy costs and move quickly to renewable electricity at the same time.
Below’s longtime active interest in energy has been valuable as he currently sits on the Grafton County Delegation Executive Committee, the Planning Board of the City of Lebanon, and the Steering Committee of the National Council on Electricity Policy. He is also engaged in transportation issues and sits on Lebanon’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee.
In addition to his role as Assistant Mayor, Below chairs the Lebanon Energy Advisory Committee. He is actively involved in each of its subcommittees, which include solar, electric vehicles and municipal aggregation with a streetlight subcommittee recently put down as the project moves into the implementation phase under the Department of Public Works. City Manager Mulholland has also given Below permission to attend any city staff meeting relating to energy issues, and he has put hundreds of hours into helping with the city’s energy-related projects.
Lebanon is actively working with Dartmouth College on Lebanon Community Power – the city’s municipal aggregation program. (See “New ‘Community Power’ Legislation” on page 20.) Below recently joined Steffi Muhanji and Associate Professor Amro M. Farid, both of the Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College, along with Energy and Facilities Manager Tad Montgomery in authoring a peer-reviewed paper for the International Symposium on Technology and Society. The paper examines the potential for shared integrated grids to build resilience and increase the deployment of renewable energy. The focus of the paper is Lebanon Community Power, the city’s municipal aggregation project, in light of the community aggregation bill (SB286) that recently passed in New Hampshire. It specifically looks at the use of blockchain technology to enable the local trading of locally-produced energy. It foresees a market structure that “continues to evolve and embrace new technologies – under a nimble, flexible mode of governance.”
In addition to the projects already mentioned, Lebanon has been working on energy retrofits on the city’s buildings. It is taking ownership of the streetlights in order to install a more efficient LED lighting system in which lights can be adjusted both for time of day and to make up dimming as the lights age. It is installing roughly 800kW of solar arrays on city buildings in its first solar project. It is looking into hosting public electric vehicle charging stations. It is working on improving city heating systems so they can run on biofuel instead of oil or propane. Each of these efforts has its own heroes.
Clearly, the expectation in Lebanon is that the one thing that we can count on in the future is change. There are many other people in the city who are actively engaged in furthering that change. The City Council, the Planning Office, the Lebanon Energy Advisory Committee, the citizens group Sustainable Lebanon, and others are deeply involved. All of them are actively working to bring benefits to residents’ lives while reducing Lebanon’s carbon footprint and keeping costs down. Many more people are worthy of mention than we can name here.
The web site for the City of Lebanon is lebanonnh.gov.