Energy Solutions for Communities


Energy Solutions for Communities

In brief

It’s always better—and cheaper—to reduce energy consumption than to produce energy. The most cost effective approach to decreasing energy consumption is conservation. Vermont’s planning and development goals (24 V.S.A. Chapter 117) call for individual communities to “encourage the efficient use of energy,” and municipalities have many opportunities to do this. These include supporting and encouraging town energy committees, retrofitting municipal buildings, establishing efficiency goals and policies, and identifying implementation strategies.

The issue

Energy efficiency and conservation provide direct economic benefits to communities. By reducing monthly bills, efficiency can improve the bottom line for municipalities, residents, and businesses. In addition, efficiency can help keep money local: While approximately $0.80 of every dollar spent on energy efficiency remains in Vermont, $0.80 of every dollar spent to purchase energy leaves the state. Keeping money local boosts local economies, since money saved circulates in the local economy. Efficiency can have a direct impact, too: Weatherization retrofits create jobs that support local workers.

Terms to know…

Energy conservation means taking steps and adopting habits that decrease the amount of energy used.

Energy efficiency means using improved technology to decrease energy demand.

According to Vermont’s 2011 Comprehensive Energy Plan, every dollar invested in energy efficiency returns nearly five dollars in the form of direct benefits. Highlighting real benefits like these can help increase community support of efficiency projects. Still, motivating investment in energy efficiency can be challenging because the long-term benefits can be hard to evaluate against the up front costs. This is where a municipality’s role in educating community members—via town energy committees and by leading through example—can make a difference. There are also a variety of efficiency programs and financial incentives to ease the financial burden of making improvements. Below are some of Vermont’s programs and strategies for improving energy efficiency.

Efficiency Vermont: Efficiency Vermont, Vermont’s “energy efficiency utility,” coordinates electricity and thermal (home heating) efficiency programs across Vermont. A big part of their work is helping businesses, municipalities, and homeowners determine their eligibility for incentive programs. Municipalities may be eligible for programs and incentives to improve interior lighting, heating and cooling systems, building efficiency, (i.e., through weatherization) street lighting, cold climate heat pumps, and municipal facilities and equipment.

Local energy committees and VECAN: Many communities are taking a grassroots approach to help community members to take action on energy issues, and the number is growing. These town energy committees, primarily volunteers, are working locally to advance efficiency, conservation and renewable energy. Energy committees encourage individual action as well as community-wide transformation. These changes produce long-term benefits for the community—both financially and by increasing energy independence. The Vermont Energy and Climate Action Network (VECAN) – the umbrella of energy committees and organizations in Vermont – supports and enhances these local efforts.

Weatherizing homes and municipal buildings: Heating costs for buildings are one of the biggest motivators for improving building efficiency. With nearly 40% of Vermont’s homes built over 50 years ago, it is a priority to retrofit homes and buildings to make them more airtight, more efficient, and less leaky. This is especially important because, according to the US Census Bureau, over 50% of homes are heated with fuel oil in Vermont, compared with only 7% nationwide. This has a huge impact on housing affordability, and, despite the recent decline, has been steadily increasing over time. The winter of 2011-2012 saw a 10% increase in prices with only a 1% decrease in usage.

In sum, there are many energy solutions for communities that can increase municipal energy efficiency and reduce consumption, and municipalities, working with local energy committees, can be an example of successful energy independence.

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2006-2010 American Community Survey)

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