Urban Tree Planting Program to Reduce Energy Use

By ecoRI News staff

The goal of a new Massachusetts tree planting program is to reduce energy use in urban neighborhoods and lower heating and cooling costs for residents and businesses. Through the Greening the Gateway Cities program, Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) will invest $5 million to plant trees in the cities of Fall River, Chelsea and Holyoke through December 2015.

“Greening the Gateway Cities complements our efforts to insulate older buildings, and has additional benefits of reduced stormwater pollution and treatment and cleaner air,” EEA Secretary Rick Sullivan said. “An upfront investment in tree planting across an urban neighborhood will pay back energy and water savings for decades as trees grow and mature.”

Planting some 15,000 trees in Chelsea, Fall River and Holyoke over the next two years will lead to a 10 percent increase in canopy cover in the targeted neighborhoods, benefiting around 14,000 households, according to the EEA.

This increase in canopy is expected to reduce heating and cooling costs in the selected areas by about 10 percent, with an average homeowner saving about $230 a year, once the trees reach maturity, according to the EEA. Over their lifespan, the trees are expected to lead to $400 million in energy savings for residents and businesses.

Massachusetts' 26 Gateway Cities have lower tree canopy than other areas of the state because of their urban character and history of heavy industry and manufacturing. The targeted areas within Chelsea, Fall River and Holyoke were selected because of their low tree canopy cover, high population density, high wind levels, and older, poorly insulated housing.

To carry out the Greening the Gateway Cities Program, the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) will partner with city governments and community organizations to plant the trees on public and private land by the end of next year. The EEA has allocated $1 million of capital funding and the Department of Energy Resources has committed $4 million in alternative compliance payments made by retail electricity suppliers that don’t meet their statutory Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard obligation to buy a sufficient percentage of renewable energy.

“The value of urban trees became clear to us when we documented a 40 percent increase in summer electricity usage in a Worcester neighborhood after nearly all trees had to be removed due to the Asian long-horned beetle epidemic,” DCR Commissioner Jack Murray said.

The benefits of tree planting programs are greatest when tree canopy is increased over an entire neighborhood. Many major American cities, including Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Portland and Sacramento have implemented tree planting programs as a way of fighting climate-change impacts and stormwater infiltration.