How Safe is Lexington?

Q: How safe is Lexington? I keep thinking about the gas explosions in Lawrence and wonder if that could happen here.

A: Natural gas is inherently dangerous. Gas explosions in Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover killed a young man and cut off heat and hot water to 10,000 families. That catastrophe forced 1,800 families from their homes, many into tent cities as temperatures dropped to freezing. Families are now being told they may have to wait till March before their heating systems are fully repaired.

In 2005, a Lexington house on Hancock Avenue exploded when gas workers mistakenly connected a high-pressure gas line to a low-pressure line. Luckily the residents escaped just before the explosion destroyed the house. But the force of that high-pressure gas raced through the town’s pipes – forcing the evacuation of 1,800 homes and shut down natural gas service for many residents.

Q: Should we be concerned here in Lexington?

A: In 2014, Mothers Out Front alerted us that Lexington had 92 unrepaired gas leaks. By 2015, that number had risen to 112 unrepaired gas leaks, with the oldest over 25 years old. At the same time, a Harvard / Boston University study found that 2.7% of all the natural gas used in the Boston area is leaking into the air and those leaks are costing natural gas customers $90 million a year.

Those researchers found that just 7% of the leak sites are responsible for ~50% of the natural gas emissions by volume. And we discovered that Lexington had some of the biggest super-emitters in the Boston area! This isn’t all that surprising as Lexington has a lot of high pressure, leak-prone, bare steel pipe that was put in the ground in the 50s and 60s.

Q: What can we do about improving our safety?

A: Lexington’s Board of Selectmen, with the support of Rep. Jay Kaufman, Sen. Mike Barrett, and the late Sen. Ken Donnelly convened a public hearing in May 2016 to call for action to address this growing problem.

In response, Lexington’s Town Engineer, John Livsey, hosted a meeting with National Grid technical and field personnel, the gas leaks researchers who had documented the location of gas leaks, and Sustainable Lexington. The team identified 15 super-emitter leaks.  We were able to send repair crews to fix 12 of them. Those efforts resulted in 6 leaks being fully repaired, 5 leaks partially fixed, and 1 location where the leak was actually made worse.

Mothers Out Front has sent new data based on utility reports, showing the number of unrepaired leaks in Lexington has grown from 112 to 149, and that those leaks are now costing Lexington gas customers $550K a year. We are falling behind the power curve.

Q: What should we do next?

A: Lexington’s Board of Selectmen, with the support of Rep. Jay Kaufman, Sen. Mike Barrett, and Sen. Cindy Friedman will be holding a new public hearing on Tuesday, November 27th in Battin Hall at the Cary Memorial Building starting at 7PM to listen to your concerns about gas leaks and natural gas safety, to hear recommendations from gas leak experts, and to call for action to address this growing problem. Please come to the hearing!

Hastings School with Solar Canopies

Q: I understand that our two newest schools have been designed to be all-electric schools and will not be using natural gas for heating. How will that work? 

A: Yes, Hastings School and the Lexington Children’s Place pre-school buildings are both expected to be net zero buildings. Both will produce more than 100% of all the energy they need on an annual basis from the sun, without using any fossil fuels.

Hastings School will use a heat pump to move heat from the ground into the building during the winter months and then cool the building by pumping heat out of the building during the summer months back into the ground. Ground source heat pumps can deliver up to 5 kWh of heat for every 1 kWh of electricity used to run the heat pump. That means the total amount of energy needed to run the building will be dramatically lower than traditional buildings. In fact, the design team expects that Hastings School will use less than half the energy of a conventionally designed school.

We’ll be installing solar panels on both the rooftops and in the parking lots. In a relatively new twist, we’ll also be adding energy storage batteries to help lower our electricity costs. We’d expect to pay $250,000 a year for the energy needed to run Hastings School without the solar. But the solar + storage energy system combined with the ground source heat pump will produce all the building’s energy from sunshine, plus generate about $150,000 a year in new revenue.

We’ll have a healthy, zero emissions school that generates $400,000 a year in net positive cash flow for the Town, just from Hastings. What’s not to love about that?


Mark Sandeen is the chair
of the Sustainable Lexington Committee

Sustainable Lexington is a Town committee appointed by the Board of Selectmen to enhance Lexington’s long-term sustainability and resilience in response to environmental resource and energy challenges. Work includes the following: Recommend sustainability goals, priorities for implementation, and implementing programs, monitor and measure effectiveness of sustainability programs undertaken by the town, and educate and raise awareness among Lexington residents regarding Lexington’s sustainability and resilience.


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Is Lexington’s Future RENEWABLE?


Is Lexington’s Future


By Mark Sandeen, Chair
Sustainable Lexington Committee

Lexington made remarkable progress towards achieving a renewable future in 2017. We brought our Hartwell Avenue solar facility online – and are now generating 45% of the Town’s municipal electricity demand from our rooftop and landfill projects. We launched a highly successful Community Choice program, which is now providing 100% renewable electricity for less money than our utility’s Basic Service offering to over 10,000 customers – saving Lexington residents about $1.6 million over the first 12 months of the program.

The Town approved two designs for 100% renewable energy schools that will be built to the highest standards for health, indoor air quality, energy efficiency and resilience. Hastings School and the Lexington Children’s Place are expected to generate more solar electricity onsite than they need to operate – from their rooftops and solar canopies in their parking lots.

