Energy Committee chairman details utility savings in Orange

Orange Energy Committee Chairman Henry Oertel

Orange Energy Committee Chairman Henry Oertel SCREENSHOT

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 08-25-2023 5:21 PM

ORANGE — The town is looking at $264,000 in utility savings thanks to a net-metering contract with the community solar field in Warren, according to the Orange Energy Committee’s chairman.

Henry Oertel went before the Selectboard last week to give his committee’s annual solar report and said he was amazed by the amount of money saved in electricity. He explained there was a hot, dry summer and a mild winter last year “and the amount of savings just blew my mind.”

The savings also impressed Selectboard Chairman Tom Smith, who chaired Wednesday’s meeting.

“Wow,” he said to Oertel. “That’s amazing.”

Oertel explained Orange saves money through one of the Warren arrays, whereas the University of Massachusetts reaps the benefits of other two. Inspired by the savings, Oertel decided to contact various town department heads to determine what actions they took to curtail energy usage. He told the Selectboard he learned the wastewater treatment plant is undergoing construction, but boiler feed pumps, which save money by not rapidly surging with power, are being installed. He said a utility rate increases if there is a surge on a power grid.

Oertel also said the plant is also switching to LED lights and installing mini-splits. He said energy usage will increase following the upgrades but these improvements will help reduce costs.

The energy committee chairman said he also learned the Orange Municipal Airport has installed a new heating system and switched all of its lawnmowers to battery-operated machines.

“It’s working out great,” he said, adding that all the airport’s 200 runway and taxi lights have been switched to LED. “These things are beautiful. They’re the size of a softball, but they’re brighter than the other lights.”

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Oertel said the Orange Police Department has one hybrid cruiser and Chief James Sullivan is interested in getting another, and the station is now insulated and has LED lighting. He also mentioned the highway garage now has radiant heat and the Water Street fire station has a new, more efficient furnace.

But, before he left Wednesday’s meeting, Oertel wanted to be clear about what these savings mean, because he said he knew he would be stopped and asked in the coming days.

“We don’t get a big check. We get a credit against our utility bills. That credit is reflected on our tax rate, and that helps lower the tax levy each year,” he said. “Without this savings in utilities, our tax rate would be $300,000-plus higher, and we would all be trying to figure out where we were going to get money to keep the town going.”

Oertel said he is very proud of what the town’s department heads have accomplished.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.