Who’s on Board is a series highlighting local boards and committees on Cape Cod and the people who serve on them.
YARMOUTH — Joyce Flynn has spent the past decade reinventing herself in some ways. In an earlier life she taught English and Irish literature. Now she spends her retirement years helping the town save money as it invests in green energy.
Flynn has spent the past 12 years learning about energy. When she turned 60, she enrolled in a course at Cape Cod Community College. The motivation? She began to think about how energy usage was affecting the climate and the world.
She is now chairwoman of the Yarmouth Energy Committee. The nine-member committee advises the Select Board on energy matters, evaluates the possibilities of wind- and solar-powered energy installations on town land and recommends initiatives.
A pivot from literature to energy
“I started to understand how what we were doing was destroying the whole planet,” she said. The more she read about climate change, the more distressing and serious the repercussions seemed. Climate change could cause species to go extinct, and it would have the greatest negative impact on the world’s poorest countries. Climate change could lead to massive population displacement around the world. It would also bring about a loss of arable land and an increase in deserts.
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She pivoted from her beloved literature to reading about the applications, benefits and economics of solar energy technologies. She learned about photovoltaic systems and solar design. She read about energy output and fuel savings and emission reductions. And she participated in projects. A solar thermal collector she worked on for one of her community college classes is still there and still being used to power the college’s industrial dishwashers, she said.
Mission: Increase the town’s energy efficiency
Flynn is in her sixth year as chairwoman of the Energy Committee, whose robust mission includes increasing the town’s energy efficiency, expanding its use of renewable energy and saving taxpayer money. Everyone on the committee brings his or her own talents, Flynn said.
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Members include a retired attorney, applications developer, systems engineer, mechanical engineer and state department administrator. Sandy Cashen is the Dennis-Yarmouth school facilities manager. Mattacheese Middle School science teacher Regina Wood is the committee’s youngest member. Flynn calls herself “the English major on steroids.”
Together, and with the help and collaboration of others, the committee has been able to turn the town greener and save money in the process. Flynn acknowledges the many “sets of parents” involved in the town’s green efforts.
Roof- and ground-mounted solar photovoltaic units at six Dennis-Yarmouth District schools saved money for the district with a purchase power agreement that sent any extra credits back to the town of Yarmouth.
“The town is realizing savings on its utility bills, but it also has an income stream because of the solar fields,” Flynn said. “And the kids can see it.”
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The committee encourages residents to have energy audits done through Cape Light Compact. The free audits (already paid for through conservation charges on electric bills) can open up the possibility of getting up to 75% of weatherization costs paid for by the Compact, Flynn said. The audits can show where heat is leaking and where energy efficiencies can be improved.
The committee will provide educational outreach for the Solarize Plus Yarmouth campaign. It encourages residents and businesses to install photovoltaic panels to generate electricity at a discount. COVID-19 set the campaign back a year because public events had to be canceled, Flynn said.
‘Yarmouth is a happening place for energy’
Flynn said Yarmouth has had a wealth of talented volunteers helping with energy efforts, including Liz Argo, executive director of the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative; Steve Gavin, a mechanical engineer with experience building renewable energy installments; and former DPW Director George Allaire, who helped the town secure funding for solar projects.
“Yarmouth is a happening place for energy,” Flynn said.
It’s not just about economics for Flynn. It’s about social justice and personal responsibility. It’s about using one’s talents and skills and education to help others.
Flynn said she wants to help Yarmouth residents of all income levels — from those ready to invest in measures such as solar panels to moderate- and lower-income earners trying to figure out how to reduce their energy consumption in ways that save them money, too. Lease options and purchase power agreements, rebates and discounts might help.
“We’re all responsible for energy,” she said. “We’re always looking for volunteers.”
Contact Denise Coffey at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @DeniseCoffeyCCT.