Starting or joining a town energy committee (TEC) is one of the most effective ways to take action on energy and climate change in your community. TECs are the “boots-on-the-ground” energy and climate action leaders pushing clean energy strategies and charting a viable transition away from fossil-based fuels toward a more affordable, livable and sustainable future in Vermont.
Vermonters spend nearly $2 billion annually on fossil fuel-based energy, with nearly all of this money leaving the state. Though traditionally inexpensive, fossil fuels continue to become more expensive as the cheaper conventional fuels (like regular crude oil) dwindle and unconventional sources (like oil extracted from shale formations or tar sands) require more energy and money to extract. And, continued reliance on fossil fuels puts more heat trapping gasses, like carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere, impacting Vermont in the form of increased frequency of extreme weather events. Tropical Storm Irene, for example, resulted in dozens of deaths and hundreds of millions in clean up and recovery costs.
In response to these challenges, many Vermont communities have formed town energy committees to help inform and implement community-level solutions. A TEC consists of local volunteers who meet regularly to develop clean energy and climate action strategies for their municipality. State statute recognizes the need for this kind of local leadership by enabling Selectboards and City Councils to appoint a town energy committee or coordinator. Generally, TECs work closely with town officials, helping with research, energy inventories, community outreach and education, developing the energy chapter of the municipal plan, and guiding clean and sustainable energy strategies.
Committees can be structured in three ways: ad hoc, a subcommittee of an existing municipal committee (i.e. work under a planning or conservation commission), or an independent municipal committee or task force appointed by and responding to the Selectboard or City Council. The process of selecting the appropriate committee structure may depend on such factors as buy-in from your local government, the municipality’s capacity to “staff” the committee, volunteer capacity, the complexity of the projects that will likely be undertaken, or the most strategic way to advance your short- and long-term goals.
Role and Impact
TECs may develop, propose and help implement a wide range of energy and climate projects and initiatives. This makes members of a TEC key local resources for both town officials and residents. Having local “experts” to guide decision-making on energy issues, as well as to help create an easier path to clean energy, builds community cohesion around solutions. Data from Efficiency Vermont has shown that communities with established, functioning energy committees have greater energy efficiency savings and have shown marked success in undertaking energy initiatives, compared to towns without committees. Truly, TECs change the energy and climate conversation in local communities.
Vermont Energy and Climate Action Network (VECAN)
Local TECs can connect to a growing network of over 100 committees from around the state – the Vermont Energy and Climate Action Network (VECAN). VECAN includes a collaborative of organizations that work to support TECs through organizing, networking, training and resource-sharing opportunities; hosting an annual conference and regional roundtables on timely topics; hosting and managing an online information and resource hub; providing direct technical expertise; supporting strategic campaigns to drive action; and providing resources or connecting people to resources. This network allows TECs to participate both at the local and state level, thereby enhancing Vermont’s collective energy and climate action profile. This places Vermont’s TECs at the foundation of the state’s energy and climate action movement.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
- TECs can take different forms. When deciding on the best structure for your community, consider the attitude and support of local government towards committee efforts, the municipality’s capacity to “staff” the committee, volunteer capacity, the complexity of the project, or the most strategic way to advance your short- and long-term goals.
- Whether ad-hoc or appointed, TECs that work closely with town officials have the greatest success.
- TECs are supported by a collaborative of organizations from around the state as well as by regional planning commissions.
- With over 100 existing TECs, there is a lot to glean from the experience and success of VECAN members.
- Stay connected with VECAN through email and social media to stay apprised of timely opportunities and have access to regular support.
Related Case Studies
VECAN Vermont Energy and Climate Action Network