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The towns of Lexington and Wellesley joined two nonprofits to offer informational webinars promoting the shift from traditional gas-powered yard care practices to zero-emission tools and machinery in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and noise pollution.
The first of the webinars, held on Sept. 30 and hosted by Quiet Communities, is geared to municipal and commercial land care professionals, and the second, on Oct. 1, is designed for residents. The webinars had 80 and 150 registrants, respectively, as of Sept. 30.
“It’s really to get them thinking about this as an option, where you can implement the changes and still be efficient and cost effective,” said Lexington Public Works Director Dave Pinsonneault.
The webinars are an extension of efforts in the two towns to reduce the carbon and noise footprint of public works operations.
Lexington began working with Quiet Communities and the American Green Zone Alliance a few years ago after hearing feedback from a town committee, Sustainable Lexington, looking to increase energy efficiency and reduce noise pollution. (The town also has a noise bylaw and Noise Committee.) The Department of Public Works contracted with Quiet Communities to do an assessment of its grounds care activities and each piece of equipment that has a viable electric alternative.
“We looked at fuel use, efficiency, how it affects the air our employees [are working in] and their hearing, and then we looked at what we could implement,” Pinsonneault said.
Using grant funds, the department started with using push mowers and electric leaf blowers and string trimmers and edgers during the summer, until the heavy fall leaf season. The department then went to the Board of Selectmen to get funding in the capital budget to replace gas-powered rider mowers with electric ones.
Pinsonneault advises other communities to “do the research and really get a program that fits with what your operation is,” adding that having the outside consultants “really helped us get to a plan that worked.”
The Lexington DPW is using the bulk of its new, electric equipment in the downtown area, where it could have an immediate impact, with plans to expand.
Wellesley got involved after members of its Green Collaborative heard about Lexington’s program.
“We are looking to make changes at the DPW level,” said Wellesley Public Works Director Dave Cohen. “The town has greenhouse gas reduction goals, including reducing fuel use by 10% over next three years. … Converting to battery-powered equipment could help us to do that.”
Cohen said his department has added line items to its budget requests specifically to replace gas equipment.
“It is simple and complicated to change to battery-powered equipment,” Cohen said. “[The electric equipment] has to be durable and commercial grade for us. We have to have good battery life to get a full day’s worth of work out of it. Building the infrastructure and having the right equipment is key.”
The technology behind battery-powered yard tools and machinery is evolving, but not all gas-powered equipment is replaceable. Powerful chainsaws used to clear debris following storms are an example of equipment that will likely remain gas-powered, at least for now, said Cohen and Pinsonneault.
“We’ve demoed a lot of equipment and some of it isn’t viable for us yet, like chainsaws and leaf blowers for use during heavy seasons,” Pinsonneault said. “We work that into our plan.”
“Getting our staff to buy in that these changes will be for their own safety and well-being … is key,” Pinsonneault said.
With American Green Zone Alliance, Wellesley is also exploring developing dedicated low-noise, zero-emission “green zones.”