.By Sue Deppe and Bill Dunnington Colchester Energy Task Force
With several new town staff and selectboard members in place, there’s a new energy around. And there’s a new energy plan to help us save energy and money while the town continues to grow as a green community.
The Colchester Energy Task Force is pleased to announce that a newly drafted Colchester Energy Plan is available for your review on the Town website: www.colchestervt.gov. Town staff and selectboard members have had a peek, and as they are reviewing it, we invite you to have a look and offer your input.
The task force is building on success — and turning a page. With all the changes afoot in energy across Vermont, it’s time to raise our game.
First, some history. Since 2008, the Colchester Energy Task Force has been working to promote energy conservation, efficiency and renewable energy. This small volunteer group has done public education, a Button Up evening, campaigns on CFL lighting, recycling, composting, and other projects. One member wrote many newspaper articles to educate people about climate change and ways to save energy. One helped to implement an eco-driving curriculum. Another inventoried all of the streetlights in town. We have been grateful for the assistance and collaboration of town and school staff, and many other people.
Deb Sachs, founder and principal at EcoStrategies, was engaged to help obtain federal Recovery Act funding for, and to guide, four projects. The first was a project to install new, efficient LED lighting in some of the school parking lots, saving thousands of dollars per year. With Deb’s help, the town went on to get additional funds to finish the schools and to change all of the street lighting to LEDs. After payoff, these will save taxpayers $1.3 million over 20 years!
We are now seeing the savings impact in the budget. The task force helped CHS to get a new Prius and an eco-driving curriculum for driver education. Now the school has a second Prius and is saving even more on fuel. An assessment of wind resources was done, and showed less potential for wind in Colchester than for solar. The final component of our grant was a draft energy plan, recently updated and released for comment. With this plan, we are really upping our game!
We in Vermont are extremely dependent on fossil fuels. Many millions of dollars leave Colchester every year to buy heating oil, diesel, gasoline, propane and natural gas. Using less energy and generating clean, local energy will keep money in the community and help to protect our environment and quality of life. At the same time we can support economic growth and build resilience against climate change and energy insecurity.
The new Energy Plan is in line with the state goal of 20 percent renewable by 2020. Reaching this challenging level will strengthen the whole community. There are enormous opportunities to save money and protect ourselves from volatile fuel prices. You can leverage energy as an economic development tool. The proposals work in many settings and invite collaboration among many parties and individuals.
We propose a variety of initiatives. For example, NeighborWorks H.E.A.T. Squad in Rutland County has shown that weatherization projects such as insulating and air sealing can save homeowners an average of about one third on home heating costs with affordable financing. Why shouldn’t all Colchester residents and businesses have the same benefits?
Until recently, there were few alternatives to fossil fuels for space heating. Now, efficient electric air source heat pumps (mini-splits) are available. Simply switching from oil or propane heat to mini-splits helps families and businesses cut their heating costs roughly in half. These ductless systems can be used for air conditioning, too. A project to help finance and install mini-splits — as well as to weatherize homes and businesses — could save enormous amounts of energy and money.
Installation and weatherization using local certified contractors would create many jobs. Adding solar photovoltaic capacity to generate the electricity locally would create yet more jobs, savings, and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The installed price of solar has decreased markedly over the past four years, and financial and tax incentives are available. The Energy Plan builds on those factors to increase renewable energy capacity.
Transportation is Vermont’s largest energy sector. The plan calls for energy savings by ride-sharing, van-pooling, increasing public transit, walking and biking. We could create a consortium to train local people to convert commercial and personal vehicles to electric so people could save even more money and greenhouse gas emissions.
The commercial sector has enormous opportunities for energy savings. Nearly two-thirds of Colchester’s electricity use is in the business and commercial sector. So the plan proposes to develop programs for shared services purchasing, enhanced energy management services, and solar net metering in business parks.
These are only a few of the possibilities! Check out the plan on the town website. Look for information sessions as projects get launched over the next few months. Join the Energy Task Force or help with a specific project. Contact Sue Deppe at 658-7441 or firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas. Thank you in advance for your contributions.
Colchester’s taking energy to a whole new level. Join us!