LETTER: Author of Watertown’s Solar Requirement Thanks Supporters, Urges More Action

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The following statement was read, in part, to the Town Council on Dec. 11, 2018, by Watertown Resident Jocelyn Tager. The requirement to have solar power systems on new developments over a certain size was passed by the Town Council on Nov. 27, 2018, making the town the first in the state to adopt such a requirement. Here is the full version:

My name is Jocelyn Tager. I’m the woman who wrote the original solar zone proposal. I’m a resident of Watertown. I have many people to thank for making this proposal a reality.

  1. First, I’d like to thank Susan Falkoff, who in January 2016 (almost three years ago), as chair of Town Council’s Economic Development and Planning Committee, asked me to write a solar zone proposal for the RMUD. Susan may not remember, but she, Tony Palomba, and I met at a Local First gathering. When I asked when you wanted this, you gave me eight days to submit the proposal. I thought I was done with all-nighters when I finished graduate school.
  2. I thank Aaron Dushku, who asked the Economic Development and Planning Committee to hear this proposal in September 2017. At that hearing, the committee asked for the opinion of the town’s lawyer. And over a year later, here we are.
  3. Next, I wish to thank Dan Voss, who at the time of the first proposal was with SunBug Solar. He read my proposal, spent considerable time talking and emailing suggestions, helped me understand the technicalities of arrays, and the technicalities of ordinances. He also helped me clarify what I wanted and ultimately gave the proposal the thumbs up.
  4. Next, I thank Haskell Werlin of Solar Design Associates. The state codes had changed by the time the Committee on Economic Development and Planning heard the proposal. After reading the changes in the state regulations, I rewrote parts of the proposal. Dan had moved out of state. This time Haskell Werlin met with me, answered my questions, and then read the proposal and gave it a thumbs up
  5. I thank Attorney Mark Reich for turning the solar zone proposal into a solar zone ordinance.
  6. I thank Ed Lewis, our wonderful energy manager, who has been a huge supporter and has worked hard both in “front of” and “behind” the scene to make this a reality.
  7. I thank the WE3C, your advisory committee, which is so capably led by Meredith Fields. They have been a huge support.
  8. I thank Watertown Faces Climate Change, our citizen’s group led by Ann Munson. The group has been a personal and organizational support.
  9. I thank Andy Compagna, Chair of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee, who has been a huge support from the very beginning of Neighborhood Solar. I thank David Stokes, Chair of the Storm Water Advisory Committee, and Libby Shaw, President of Trees for Watertown for their continued support throughout this process. Libby spoke at the last TC meeting about the necessity of our urban forest and not sacrificing trees for arrays. Our 3,567 trees on public land removed 1,454,854 pounds of carbon dioxide last year. We have 4,322 public empty planting sites and we need to fill them to keep our urban forest, never mind keeping it healthy and productive. If anyone has seen my array, you will notice that the bottom row of panels is shaded by two beautiful dogwoods. Trees and solar arrays must work together.
  10. I thank all the Watertown residents who have opened their doors for me — over and over — for the various petitions and issues I’ve addressed.
  11. I thank my fabulous neighbors on Robbins Road and the surrounding cross streets who have listened to me when I’ve been distressed and upset, cheered me on, celebrated with me, and been the best supports any person could possibly have. They continue to open their doors to me, which is a miracle. And they didn’t lynch me when we put up the first residential ground-mounted solar array in the greater Boston
    area. My neighbors have been nothing but supportive. I could not ask for better.
  12. I thank my dear, wonderful husband, Michael Fredrickson who cheers me on, loves me, and picks me up when I’m down by making me laugh and making the best food one can imagine. He’s a lawyer, known for his excellent writing and editing, and he read and made comments and suggestions on both proposals.
  13. And I thank you, my Town Councilors for voting this through. You worked hard to make this a reality. Your unanimous vote has made me so proud of this town and of you, our elected officials.
  14. If I’ve left anyone out, please forgive me.

On November 10, 1942, Winston Churchill told the House of Commons after England won the Battle of Egypt: “We have a victory—a remarkable and definite victory.” He went on to say, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

The ordinance you just passed is the beginning of many difficult steps we as a town and a community will have to take. I don’t believe there is anyone on this Council or in this room who is a climate change denier. But there may be some in our community who do not understand how dire this situation is.

The world’s leading climate scientists—91 scientists from 40 countries, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a landmark report in October of this year. They warned that there are only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C or 2.7 Fahrenheit degrees, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

These authors of this landmark report say urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to reach the target, which they say is affordable and feasible although it lies at the most ambitious end of the Paris Agreement pledge.

There are three steps that we in Watertown can do.

  1. We can expand the ordinance we just passed. We can require all new construction, not just of a certain size and not just commercial, but residential and small, as well as large, to be energy producing and be LEED gold or platinum or we can use other standards, such as the Living Building Challenge.
  2. We need to get used to “certified,” rather than “certifiable.” Unless we plan to hire more building inspectors and pay their salaries and benefits, plus office space and support staff, supplies, and equipment, we must require developers and building owners to shoulder the costs of certifying their buildings not at silver, but at gold or platinum LEED. The cost of certifying a building is a very tiny fraction of the total cost of construction (0-2%) and will more than pay for itself over the life of the building. Our citizens deserve this consideration. Our children are entitled to see a plaque on their school that says we cared
    that much about them and their futures.
  3. And we need to embrace Zero Net Energy. All our new buildings must produce as much energy as they use. Actually, it would be better if they produced more than they use. This goes for every municipal and private building, as well as garages and parking facilities. Again, the fraction of increase in cost is more than made up by the savings over the life span of the building. If someone has enough money to build, this needs to be part of their budgeted expense.

Climate change is not just an environmental issue. It is a public health and a social justice issue. Thanks to you, we have begun the process. We have more to do. We have an obligation to protect those who will bear the brunt if we don’t continue this most important path—those who are the most vulnerable of our population —the economically disadvantaged, the disabled, the elderly and especially our children.

Thank you for your vote.

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