In pandemic year, community partnerships adjusted to promote energy efficiency, resilience
Efficiency Vermont is wrapping up a year of partnerships in six communities across Vermont, bringing together energy service providers and community groups to expand access to money and energy saving solutions. The program, which in previous years has featured a concentrated effort to have Efficiency Vermont staff make frequent in-person visits to communities, adapted to the challenges of COVID-19 and moved much of its engagement to virtual platforms.
2020 was the fifth year of the program, a collaborative effort launched by Efficiency Vermont and the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) to bring efficiency solutions directly to residents in selected communities around the state. Residents, businesses, and non-profits in Brighton, Island Pond, Irasburg, Barton, Orleans, and Barre City were eligible for free home energy visits – which moved to virtual visits in the wake of the pandemic – and small businesses consultations with an efficiency expert. They also had access to enhanced incentives to bring down the cost of efficiency upgrades.
In total, 19 communities have partnered with Efficiency Vermont since the program launched in 2016, and nine new communities have been selected for 2021.
“This effort is built on a simple but powerful concept: Being good listeners,” said Michelle McCutcheon-Schour, Efficiency Vermont Customer Engagement Lead. “By spending more time getting to know individual residents, business owners, and leaders, and really listening to their concerns and priorities, Efficiency Vermont can customize solutions that help more people save energy and money, and make their indoor spaces healthier and more comfortable. In the end, this helps communities become more resilient in challenging times like this pandemic.”
Partnerships key during pandemic
Despite shutdowns and social distancing restrictions, local organizers helped Efficiency Vermont reach out and engage with more than 150 Vermonters through virtual and in-person home and business energy visits to identify savings opportunities and connect Vermonters to efficiency solutions, incentives, and qualified contractors.
These community-based efforts rely on many local partners. In Barton and Orleans, for example, Efficiency Vermont worked closely with the local utilities and the Vermont Public Power Authority (VPPSA) to offer incentives, technical expertise, and resources to help residents weatherize and invest in efficient technology. In Barre City, Efficiency Vermont and Green Mountain Power (GMP) partnered to help residents and businesses access incentives for heat pumps and other efficient products. In each of the communities, Efficiency Vermont worked with the local municipal government, Chamber of Commerce, and Regional Planning Commission.
Other key partner organizations in the 2020 program included Vermont Council on Rural Development, Vermont Electric Co-op (VEC), Vermont Energy & Climate Action Network (VECAN), and VGS.
Helping municipal projects move forward
The program expanded its impact by offering bonus programs to municipal governments. By upgrading to more energy efficient technologies, municipalities can save money for the communities they serve. Towns made a range of upgrades through this bonus program, which covered 100 percent of project costs up to $4,000. Some towns opted to upgrade electric motors to more efficient options, while others upgraded to LED lights, and still others invested in smart thermostats and heat pumps. In every case these upgrades lowered the cost of operating public buildings and facilities.
The Village of Orleans focused its efforts on upgrading its wastewater treatment facility, which uses as much as 10 times more than other municipal facilities in Orleans. Town Manager John Morley and VPPSA had begun working with engineering firm Aldrich & Elliot to identify savings opportunities, but upfront costs were prohibitive.
The municipal bonus Efficiency Vermont offered through the community partnership effort helped clear the cost obstacle and the project moved forward.
“This project was proof that when everyone works together with a common goal, we can do amazing things in a short amount of time,” said Morley. “We will feel the benefits of this project for many years to come.”
“All of the partners came together at exactly the right time to help the facility save energy and money,” added VPPSA Communications Specialist Julia Leopold. “It was a perfect storm of partnership.”
Island Pond food shelf improves efficiency, builds resilience
In Island Pond, Pastor Neil Perry of the Green Mountain Bible Church recognized early that the pandemic could lead to rising unemployment and increased food insecurity in his community. He identified that the food shelf run by his church might not be able to meet the increased need.
Efficiency Vermont Community Engagement Manager Paul Grenier learned of Perry’s concerns after talking to local leaders, and the two soon connected. Efficiency Vermont helped the church buy two new efficient refrigerators, with freezers, that now help the church more effectively and affordably store produce and other perishable items until they can be distributed to families.
“We are very thankful,” said Perry. “We were able to remove three inefficient freezers and two inefficient refrigerators and streamline our food storage system.”
The new appliances are expected to save the food shelf $650 per year to reinvest in other services the church offers to help the community be more resilient.
New towns announced for 2021 community partnership
As the 2020 program was winding down in the fall, Efficiency Vermont worked with key stakeholders, including VCRD, VEC, GMP, VPPSA, ACCD, VGS, and VECAN to select communities for the 2021 effort. This year’s program will focus on communities in the Mad River Valley and Deerfield Valley regions, whose economies are heavily dependent on tourism, and have been impacted by necessary restrictions due to COVID-19:
Mad River Valley
A dedicated Efficiency Vermont community manager will work with each community to create community-specific goals, execute outreach and educational activities, identify new efficiency opportunities, and support local businesses, municipalities, and nonprofits in making efficiency upgrades with enhanced incentives. Community residents will have access to in-depth energy consultations throughout 2021.
About Efficiency Vermont
As the nation’s first Energy Efficiency Utility, Efficiency Vermont has helped Vermont avoid over 12.5 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions and has received the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR Program for sustained excellence award for the last six consecutive years. Efficiency Vermont works with partners to help our state transition to more affordable, low carbon energy use through education, incentives, and support for our clean energy workforce. Learn more at www.efficiencyvermont.com.
Phone: (802) 540-7662