These are extraordinarily hopeful signs for the Getting to Net Zero Emissions task force; whose 25-year goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from Lexington’s residential, commercial, and municipal buildings and to achieve a transition to renewable energy sources for all of Lexington’s buildings. Our guiding principles have been four simple words – Report, Reduce, Produce, and Purchase.

Report – Our first step is to understand what types of buildings we have in Lexington and assess how those types of buildings perform from an energy use and emissions perspective.

Reduce – There are really only two ways to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. We can use less energy by investing in energy efficiency or we can switch to using cleaner sources of energy.

Produce – The next step is maximizing the production of onsite renewable energy from our rooftops and parking lots.

Purchase – After reducing energy use and switching from burning fossil fuels onsite as much as possible, we will purchase renewable electricity to supply our energy demand.

Why is the task force focusing on our buildings? Lexington’s buildings generate 66% of our greenhouse gas emissions – 36% from the electricity used in our buildings and 30% from the use of oil and natural gas to heat our buildings.

We’ve hired Peregrine Energy Group to produce an energy and emissions baseline report for all of Lexington’s buildings. They have produced a fascinating report with lots of interesting results. Peregrine found that our residential buildings are responsible for 55% of our building emissions while commercial labs and offices are responsible for 34% of our emissions. The remaining 11% comes from our municipal buildings, retail spaces, non-profits, and health care facilities.

The chart above shows that most of our residential buildings were built in the ‘50s and ‘60s. During that time the average size of a new home was about 1,200 square feet. New homes today are averaging about 4,700 square feet or about 4 times the size of homes built between 1920 and 1980. Many Lexington residents are under the impression that we are tearing down existing homes at a furious pace – after all, it seems like you see a new teardown going on every time you drive around town. But the data shows that new construction is responsible for less than 1% of our building stock each year. What that means is that 25 years from now – we will mostly have the same buildings we have today.

These lessons also hold true for our commercial buildings. Most of our commercial buildings were built in the ‘50s thru the ‘80s. We are building very few new commercial buildings today. The simple takeaway is that we will have to figure out how to retrofit our existing buildings if we are going to be successful at reducing our emissions to zero.

Natural gas usage is up in Lexington. But that is offset by declines in heating oil usage as residential homeowners have been switching from heating oil to natural gas quite rapidly since 2008. Our electricity use has been declining about 1% a year for the past 7 years due primarily to the Mass Save program to encourage energy efficiency. [See chart below]


But perhaps the biggest story for our overall emissions has been the beneficial effect of closing our coal and oil power generators in New England. We started with a much cleaner electrical grid than the rest of the country and have now reduced our emissions an additional 30% over the past 20 years.

In Lexington we hope to accelerate that trend by leveraging our positive experience with our Community Choice program that was able to secure 100% renewable electricity for less than the cost of conventional electricity. Our Community Choice program is currently reducing Lexington’s emissions by 98 million pounds of CO2 per year. [See chart above] Now that we are able to provide 100% renewable energy at lower cost for our residents, we’d like to do the same thing for our commercial property owners.

A lot of people are amazed that this is possible. The simple fact is that renewable energy prices are dropping rapidly. Solar panel prices plunged by a shocking 26 percent in the last year — despite having already dropped 80 percent in the previous 10 years and 99 percent since the late 1970s. Wind’s story is almost as amazing. In October, we saw the lowest bids in the world for 1,000 MW of wind electricity at 4 cents per kWh – a 24 percent drop just from February. We are seeing similarly rapid declines in offshore wind prices.

The next series of charts provide a broad overview of our plan for Getting to Net Zero Emissions for all of our buildings. [Figure 1] The upper light blue line on this chart shows what we could expect for our buildings’ greenhouse gas emissions in a Business as Usual case. The light blue area shows the emissions reductions we can expect from the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) that requires an additional 1% of renewable electricity per year. The dark blue area represents the emission reductions we can achieve by transitioning all of our buildings to 100% renewable electricity. We would reduce our emissions by 48% when we achieve that objective. We have high confidence that we’ll be able to achieve this as we expect the cost of renewable electricity to continue dropping over the next 25 years.

The light and dark green parts of the next chart [Figure 2] show we can reduce our emissions 34% by switching from oil and natural gas to heat our buildings, if we transition to using heat pumps powered by 100% renewable electricity. The cost and performance of heat pumps has made dramatic gains in the past 4 or 5 years. Heat pumps provide a strong economic incentive to switch from oil on energy savings alone. We will encourage the transition to heat pumps as older oil fired boilers reach the end of their useful life.

With natural gas prices currently at all-time lows, heating with natural gas will cost less than using a heat pump solution. One way to provide a cost effective solution for natural gas customers would be to combine energy efficiency improvements such as air sealing and insulation to reduce the building’s overall energy demand with the transition to a heat pump. Building owners would see a net overall reduction in their energy costs by combining an investment in energy efficiency and heat pumps. [Figure 3]

Interestingly, there is also an opportunity to tap into the $9.3 billion Massachusetts has allocated to repair natural gas pipelines. The idea is that rather than spending the money to repair natural gas pipelines – you could use less money to pay for the new equipment needed to transition from natural gas to heat pumps, from natural gas ranges to induction cooktops. We’ll be trying a pilot project in Lexington to see if that idea pencils out.

