Public Input is Crucial to Crafting Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan

Public Input is Crucial to Crafting Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan

This essay by VNRC Energy Program Director, Johanna Miller ran in the July 17 edition of the Times Argus/Rutland Herald.

The many significant energy challenges facing Vermont — and the world — involve difficult issues related to energy supply, generation, costs, environmental considerations and more. An effective response to these challenges must be strategic, proactive and realistic.

The situation here in Vermont is exacerbated by the likelihood of the state’s aging nuclear reactor going offline in 2012 as scheduled. This, in addition to rising fuel prices and the impacts of global climate change, forces us to make different and difficult choices about how we power our lives.

That’s why it is so important that the state of Vermont is updating its Comprehensive Energy Plan.

While Vermont is required by law to craft and adopt an energy plan that looks forward 20 years and update it every five, the state has been without an officially adopted plan since 1998. Since then the world’s energy challenges have intensified, a process that is accelerating in the face of climate change pressures. So when the Shumlin administration took office this past January, many Vermonters applauded the Governor’s out-of-the-gate announcement that this important guiding document would be updated.

“Under the Douglas administration and his Department of Public Service Commissioner, it’s as if we were living in a state of denial when it came to clean energy and climate change action,” commented Keith Dewey, an architect by trade and a longtime advocate for green, model solutions.

At a recent public hearing on the plan, frustrated by the lack of state leadership, Dewey reported how he’d taken action into his own hands. The self-proclaimed middle class Vermonter refinanced his house to invest in solar photovoltaic panels, an efficient, environmentally friendly outdoor wood/corn pellet boiler system and energy efficiency upgrades. Now his rural Weston home no longer relies on fossil fuels.

At a series of four public hearings on the plan this past June, hundreds of Vermonters turned out to describe actions they too had taken on energy issues and to make their voices heard on the kinds of policy, programs and practical solutions they hope the state will embrace when updating the plan.

The Department of Public Service, the state agency charged with coordinating the planning process and crafting the plan, welcomed the input.

“We need a comprehensive energy plan that Vermonters can embrace and help implement,” said DPS Commissioner Elizabeth Miller. “That’s why it has been so important for us as we undertake this process to hear from the public about the kinds of energy solutions and strategies the state should prioritize.”

The DPS is charged with crafting a plan that will: “assure, to the greatest extent practicable, that Vermont can meet its energy service needs in a manner that is adequate, reliable, secure and sustainable; that assures affordability and encourages the state’s economic vitality, the efficient use of energy resources and cost effective demand side management; and that is environmentally sound.”

Achieving this goal will be no small feat. There are no easy solutions to meeting Vermont’s energy needs. That’s why DPS is coordinating closely with many state agencies, including Commerce and Community Development, Transportation, Natural Resources, Agriculture and others, as well as garnering as much input from key stakeholder groups and the general public as possible.

The four public forums in June were hosted in Montpelier, Springfield, Rutland and Colchester by the DPS, Vermont Natural Resources Council, the Vermont Energy and Climate Action Network and local regional planning commissions. The goal was to hear from Vermonters working hard at the grassroots level on energy issues, including town energy committee leaders.

At each forum, an engaged network of Vermonters turned out to hear an overview from Commissioner Miller on Vermont’s energy landscape. In focused and facilitated small group sessions, attendees also offered their input and ideas on the state’s energy direction.

“Vermonters at all of these sessions offered great input and bold ideas on how to address energy in all the ways that we need to; electric supply and demand, home and business heating, transportation and land use,” noted Commissioner Miller. “Now the challenge is to turn that into a comprehensive energy plan that Vermonters can embrace, with both short-and long-term strategies, to help shape the markets and necessary public policy to implement it.”

It’s clear from the forums that there is a tremendous need to turn the state’s energy challenges into opportunity and develop a clean energy economy. It’s also clear that Vermonters are ready to step up and help the state undertake this significant task.

“A comprehensive state energy plan is essential. It serves as an umbrella, a guiding framework, so that our work at the local level can feed into the goals and expectations of the state,” said Donna Fialkoff, a Shelburne Energy Committee member who attended the Colchester public forum. “This plan needs to be taken seriously and implemented, and our town energy committee will be part of making sure that happens.”

The CEP team is creating the 2011 Public Review Draft to be released in mid-August and continues to seek input from stakeholders and the public. Visit the Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan Web site to review the working draft and submit your comments.

Visit the Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan website at