Can energy efficiency serve Vermont downtowns?
What do you think of when you turn your mind’s eye to the idea of a Vermont downtown? Do you imagine the storefronts and granite monuments of Barre? Maybe you think of The Herald of Randolph building, publishing local news and views since 1875? Am I the only one that sees abundant opportunities for energy savings? With older building stock comes character and history as well as a great opportunity to update and bring efficient technologies to bear. I believe that with these improvements our downtowns can be prosperous and vital for many years to come. As the state’s energy efficiency utility, Efficiency Vermont is here to help our downtowns save energy and money.
But, where do we start? How can we partner and innovate with Vermont communities to be sure that energy efficiency is being of service to them? When it comes to energy efficiency, one of the things we hear from individuals and businesses is that they do not know where to start. How can we help and make sure it doesn’t feel like there is a bundle of red tape and roadblocks? If we want to partner to restore downtowns to their former glory as the heart of community activity, then it is critical to listen and learn from our partners in Vermont towns and cities. After all, they have the insight, historical perspective, and frankly the finger on the pulse of their communities.
Through my job as an account manager at Efficiency Vermont, I was lucky enough to spend time crisscrossing our state to meet with many of the Vermont state-Designated Downtowns. A designated downtown is a community that is participating in the state program that supports local revitalization efforts with technical assistance and state funding. My visits to these historic downtowns were a lot of fun, and a great opportunity to learn about the people, the partnerships and - yes – the buildings, that are at the heart of our communities.
Through partnerships with the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) the Vermont communities labeled as designated downtowns work to preserve and revitalize their historic centers and create stronger communities. Local community development agencies work to promote small business growth, increase employment opportunities, raise property values, and improve quality of life.
The perfect time to integrate energy efficient technologies and practices is while revitalization efforts are already underway. Through the designated downtown program local businesses may have access to capital and could be renovating spaces that can easily add insulation, equipment upgrades, or other efficiency improvements.
In towns and cities all over Vermont there is a huge amount of untapped energy saving potential. We want to make the multiple benefits of energy efficiency accessible and achievable.
In early 2016, we announced that we will focus these efforts in four Vermont state-designated downtowns as part a new pilot project. The towns of Bennington, Randolph, Barre, and Hartford/White River Junction were all chosen to be part of the pilot program. We are making a sustained six month focus in each of the four pilot project towns.
The beginning of 2016 has seen our work with Randolph and Bennington get underway. We’ve been partnering with the Randolph Area Community Development Corporation (RACD), the Better Bennington Corporation (BBC) and Bennington Chamber of Commerce to get the word out and put us in touch with businesses, homeowners, and other community members that might have energy saving opportunities. We’re learning a lot about how to map out opportunities and listen to the needs of communities. One critical piece of our work has been maintaining a constant presence in each town. We’ve learned that while there are many similarities, each town is unique, and will involve some innovative energy saving solutions. For instance, while one town may need to focus on retail environments in the town center, others will have more manufacturing facilities than others. We’ve been pleased to find opportunities to help improve the housing stock in mobile home communities as well. The RADC, BBC, and Bennington Chamber have proven to be the doorway into their communities and their leadership, experience, and creativity is invaluable as we learn together how energy efficiency can be of service as we strengthen communities.