Sunday, May 10, 2009

Vermont's Times Argus . Com, Energy Committees Forming, Can We Agree To Call These Committees Energy Conservation Committees_Green Earl

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GROUP EFFORTS More towns adopt energy committees
By GORDON DRITSCHILO Staff Writer - Published: May 10, 2009

Hartford may halve its street lights. Norwich may generate its own power. And several towns and cities are helping residents figure out how to use less power.

Local environmental committees figure prominently in each of these programs. Such bodies are appearing in more statewide. Created by selectboards, the committees look at energy use in town.

And the results seem to be paying off.

Karen Horn, director of public policy and advocacy for the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, said the state has at least 75 municipal energy committees. Recently passed state laws make it easier for towns to create and maintain such groups, she said.

"Last spring, there was a real surge," she said. "It's sort of climbing all the time."

The committees are distributed roughly evenly throughout the state, she said, and are fairly active.

"Last summer, when the price of home heating fuel was through the roof, there was a lot of activity with environmental committees providing wood to people, getting fuel assistance to residents. There was a lot going on this summer."

Montpelier's energy committee, for example, has set a goal of reducing the city's dependency on oil by 80 percent.

"It's based on what the scientific community feels is necessary to reduce greenhouse gases," committee member Ken Jones said.

They are taking a two-pronged approach. Jones said weatherizing homes and small business reduces their heating needs by an average of 30 percent. With most homes using heating oil, Jones said the committee also wants to encourage switching to wood pellets and started a wood pellet co-op.

The committee also works to provide home energy audits, in which a professional certified by Efficiency Vermont maps where a building loses most of its heat so the owner can target those areas for weatherization.

Using a grant, the committee gave 40 homeowners $125 of the $250 to $300 cost of the audit. With weatherization itself costing $5,000 to $15,000, the committee is training local volunteers to do some of the improvements themselves, cutting the cost to the homeowner.

"In my case, the cost was $11,000," Jones said. "By doing some of the work with help, I got the cash cost down to $6,000."

Jones said both homeowners and volunteers sign liability waivers.

Montpelier's committee also is in the early stages of a plan to provide heat and electricity to the downtown area by either helping improve a state heating facility or building a municipal one.

Norwich's committee began looking into municipal power generation after someone approached the town about a project in Washington state.

"The basic idea is to create a larger-scale project that anyone in town can invest in, as opposed to putting solar panels on their own house," committee chairman Alan Berolzheimer said.

With a technical assistance grant from the state's Clean Energy Development Fund, Berolzheimer said Norwich will hire consultants to look at sites in town for a solar or wind project, and then provide basic specifications and cost estimates.

Berolzheimer said they also have to figure out how the project would be governed.

"A co-op is one possibility," he said. "Having the town administer the operation is another."

Lori Hirshfield, planning and development director for Hartford, said that town's energy commission helped do a comprehensive review of its 562 street lights, identifying 217 that could be eliminated and areas where the lights could be better arranged.

Bob Walker, who runs the Thetford-based nonprofit Sustainable Energy Resource Group, said he has helped a number of energy committees find programs to implement.

"We like to start committees on something easily achievable," he said. "An easy one that a lot of committees do early on is to have an educational table and sell some compact fluorescent light bulbs."

The efficient light bulbs use one-quarter the energy of regular bulbs, Walker said, so the savings is easily noticeable to the consumer. From there, he said committees often move on to educational programs, especially on home heating.

Blair Hamilton, director of the executive team at Efficiency Vermont, said his organization promotes the notion of local environmental committees.

"I have felt for a long time that there is a tremendous amount of power in communities," he said. "When communities decide to do things, it's a very effective mechanism to make things happen."

Over the last five years or so, Hamilton said, communities have increasingly identified energy issues as something they want to address at the local level. He said many Vermonters want more done than they see at higher levels.

"People have not thought the federal government is necessarily going to solve these problems or, for that matter, the state government," he said. "Maybe they have to do something at the community level."

Hamilton said polling by the Public Service Department shows Vermonters not only overwhelmingly want more done with energy efficiency and renewable energy, but are also willing to pay for it.

Hamilton said an effort in one town can inspire others.

A few years ago, he said Efficiency Vermont did a program in Poultney, challenging the town to get a single compact fluorescent light bulb in every single business and home in town. If the town succeeded, the group said it would fund efficiency upgrades at a town building.

A hardware store gave away one bulb to everyone who came in, and students from Green Mountain College tracked participants on a checklist. They heavily publicized the event, with students even going door to door. The town manager also helped, roping in stragglers.

"They actually got everybody in town," Hamilton said. "Every occupied building participated and on average they took four CFLs, not just one."

This inspired a group in Middlebury to attempt something similar, Hamilton said, and they distributed 5,000 bulbs in less than a day.

A student from Manchester went home and convinced his father to replace all 30 or 40 bulbs in the family's large house. The energy savings was so high, Hamilton said, that father and son organized a committee to distribute 40,000 of the bulbs through town.

Hamilton said he helped, though he did not think the group could do it. They did.

"This is unprecedented in the country for one community to do that," he said. "That committee has continued on in Manchester."

Jones said it works on an individual level as well — when people see their neighbors take steps, it builds confidence that solutions exist.

"I think it's clearly the path we need to go on," Jones said. "I can't imagine, 25 years from now, Vermonters are going to be using the same amount of heating oil. We have to take steps to get to that 25-year point."

Green Earl
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These Energy Conservation Committees Are Forming Across Our Nation
And Around The Globe...Does Your City Have One Yet?_Green Earl
Thanks For The Visit


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