Estabrook School

Finally, we have already figured out how to build our new school buildings to be 100% renewable buildings while lowering our total cost of ownership. Our most recently constructed LexHab affordable homes were only 1 or 2% away from generating 100% of their own energy.  We’ve even seen a net zero energy retrofit completed in the Historic District! Net Zero construction is a growing trend in new construction. Net Zero buildings have been delivering dramatic increases in home valuations. We believe that over the next 10 years we’ll be able to adopt a net zero emissions building code for all new buildings in Lexington that will deliver the final 8% in emissions reductions needed to transition Lexington to a 100% renewable energy future. [Figure 4]

Our largest building owners in Lexington, like King Street Properties and Shire are committed to reducing their emissions and are already setting and beating aggressive goals to reduce their emissions. We will be working with them to support their efforts with programs such as the Commercial PACE program, which allows commercial property owners to access new sources for energy efficiency and renewable energy financing.

SHIRE Pharmaceuticals

King Street Properties – 115 Hartwell Avenue


In the near term, we are recommending that the Board of Selectmen take a leadership role by adopting the Sustainable Building Design policy, formalizing the goals for health, indoor air quality, energy efficiency and onsite renewable energy production, which have shown such great results during the Hastings and Lexington Children’s Place school design.

We would also suggest that the Town start buying 100% renewable electricity for its own municipal electricity demand. The Town of Lexington signed a 3-year agreement with our current electricity provider, which ends in December of 2018. This year would be an excellent time to complete the Town’s move to a 100% renewable electricity future.

A lot of folks ask – what about reducing emissions from our vehicles? While our buildings are responsible for 66% of our greenhouse emissions, our vehicles are certainly next on the chopping block at 23% of our total emissions. The good news is that if we can transition our buildings to 100% renewable electricity – we can do the same for our cars.

Battery prices are declining rapidly and are expected to continue their rapid decline with another 75% price reduction expected within the next 15 years. At the same time, the power to weight ratio of the batteries has been improving rapidly. Those advances have allowed Elon Musk to introduce an electric truck with 500 miles of range and Tesla’s new Roadster with 620 miles of range!

Both trends have lead to soaring sales of electric vehicles worldwide and in Lexington. There were 1 million electric vehicles on the road at the end of 2015, but it took only 18 months for the next million electric vehicle sales. The next million cars will be on the road by Patriot’s Day this year. Lexington is also leading the electric vehicle revolution in Massachusetts with 6.7 times the number of electric vehicles per capita compared to the Massachusetts average. We doubled the number of electric cars in Lexington last year, and hope to do that again this year with our Lex Drive Electric group discount program.

And that revolution is only just getting started. Navigant expects 37 million electric vehicles will be on the road by 2025. Yes, that is more than 10x growth in the next 7 years. And 2025 is when Bloomberg [See chart above] expects electric car sales to really accelerate! Bloomberg New Energy Finance projects that the unsubsidized price of electric cars will fall to less than the price for internal combustion engine cars somewhere between 2025 and 2030.

Electric cars already cost far less to operate and maintain than gas vehicles. So when the upfront cost and the ongoing operating and maintenance cost are far less than a gas car – why would you buy a gas-powered vehicle? Especially when an electric car is just so darn fun to drive, has zero emissions when powered with renewable electricity and when you can get up to $7,500 in discounts from the Lex Drive Electric program?

So far we’ve been focusing on the benefit of reducing Lexington’s greenhouse gas emissions by transitioning our buildings and vehicles to 100% renewable energy, and with good reason. It is hard to overstate the importance of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions after watching the most extreme hurricanes and wildfires ever devastate Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and California, causing over $400 billion in damage.

But we should also consider that there are really important direct local health benefits from going 100% renewable. By transitioning both our buildings and cars to renewable energy we can eliminate much of the particulate matter air pollution that has dire immediate and local health effects. MIT determined that Massachusetts has the fifth highest premature mortality rate from the particulate matter air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels to heat our buildings. We have the 13th highest premature mortality rate from the air pollution caused by our vehicles. We could save over 3,100 lives each year in Massachusetts by eliminating the particulate matter emissions created by heating our buildings and driving our cars with fossil fuels.

Can Lexington transition to 100% renewable energy for our buildings and our vehicles? The answer is a resounding yes! The economics and the health benefits of renewable energy will not only lower our energy costs and improve our health, but will also provide a more livable climate for everyone. What are we waiting for?

The solar, wind, battery and electric car “miracles” have all gone mainstream. Building and running new renewable energy systems is now cheaper than just running exisiting coal and nuclear plants. China, India, France, the UK, and Norway have all announced they will phase out fossil fuel cars in the next decade or so. Even OPEC has quintupled their forecasts for electric cars. The clean energy revolution is now unstoppable. Are you onboard?

