By Johanna Miller
Vermont’s capital city recently announced their intention to make Montpelier the first net-zero capital in the country. Their goal? By 2030, stop using fossil fuels completely and meet all of Montpelier’s heating, electricity and transportation needs through renewable energy sources and efficiency.
It’s an ambitious goal that was endorsed unanimously by the city council and is being championed by the mayor. “It sets a new direction for Montpelier’s energy future that will provide the opportunity for every citizen to engage,” said Montpelier Mayor John Hollar.
With an active grassroots energy committee, an engaged, informed citizenry and a broadly supported commitment to action on the issue, Montpelier is well positioned to meet this goal. More than 15% of the city’s housing units have already undertaken comprehensive energy efficiency projects; all city street lights have been upgraded to high efficiency LEDs; the city is pursuing solar to meet a majority of its electricity needs; and a biomass district heating project, which will serve 37 downtown buildings (with ample room to grow), is nearing completion.
There is far more to do, but real commitment to doing what it takes. This effort has the kinds of key partners that will be required to drive aggressive investments in energy efficiency, and transition away from fossil fuels. The state’s energy-efficiency utility, Efficiency Vermont, and its largest utility, Green Mountain Power, were early champions of the effort.
“This initiative signals a transformation in how Vermont’s cities and towns will use energy,” said Mary Powell, president and chief executive officer of Green Mountain Power. “Deploying new technologies in our cities and towns will have economic and environmental benefits for all Vermonters.”
Success depends, first and foremost, on shrinking the size of the “pie” needed to feed the city’s energy appetite.
“Conservation (using less energy) and efficiency (using energy more efficiently) are the foundation of any winning strategy to move as swiftly and affordably off…fossil fuels as possible,” said Dan Jones, Chair of the city-appointed, volunteer Montpelier Energy Advisory Committee, which is working hard to shape and advance this effort.
Many clean energy opportunities for residents, the city and local businesses are already underway, including:
- Guidance, incentives, and support by Efficiency Vermont to help homeowners reduce their energy usage and make their homes “net-zero ready”:
- The extension of Green Mountain Power’s successful heat pump pilot program and “Solar Heat” opportunities offered by companies like SunCommon to help people transition off increasingly expensive fossil fuels for heating their homes and businesses. The cost to run a heat pump to heat a building is, on average, one-half to one-third of the cost of traditional fossil fuel-based heating sources.
- Green Mountain Power’s effort to work with the city and other partners to locate multiple electric vehicle charging stations in the city;
- The development of an energy road map by Efficiency Vermont and the city for all municipal facilities, including exploring the opportunity to design the new downtown transit center to net zero standards;
- Green loans with discounted rates and extended terms offered by VSECU.
- A collaboration between Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services and Efficiency Vermont to significantly reduce energy usage in Montpelier’s state buildings;
- A potential group net-metered solar project, installed by AllEarth Renewables and hosted at GMP’s Montpelier property, which would provide power to some local nonprofits including the Vermont Natural Resources Council and Vermont Land Trust.
Beyond these and other efforts afoot, the local energy committee is working closely with partners and city officials to explore and rollout opportunities for residents. The Energy Action Network (EAN), a diverse, member-based organization that first conceived of Net Zero Montpelier (NZM), is working to create a “Community Energy Dashboard” for Montpelier and other Vermont communities. This tool will provide Montpelier officials, businesses and local residences access to baseline information and the ability to track their energy consumption. It will be key to measuring and assessing progress toward the ambitious net-zero goal.
“The hope is that this effort will help change the conversation from piecemeal, small reforms to a system-wide transformation of Montpelier’s energy investments and infrastructure,” said Andrea Colnes, executive director of EAN. “Through this project Montpelier and Vermont will again lead by example and inspire other cities across the US towards a new energy system based on efficiency and renewables.”
“The reality is that fossil fuels are finite, and the sooner we make the inevitable transition to a clean energy future, the better off we will be economically and environmentally,” said Jones. “It won’t be easy, and it will require the collaboration of all Montpelier residents, businesses and diverse partners to make it a reality, but it will be more than worth it.”
Johanna Miller is the Energy Program Director at the Vermont Natural Resources Council and member of the Montpelier Energy Advisory Committee. For more information on Net Zero Montpelier visit www.eanvt.org/net-zero-montpelier.