On Feb. 12, the Montpelier City Council accepted and endorsed a recommendation by the Montpelier Energy Advisory Committee for the city to commit to becoming a “net zero” community by 2030. This means that in 15 years, Montpelier’s renewable energy production will offset all of its usage.
This “net zero” term is a way of talking about a future in which we consume only energy that can be produced renewably (net zero fossil fuel use). To get there will be the result of a long series of public and personal choices that will totally transform our understanding and use of electricity, heating and transportation. In the words of Mayor John Hollar, it’s a big deal.
Because Montpelier has already taken steps toward this goal, and now with the net zero policy, our city has established a leadership position for forward-thinking communities around the country. Montpelier is rising to the forefront of municipal and regional governments that recognize the benefits of achieving greater energy independence while reducing our climate impacts.
We enjoy this leadership position because we have already accomplished a lot. The recent completion of the first phase of the biomass district heat project is one example of Montpelier’s success in moving forward on net zero goals while creating opportunities for future action. Already, the City Hall complex, one of Montpelier’s schools and several private sector buildings are connected to the wood-fired boilers operated by the state.
Last summer’s construction and installation of this system through our streets will now let our downtown shops and offices take advantage of this lower-cost, locally sourced energy supply.
Montpelier is also moving forward to lower its electric bill through the installation of significant solar generation capacity. The city will be reviewing a series of proposals for “city net metering” that provide almost enough solar generation to power all the city’s electric demand, including the water treatment and sewer plants. This capacity could be on line before the end of this year.
Residents of Montpelier should also be proud that so many homeowners have already taken the steps necessary to reduce their need for heating fuels by weatherizing their houses. According to Efficiency Vermont, 14 percent of Montpelier homes have completed weatherization activities, putting us among the top communities across the state. We estimate that those weatherization activities have already reduced our fuel purchases by almost $700,000 a year.
As a city and as citizens, we all have a lot of motivation for pursuing this net zero goal. It combines our personal priorities to encourage positive economics and energy independence, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Montpelier residents and businesses currently spend more than $20 million annually for purchasing energy resources — electricity for domestic and business uses and fuel for heating and transportation. And most of that money leaves the local economy for major corporate energy providers. These net zero strategies will help keep money flowing locally.
None of this happens unless you join with this public goal as your personal priority. The Montpelier City Council and the Montpelier Energy Advisory Committee recognize that the projects to get us to the net zero goal are going to require enthusiastic participation from city residents and business owners.
To support that participation, the energy committee will actively reach out to engage all our residents in this effort. We will help the city provide information and opportunities for project participation. We will work with the city to create projects and developments that will keep pushing our effort to make Montpelier a recognized national leader in energy sustainability.
As part of this effort we will provide monthly articles to The Times Argus describing in more detail the benefits of our city’s continuing progress in meeting the goals. Check out these pieces for suggestions and projects through which citizens and business owners can take advantage of growing opportunities to reduce energy costs and generate renewable sources.
This big a project can’t exist on its own. Net Zero Montpelier relies on our partnership organizations that share our goals. Our partners already include the Energy Action Network (itself a coalition of energy organizations), Green Mountain Power (your electric utility), The Vermont Energy Investment Corp. (Efficiency Vermont) along with local solar developers, the Agency of Transportation and a number of other interests. From these partnerships we will get support for exciting projects such as GMP’s pilot project offering Montpelierites low-temperature heat pumps for home heating. Efficiency Vermont’s expertise and capacities in weatherization and finance are crucial to this effort. As the scope of our energy projects moves forward, additional institutional partners will join the mix so that Montpelier can benefit from the wide range of expertise necessary and available.
Mayor Hollar is correct — this is a big deal. And the Energy Advisory Committee, through its experience in promoting the district heat plant and extensive homeowner weatherization activities, knows that every step we take needs to make economic sense for all our citizens and businesses. Before we are done, this net zero commitment will require millions of dollars of investment in infrastructure, housing and renewable energy generation. The Energy Advisory Committee will help the City Council plan and incubate initiatives that will allow our city to respond to constantly emerging energy and economic challenges. We will be helping to design projects so that each of the investments provides Montpelier residents and business owners a return. Sometimes, this will mean reduced energy costs; sometimes dividends from community-owned energy capacity and sometimes in the pride that comes from making our small city remarkable.
The next 15 years in Montpelier will be exciting as we move aggressively to become a national leader in practical energy renewal and conservation which will result in Montpelier staking its claim as the country’s first net zero capital.
Ken Jones and Dan Jones are members of the Montpelier Energy Advisory Committee.
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