The Getting to Net Zero Emissions task force includes building owners, community leaders and subject matter experts representing residential, commercial and municipal interests:
Joe Pato, Lexington Board of Selectmen, former Chair
Jeanne Krieger, Former Chair, Lexington Board of Selectmen
Paul Lukez, Architect – Author, Suburban Transformations
Wendall Kalsow, Architect – Member, Lexington Historical Commission
Mike DiMinico, Sr. Director, King Street Properties
Melanie Waldron, VP, Boston Properties
Joseph Fulliero, Environmental Manager, Shire
Janet Terzano, Real Estate Agent, Barrett Sotheby’s
Alessandro Allessandrini – Chair, Lexington School Committee
Melisa Tintocalis – Lexington’s Economic Development Director
Lisa Fitzgibbons – Community Organizer, Mothers Out Front
Mark Sandeen – Chair, Sustainable Lexington Committee

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Is the future of transportation “all-electric”?

By Mark Sandeen

Q: Is the future of transportation “all-electric”?
A: Certainly Elon Musk would answer that question with an emphatic Yes! He has taken 400,000 orders at $1,000 a pop for one of the most anticipated cars in the history of cars – the Tesla Model 3. He is now sitting on an $18 billion backlog after the biggest product launch of any product ever.

Q: Of course Tesla thinks the future is all-electric. What does the rest of the industry think?
A: A year ago when Norway announced that they would reduce sales of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to zero by 2025, most analysts thought it was kind of cute. But this summer when France and the UK both announced a ban on ICE vehicles sales by 2040, even analysts from Exxon and BP started raising their electric vehicle forecasts. OPEC quintupled their forecast for electric cars and Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimated that electric cars would reduce oil demand by 8 million barrels per day, or about 8%.

But the global automotive industry truly changed forever when China announced they would end the “production and sales of traditional energy vehicles”, starting with very aggressive near term requirements that 4% of all cars sold in 2019 and 5% by 2020 be electric. That is over one million electric vehicles per year!

Two weeks later, GM announced that they would transition the entire company to an all-electric, zero-emissions future. Volvo had already announced plans to go all-electric by 2019 and VW said it would offer electric versions of all its vehicles by 2030. Many other manufacturers have followed suit with similar commitments.

Q: Will people want to buy that many electric cars?
A: It all comes down to economics. Electric vehicles based in Massachusetts have half the fuel costs of ICE vehicles, because electric motors are 5x more efficient than gas or diesel powered engines. And electric vehicle maintenance costs are also far, far lower. An ICE vehicle has 2,000 moving parts that need regular maintenance. An electric vehicle has just 20 moving parts. The largest maintenance cost for electric cars is replacing the tires. Tesla provides an 8-year, unlimited mileage warranty on the battery and drive unit.

Q: That’s great, but who can afford an electric car?
A: A friend of mine just bought a 238-mile range all-electric Chevy Bolt for $21,500. She took advantage of an electric car-buying program from Mass Energy called Drive Green. They find the best electric car deals in the area and eliminate your need to negotiate with the dealer. You just arrive with a check and pick up the car! That’s right, you can buy an electric car for around the average cost of a low-end ICE vehicle and without any dealer hassles.
Plus electric car prices are falling rapidly as battery costs decline. By 2021 all-electric cars will cost less than comparable ICE cars. And since the operating costs are already so much lower for an electric car, once the upfront price is lower, the real question will be – who can afford not to drive an electric car?

Q: What’s it like driving an electric car?
A: Electric car owners love their cars. It is an absolutely amazing driving experience. It is hard to overstate what a joy it is to drive in a quiet, vibration-free vehicle with smooth, instantaneous performance available at any speed. Handling is great. The car just sticks to the road due to the battery’s low center of gravity. And electric cars are safe cars – with no engine up front taking up valuable crumple zone space plus the battery’s stiff structure adding significant protection, electric cars earn the highest safety ratings. 98% of electric car owners say they will never buy another gas car!

Q: But how long does it take to charge?
A: Ten seconds. That’s all the time it takes to plug in after you arrive home. I’ve never needed to charge the car anywhere besides home – except when I’m on an overnight trip. And even then, a Chevy Bolt or Tesla can easily drive from Lexington to Burlington, VT or NYC without stopping to charge. On a recent trip to Washington DC, we needed to charge for 50 minutes along the way. And who wouldn’t appreciate a chance to stretch their legs and have some lunch on a 7 ½ hour drive?

Let me ask you a question. How long do you spend every week driving to gas stations and standing in the heat or cold, in the wind, rain or snow, breathing fumes while you are pumping gas? It is wonderful waking up every morning knowing that the car is fully charged. No need to stop at the gas station on the way to work or your first appointment of the day. I saw a T-shirt that said, “I miss gas stations – said no EV driver ever.”


