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Group Urges Town Meeting Votes on Vermont Climate Agenda

“Vermont needs to do its part to cut down our emissions ... are not as effective in retro-fitted homes as was initially projected. “There’s no good bumper sticker,” he said. “It’s a bunch of nerds sitting down in a room and figuring it ...

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Hartford — Environmentalists are asking communities throughout the Upper Valley to put articles on their Town Meeting warnings that urge the Vermont state government to be more aggressive in combating climate change.Saying Vermont has made “insufficient progress” toward renewable energy goals, draft resolutions ask the state to ban the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructures, such as natural gas pipelines, and to step up efforts to transform the energy landscape for Vermonters.This week, the Hartford Selectboard became the first to consider putting such a measure on the March 2018 Town MeetingThough members voted, 5-1, in support of the concept, they said the language of the suggested resolution will need to be changed.That language was crafted by activists with 350 Vermont, the state chapter of the global climate activism network, which was co-founded by writer Bill McKibben in 2007Groups members say Thetford will likely be the next town to receive the request, with later plans to seek votes in Woodstock, Randolph and NorwichThat’s part of a wider effort that includes dozens of towns and cities across the state.Though it’s an unusual strategy, asking the public for a symbolic show of support could goad the state into doing more, according to Jaiel Pulskamp, a field organizer for the group.“This is really about building momentum and getting the grassroots shift to happen,” she said“Vermont needs to do its part to cut down our emissions.” In 2011, then-Vermont GovPeter Shumlin, a Democrat, unveiled an ambitious target of getting 90 percent of the state’s energy from renewable sources; since then, state lawmakers and regulatory agencies have used the goal to shape public policy in several areas, including the updating of building energy codes, the expansion of net metering programs that make solar energy more cost-effective for the user, and passing Act 56, which establishes a renewable energy standard.Under established benchmarks in the state’s 2016 Comprehensive Energy Plan, Vermont needs to achieve 25 percent renewable energy by 2025.“Frankly, we’re not really on track to hit that goal,” said Hartford Selectman Simon Dennis, one of five Selectboard members who on Tuesday night voted in favor of putting a climate change resolution on the ballot“It’s kind of progressively coming down, from the national level to the state level, and now we’re at the municipal level and we’re at an all-hands-on-deck historical moment.” According to the Comprehensive Energy Plan, Vermont got 16 percent of its energy from renewable sources in 2015; that is unchanged from the 16 percent cited for 2013, in a Department of Public Service report published in 2014.Though the measure passed on a 5-1 vote, with Selectboard Vice Chairman Dennis Brown opposed, several members questioned the wording of the resolution.Selectboard Chairman Dick Grassi said some of the terms, like a clause that urges the state to “ensure that the transition to renewable energy is fair and equitable for all residents,” lacks precision.“What the heck does that mean?” Grassi said“And who defines what’s fair and equitable to our residents?” Selectman Alan Johnson, who has an engineering background and has been very active on environmental issues, also questioned some of the wording, but said local action is needed.“This stuff starts local,” he said“It really is up to us to make it clear to the state, and the state to make it clear to the federal government.” Before voting against the measure, Brown said he didn’t think it was within the purview of the board.“We’re taking time to do thisI think of us dealing with local issues, Hartford issues..When the voters see this in March..I want them to know that we’re spending time on local issues here, and I think we’re drifting a bit,” Brown said.Laura Simon, a Hartford resident who brought the resolution to the Hartford Selectboard on behalf of 350 Vermont, said she had mixed feelings about its reception.“I left there discouraged, and realized we have so many people to talk to, to understand how serious this issue is,” she said.She said she’ll be watching to see what language is proposed by Town Manager Leo Pullar, who the Selectboard charged with vetting the resolution with the help of the town’s legal counsel.“I’m hopeful that they will keep the wording close, and the reason is, if you’re trying to say how many towns have passed this, you want to compare apples to apples,” Simon said.Simon and a handful of other residents spoke in favor of the resolution, and one resident spoke against.Advocates for the measure said there is no way to tell how much money the town spends to mitigate the impacts of climate change, which include efforts to protect its natural resources from invasive species and its road infrastructure from flooding.Though the state is at 16 percent renewables overall, the achievement rates have been very different in the three different energy sectorsElectricity is at about 45 percent renewable, while home heating is at 20 percent.By far, the lagging sector is transportation, which is currently at 5 percent renewable, given the continued reliance on gas-powered cars and trucks.Pulskamp said the state should be pushing harder to install electric vehicle charging stations, provide incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles, and step up public transportation efforts.“We could have more bus lines, more time slots on those bus lines,” she said.The completion of a 41-mile Vermont Gas pipeline extension into Addison County earlier this year, over objections from the environmental community, shows that the state still hasn’t gotten serious about stopping fossil fuels, Pulskamp said.But the state might not be as far behind the curve as it first appears, according to Ed McNamara, director of the Planning and Energy Resources Division at the Vermont Department of Public Service, which is tasked with much of the drudgework in crafting the state’s energy regulations.“We’re doing a lot of things behind the scenes that people haven’t seen, and it’s bad for us that it’s not transparent enough for folks to see it,” McNamara said“We haven’t been communicating well to say, here’s what we’re doing to achieve those goals.” McNamara said the challenges include how aggressively to pursue programs that could, in the long run, turn out to have been false starts, or dead endsFor example, he said, recent data shows that heat pumps, which have been hailed as an electricity based answer to home heating, are not as effective in retro-fitted homes as was initially projected.“There’s no good bumper sticker,” he said“It’s a bunch of nerds sitting down in a room and figuring it out.” The Hartford Selectboard is expected to approve language to be added to the Town Meeting warning sometime in the next several weeks.Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at or 603-727-3211. var embedlocation = (0 - 1 ); $( document ).ready(function() { $("#webembedinline").insertAfter("#articlebody p:eq( 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