Pictured here is one of the solar arrays that is providing New Bedford with clean, renewable energy to power its municipally owned buildings. This ground-mounted solar array is built on a brownfield site. | Photo courtesy of Con Edison Solutions.

Nicknamed the “Whaling City” for its once-preeminent commercial whaling port, New Bedford, Massachusetts, has a long history of economic prosperity tied to energy production. Today, New Bedford is once again tying its future to energy — only this time it’s focusing on energy efficiency and renewable energy production rather than whale oil.

This shift is largely the result of the city receiving $800,000 in Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG)funding from the Energy Department. The city used this money to design and implement a modern energy infrastructure, with benefits continuing well into the future.

Initially, the city set its sights on energy audits of municipal buildings with the highest energy intensities. Retrofit and upgrade plans aimed to achieve maximum energy savings and lower utility costs, then use those savings to finance even more energy upgrades and activities. The result: New Bedford saved approximately $600,000 in energy costs in the first two years. Now the effort has evolved into a citywide energy-savings performance contract designed to finance the energy efficiency retrofits of 70 municipal buildings and 8,000 streetlights — plus the adoption of additional clean technology applications.

In September 2010, New Bedford took this success one step further, developing a strategy to produce 25 percent of municipally consumed electricity from solar energy. To pay for the solar panel installations, the city leveraged other funding sources. By the end of this summer, New Bedford will have more than 16.25 megawatts of installed solar capacity — capable of producing an estimated 20.7 million kilowatt hours of energy a year. The city’s solar arrays will supply approximately 52 percent of its municipally consumed electricity (more than double the city’s original goal), saving New Bedford nearly $700,000 a year in electricity costs.

New Bedford hasn’t just focused on improving the efficiency of city-owned buildings, though. To help residential and business sectors streamline efficiency, solar and energy educational efforts, the city created an umbrella program called New Bedford Energy Now. This program has led to energy efficiency upgrades at 300 homes and small businesses; nearly 40 residential solar system installations; and more than 2,400 residents participating in an education program to reduce energy consumption.

Aided by a new vision and comprehensive plan for clean energy deployment, New Bedford permanently funded the New Bedford Energy Office — the entity responsible for designing implementing the city’s energy efficiency and renewable energy programs — in July 2012. The office continues to stimulate economic and community revitalization through energy efficiency and renewable energy strategies. Whenever possible, the city employs local labor and uses locally sourced materials to maximize the economic benefits of the energy strategy and project.