Mark Sandeen is the chair of the Sustainable Lexington Committee


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Reducing greenhouse gas emissions

Q: The Supreme Judicial Court ruled last year that Massachusetts was not doing enough to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to maintain a livable climate. What steps are necessary to get back on track?
A: In response, Gov. Baker’s Department of Environmental Protection issued new clean air regulations that would require utilities to purchase generation credits from zero-carbon sources – starting at 16% in 2018 and increasing to 80% by 2050.
The first big step along that path was taken last year under the Omnibus energy bill that requires utilities to purchase 35% of their power from hydro and wind sources.
Our grid is now going to be greening a lot faster than we had previously expected when these regulations take effect.
Q: What can we do here in Lexington?
A: 97% of Lexington’s greenhouse gas emissions come from burning fossil fuels to produce our electricity, heat our buildings, power our vehicles, and produce our food. 36% of those emissions come from producing our electricity, 30% from heating our buildings, 23% from transportation, and 10% is related to the food we eat.
We can start by switching our oil and natural gas heating systems for our homes, offices, and schools to the latest highly efficient and low-cost air source heat pumps. The latest heat pumps can provide more than 3 kWh of heat for every kWh of electricity used.
Q: Are we designing the new Hastings School to be capable of achieving zero emissions?
A: We are currently considering two designs – one design uses a natural gas boiler to provide heat and one uses heat pumps. If we choose to move forward with a natural gas boiler – we will be locking in fossil fuel emissions to heat Hastings School for the next 60 years. With heat pumps, we can reduce our emissions to zero by switching to renewable electricity. In addition, the initial cost of going with the heat pump design will be $600K less than the natural gas boiler and our energy costs will also be about 30% lower.
If you care about this decision – I encourage you to come to the Board of Selectmen meeting on February 27th where the Board will make their recommendation.

Natural gas flaring seen from space.

Q: What other benefits would we see with a heat pump design?
A: The heat pump design would protect our students and staff from breathing the air pollution created by burning fossil fuels on site. Heat pumps will directly improve the health and cognitive performance of our students and staff because they will be breathing cleaner air.  An MIT study found that 1,775 Massachusetts residents die each year from premature mortality due to the air pollution created by burning fossil fuels to heat our buildings.
Second, we should look at the health and global warming impacts of continuing our over dependence on natural gas. The CDC has determined that on the job fatality rates for oil and gas workers is 7 times higher than for typical workers. Researchers from University of Columbia and University of Pennsylvania have found that Pennsylvania residents who live near natural gas fracking sites are 27% more likely to suffer from severe heart disease, cancer and neurological disorders. Fracking sites produce 280 billion gallons of toxic wastewater each year. The Wall Street Journal found that 15 million people in the US now live within one mile of a fracking site.
Recent studies have determined that the leakage rate at natural gas drilling sites is between 4 and 9%. A leakage rate of 3% makes the global warming potential of natural gas worse than using coal to produce our electricity.
Then there is the out and out waste of natural gas flaring. Gas flares at natural gas fracking sites can be seen from space – like city lights. National Geographic reported that the gas lost to flaring could have powered all the homes in Chicago for a year.
Finally we need to consider the cost of delivering natural gas. Over the past 20 years, we’ve had 680 people die, 2,646 people injured, and $1.4 billion in property damage from natural gas pipeline explosions in the US.
Q: What kind of world would you want for your kids?
A: If we wouldn’t want our kids to experience these negative effects, why would we want anyone’s kids to suffer from our continued over dependence on natural gas.
Send your sustainability questions to We look forward to hearing from you.

Mark Sandeen is the chair
of the Sustainable Lexington Committee

Send your sustainability questions to We look forward to hearing from you.

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What About the Natural Gas Pipeline in Massachusetts?

All Things SustainableBy Mark Sandeen

Mark Sandeen is the chair of the Sustainable Lexington Committee

Mark Sandeen is the chair
of the Sustainable Lexington Committee

Q: I understand we are considering building a new natural gas pipeline in Massachusetts. Is building a new pipeline critical to our energy future?

A: A lot of folks thought so last year. We saw some natural gas price spikes when demand jumped during a couple of cold snaps. The utilities predicted more of the same this winter, but a funny thing happened. Even though we had a much colder winter, colder than we’ve seen in over three decades, we didn’t have any problems meeting demand.

How is that possible? You may have heard that Massachusetts is leading the nation in energy efficiency for 4 years in a row now. Our energy efficiency programs have reduced electricity demand by 2 million megawatt hours (MWh) in the last two years. We’ve also added another 700,000 MWh in new solar generation. That’s enough electricity for over 360,000 Massachusetts homes. And we are just getting started.

But the utilities are asking us to bet that we’ll stop investing in energy efficiency, solar power adoption will slow, and we’ll never get any wind turbines built. Who wins if we make that bet? Let’s just say the utilities like the guaranteed return on investment that comes from building a $3 billion pipeline.

What happens if we build a pipeline and no one comes? We would all end up paying for the pipeline whether it is needed or not.

Q: Would it be better to upgrade our existing pipelines? I heard that our old pipelines have a lot of leaks.

A: That is a very good idea. Nathan Phillips at BU has found that our local pipelines are leaking a huge amount of natural gas, almost 3% of our natural gas. Those leaks are mostly methane and methane is an extremely strong greenhouse gas – 86 times stronger than carbon dioxide over 20 years. Those methane leaks alone are responsible for 10% of our greenhouse gas emissions in Lexington. On top of that, plugging those leaks would provide enough natural gas to heat 150,000 homes and would reduce the need for a new pipeline. Who pays for those leaks today? We do. The utilities pass those costs on to their customers.

Q: Are there other costs associated with natural gas?

A: According to the Energy Information Agency, the US has increased the amount of energy required to transport natural gas via pipelines by 50% over the last decade.

The total amount of energy used by natural gas pipelines is now about 264 million MWh a year. To put that into perspective – that is slightly more than the total amount of electricity consumed in California and about 5 times more than all the electricity used in Massachusetts each year.

But that is small potatoes compared to the 57% to 67% of natural gas energy that is wasted once it gets to a power plant. According to the EIA, only 33% to 43% of the energy in natural gas is actually converted into electricity and makes it on to the power grid. The remaining energy goes up the cooling tower as waste heat.

Our electricity grid loses another 8% in transmission and distribution line losses along the way to our homes and businesses. This highlights a huge benefit of solar energy, every kWh of electricity produced directly at the point of consumption eliminates all those losses.

We could eliminate one California’s worth of electricity consumption, just in pipeline energy costs alone, by switching to renewable energy sources like wind, hydro, and solar. And we wouldn’t have to pay for a $3 billion dollar pipeline that won’t be needed in an increasingly energy efficient but still warming world.



Send your sustainability questions to THANK YOU!

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Record Setting Snowfall!

By Mark Sandeen

Q: Is anyone else wondering what the heck is going on with our weather this winter? Was our record setting snowfall related to climate change?

A: If you suspected that we have been smashing records this winter, you would be right. As I write this, we are less than 2 inches away from setting the all time annual snowfall record in Boston. We had the snowiest January in history, and the snowiest 7-day period in history, with over 40 inches of snow from January 27th – February 2nd. That is 8 inches more than the previous 7-day snowfall record. We aren’t just breaking records; we are blowing them to smithereens. So what is happening?

The NOAA image below, taken when these storms started, shows that the ocean temperature off the east coast surrounding Boston was 2 degrees warmer than normal for this time of year. And we know that warmth pumps more moisture in the air, in this case about 10% more moisture than normal. The melting arctic ice is also affecting the jet stream, which is pulling abnormally cold air down from the arctic; and that cold air lingers longer due to the weakening jet stream. So when you combine the moist warm air rising above the ocean with the cold arctic air being pulled down from the North, you get massive snowstorms that last a lot longer than they used to.

NOAA Ocean Temp anomaly-638x507Scientists suggest that only about half of the ocean temperature rise this year can be attributed to climate change. So that record breaking 40-inch storm, might have only been 20 inches without climate change.

If you’ve been thinking these storms are coming more frequently, you’d be correct. We’ve broken the all time extreme winter weather snowfall record 4 times in the last 10 years. And if you feel like we’ve been singled out for special treatment, you would be right. New England is seeing the largest increase in extreme weather events in the country; with a 71% increase in extreme weather events.

How many once in a hundred year events can we have in 5 years? I count 6. The spring floods of 2010, Hurricane Irene, Hurricane Sandy, Snow October, the Blizzard of 2013 and now the 2015 blizzard – that made the Blizzard of 2013 look small…

Q: I understand that the Board of Selectmen unanimously approved moving forward with the Hartwell Solar project. What are the details of that project?

A: The Board of Selectmen approved a 2.25 MW solar project, which will provide about 31% of the Town’s electricity and reduce our CO2 emissions by 68 million pounds over the life of the project. That is enough solar electricity to supply 375 average homes or the equivalent emissions reduction of eliminating 86 million miles of driving.

On top of that, we expect the solar energy system to generate $14.7 million in revenue for the Town, while allowing the Town to continue all existing operations at the site. When combined with our rooftop solar project that went live in December, we expect our solar arrays will be generating 45% of the Town’s electricity and earning the Town $20 million over the next 25 years.

This is a large project that will require significant changes in the operations of the site and probably take close to a year before it is generating power.

I want to express my thanks to everyone involved, and especially to Bill Hadley and the Department of Public Works staff who worked so hard to make this possible.


Mark Sandeen is the chair of the Sustainable Lexington Committee

Mark Sandeen is the chair
of the Sustainable Lexington Committee

Sustainable Lexington is a Town committee appointed by the Board of Selectmen
to enhance Lexington’s long-term sustainability and resilience
in response to environmental resource and energy challenges.
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All Things Sustainable

Mark Sandeen is the chair of the Sustainable Lexington Committee

Mark Sandeen is the chair
of the Sustainable Lexington Committee


All Things Sustainable






By Mark Sandeen


Over 400,000 people marched in New York City demanding action on climate change. What is next?


An amazingly diverse group of people walked in the People’s Climate March in New York City because we are just beginning to realize as a society how urgent it is that we take rapid action to protect the future of our civilization and human life on this planet.

Recent studies show that if we want to maintain a livable climate, there is a limit to the amount of fossil fuels we can burn. And at our current pace, we will hit that limit in just 30 years. That is a pretty sobering thought. The implications are clear – we will need to transition to a 100% clean energy, zero emissions economy in the next 30 years.

Emissions will need to peak soon and begin falling rapidly if we are to avoid catastrophic and irreversible consequences. The investments we make over the next 15 years will determine the future of the world’s climate.

The good news is that this transition is not only technically feasible, but will save us money, strengthen our economy, and provide tremendous health benefits. We have an aging fleet of power plants that were put in place in the 50’s and 60’s and now need to be replaced. We can choose to replace them with more fossil fuel plants and lock our emissions in for the next 50 or 60 years. Or we can make the choice to switch to clean energy power systems – now, today. We have excellent and viable alternatives.

We can put solar panels on our rooftops, parking lots, and landfills. And start driving electric cars. We can build wind turbines and use hydro to fill in the gaps. We can design our new buildings so they use far less energy and unlock the energy savings in our existing buildings. Every dollar invested in energy efficiency yields $4 in energy savings – up to $2 trillion dollars in savings from our commercial buildings alone.

If we choose to replace our aging fossil fuel power plants with renewable replacements and energy efficiency investments, the slightly higher upfront costs will be more than offset by the savings from our reduced fuel costs. And every dollar we spend on a clean energy future is a dollar that stays in our local economy.

We marched in New York City because we are the first generation to feel the effects of climate change and the last generation that can do anything about it. It is time to get to work.


My electric rates are skyrocketing. What can I do?


Our electricity rates have become increasingly volatile due to our over dependence on natural gas. We saw our electricity rates rise 24% last winter and the trend is accelerating with the Mass DPU approving generation rate hikes of almost 100% for the coming winter. It is clearly time to diversify our energy portfolio.

The increased volatility of our electricity rates makes switching to solar and wind power increasingly attractive. In fact, solar has reached “rate parity” in Massachusetts. Many Solarize Lexington homeowners with good sunny roofs were able to save up to 75% on their electricity bills by locking in a fixed rate for their solar electricity for next 20 years.

For those of you without good sunny roofs, like your lucky neighbors, ask your elected representatives to support community shared solar projects, which will allow you to buy solar power from a nearby solar farm.


Sustainable Lexington Committee

Sustainable Lexington is a Town committee appointed by the Board of Selectmen to enhance Lexington’s long-term sustainability and resilience in response to environmental resource and energy challenges.



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All Things Sustainable

Mark Sandeen, Chair Sustainable Lexington Committee

Mark Sandeen, Chair
Sustainable Lexington Committee

All Things SustainableQ: I’m planning to install solar power at home and I was wondering if I could use the solar power system to run my home during a power outage.

A: One of the wonderful things about solar power is how well it works with the utility grid. When your solar energy system produces more power than your home currently needs, you can pump that power out to the grid and your utility will give you a credit for the value of that electricity. When your home demands more energy than the solar energy system is generating, you can draw power from the grid to make up the difference.

Unfortunately when the utility power is out, your solar energy system still needs another energy source to act as a backup – a place to send electricity when the system is producing more power than you need and a place to pull extra power from when a cloud passes overhead. Your utility doesn’t want you to do that during a power outage. because it endangers line workers trying to restore power. So all solar installations must disconnect from the grid during a power outage.

One common backup strategy is to add batteries to your solar installation. Unfortunately the price of batteries hasn’t fallen as fast as the price of solar panels. That means a battery backup can easily add 30 – 40% to your overall cost of installation.

Another idea is to combine solar with a backup generator. This makes a lot of sense for buildings – like our schools and municipal buildings – that already have a backup generator installed. Properly designed backup generators disconnect from the grid during a power outage – operating like an island – and supplying all their own power. A well-designed solar energy system can easily integrate with your backup generator, letting the solar panels carry the load when the sun is strong and the backup generator picking up the slack during evening hours. The NY Times has an excellent article about a school that survived Hurricane Sandy by doing just that.

Q: We’ve all been told that one of the first things we should do to lower our emissions is to replace our incandescent light bulbs. LED lights sound great, but have the costs come down enough to make them a viable alternative?

A: Yes, the price of LED bulbs has been dropping rapidly. LED light bulbs are the longest-lasting and most efficient mass-produced light sources to date. And now, they’re also among the most affordable, with some costing less than $10 per bulb.

They are a much better product than compact fluorescents. They turn on instantly. They are dimmable. They last 25 times longer than an incandescent bulb and 3 times longer than a CFL. They are more durable and contain no mercury. And best of all, they look great, providing warm natural light.

And LED bulbs save a lot of energy — from manufacture to disposal, an LED bulb uses 5 times less energy than an incandescent bulb and about 30% less energy than a CFL.

Plus LEDs can do things no incandescent or compact fluorescent bulb has ever done before. Some LED lights can be controlled over the internet or with your smartphone, allowing you to turn lights on and off remotely. You can set up presets like Home, Away, Night with schedules controlling light bulb groups and dimming levels, all with one touch. No more crawling behind the couch to plug in that timer before you leave on vacation.


Send your sustainability questions to We look forward to hearing from you.


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All Things Sustainable

Q: Would the soil next to the bike path be suitable for growing vegetables?  What contaminants left by the railroad are of concern?  How far away from the tracks would the “fall out” area be?

A: All good questions. Here are a few different ways to think about the issue from our friend Meg Muckenhoupt.

In general, railroads were not good stewards of the land. The Rails to Trails Conservancy ( lists the following possible contaminants often found near railroad beds:

  • Chemically treated railroad ties
  • Oil, gasoline, cleaning solvents, etc.
  • Fossil fuel combustion products
  • Roofing shingles (asbestos)
  • Herbicides
  • Air compressors
  • Transformers and Capacitors
  • Metals

For $10 you can test your soil for heavy metals and some other soil contaminants via the UMass Extension soil-testing lab. It’s the best ten bucks you’ll spend on your garden. The UMass test results also provide recommendations for improving your soil (nutrient and pH adjustments) and protecting crops from contamination.

For peace of mind, you might want to build a raised bed. A raised bed is just a big box filled with soil. They warm up earlier than the ground, they are easier to keep free of weeds than beds at ground level, they are attractive, you can control what soil goes into them, and you can line the bottoms with landscape fabric to keep roots from reaching contaminants in the underlying soil.

That’s what the Food Project does in Boston to keep plants away from lead-contaminated city soils. If you’re not fond of carpentry, there are several local garden businesses to help you out; Rad Urban Farmers and Ben Barkan come to mind.

Meg Muckenhoupt writes about gardens and green spaces at and edits the Belmont Citizens Forum Newsletter ( Her most recent book is Boston Gardens and Green Spaces. (

Q: How would you define resilience in the context of developing a long-term plan for Lexington?

A: That’s an excellent question. Let’s take a look at some possible definitions. Ecologists call a system resilient if it is able to resist being pushed past a critical threshold. Business leaders tend to think of resilience as continuity in the face of natural disasters. Psychologists describe resilience as the ability to avoid being permanently damaged by trauma. For Lexington, I’d suggest that resilience means the ability to maintain our core purpose, our quality of life and integrity, while recovering and thriving in a disruptive environment.

Send your sustainability questions to We look forward to hearing from you.


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How Can Lexington Become Climate Resilient Community?

By Laurie Atwater

From coast to coast communities are experiencing the devastating environmental and financial effects of extreme weather events. Droughts, hurricanes and flooding have wreaked havoc on communities as close as New Jersey and left homeowners and small municipalities in financial crisis. In response, both states and municipalities are recognizing the need to adapt to the reality of extreme weather and plan accordingly—to protect their finances and maintain their quality of life. Acting early, individuals and communities can begin to make their infrastructure more resilient and their natural resources less vulnerable, ultimately saving landmarks, homes and millions of dollars.

For individuals and communities a two-pronged approach is necessary: reduce carbon emissions and prepare for extreme weather. Can we both reduce carbon emissions and develop plans to deal with the effects we are already seeing?

Forward-thinking members of the Lexington League of Women Voters have formed the Climate Change Community Conversation Steering Committee and are joined by other concerned town officials and community groups to address the resiliency of our town and the ways in which Lexington can both forestall the worsening of the problem and address the reality that is already here. As organizer Jeanne Krieger says, “It’s here, now we have to deal with it.” The League is sponsoring their second Community Conversation on Tuesday, February 26th so the community can gather together and explore these issues together.

Building on the success of last year’s event on the topic of What Does Community Mean? (which has resulted in a report and series of recommendations), this discussion event will follow the same format. Town Moderator Deborah Brown will preside over the evening and keep things on track. Pam Hoffman who also worked on last year’s successful event says they want participants to attend with an open mind. “We want to create a warm, welcoming, open and safe feeling for the evening. People will be greeted and randomly assigned to a table. There will be snacks and coffee and we will be working in small groups.”

The evening will kick off with a short talk from Anne Kelly an environmental lawyer who has worked the legal end of environmental issues in Massachusetts and is currently an advisor and policy expert for Ceres, an organization focused on developing global sustainability.

After Kelly’s remarks each small group of participants will work together to record observations and ideas that they will share with the larger group at the end of the evening. “This is a dialogue. There’s no right or wrong. We’re not looking for answers or solutions,” Hoffman stresses. “We’re going to start with this question and discuss it in small facilitated groups: What do you love about Lexington and could that be impacted by changing climate?”

“Unlike the first Community Conversation,” says Jeanne Krieger the main organizer of the event, “this Conversation is not in response to a Selectmen’s appointed task force, but rather stems from a feeling on the part of the League [the League of Women Voters], members of several town committees and citizens’ organizations that Lexington should consider the impacts of climate change in a more systematic manner.”

The Climate Change Community Conversation Steering Committee represents a variety of organizations throughout town ranging from the League of Women Voters to the Lexington Bike Committee, LexFarm and the Lexington Sustainability Committee. That’s because climate change and extreme weather will have an effect on every aspect of community life from heating and cooling our schools, siting and planning new construction, creating more efficient community transit and protecting our natural surroundings to recreation and tourism. Lexington also has a special responsibility to protect its historically significant landscape for future generations.

“We are all living with the impacts of climate change,” Krieger says. “We want to encourage people to share their observations—however big or small—to listen, talk and learn.”

Ultimately, Krieger hopes to provide the Selectmen and other town agencies with a report summarizing the recommendations from the Community Conversation session. “We will request to be on the Selectmen’s agenda and distribute it to all attendees,” she says. “Between the report and the warrant article, I expect there will be a fairly clear set of actions that might well include the call to develop a Climate Action Plan.”

For now, the group wants to hear from as many citizens as possible. “We want to bring in people from all different aspects of the community.” Hoffman says. “Most people are just beginning to think about this and we want them to know that they are not alone.”

Krieger, who has devoted years of service to the town and has served as the Chairman of the Board of Selectmen comments, “There are things we can do as individuals and as a community to slow this process and protect the town. We have accomplished much to make Lexington a green community. With a focused effort we can use the talents and resources of the community to make even more progress on this difficult issue.”

As Lexingtonians we have always been on the leading edge of advancement and change and here is another opportunity for our community to lead the way into a better future.





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