Continuing our exploration of the March 6 ballot, here are some questions and answers regarding Article 2, a climate change matter. Daniel Quipp and Michael Bosworth provided the answers.
Tell us why this article is appearing before voters.
Climate justice organization 350 VT (a statewide chapter of the national and international 350.org) decided to run a statewide town meeting resolution campaign focused on solutions to the climate crisis. Nearly 40 towns throughout the state will present resolutions calling for a halt to fossil fuel infrastructure and a swift, just transition to renewable energy. Locally, activists and organizers with 350 Brattleboro (a group that works on climate and energy issues in Brattleboro and the surrounding area) decided to take part in order to further the conversation about what our towns can do to take meaningful action to transition away from fossil fuels and conserve energy. We also wanted to send a message to the State House from Windham County that voters down here are passionate about real action on climate, rather than just talk and kicking the can down the road.
The “whereas” part lists some of the threats of climate change – why were these threats chosen? (Why not threat to ski industry, for example?)
The threats were chosen as examples of ways in which climate change is already impacting Vermont. We have seen more frequent local flooding and the associated expense in fixing up roads and culverts and we have also seen a distressing rise in tick-borne diseases that reduce our enjoyment and safety in our woodlands and hillsides. Certainly we could have mentioned the ski industry and indeed some other towns did.
Article II says VT isn’t making sufficient progress toward goals. What evidence do you point to to back this up?
Energy Action Network produces a number of good visualizations about the energy scene in Vermont. Check out these breakdowns of targets and our progress against them.
Governor Scott created a Climate Action Commission last year and tasked them with recommending some concrete ways VT can meet its goals. Here are some takeaways from its preliminary report:
“In 2007, Vermont set a goal of weatherizing 20,000 low income homes by 2020. Based on current trends, Vermont will fall 6,000 homes short of that goal.” (Vermont’s buildings account for 23.5 percent of GHG emissions.) p. 11
“Meeting Vermont’s 2016 CEP (comprehensive energy plan) illustrative goal of 10 percent renewably powered transportation would require about 45,000 EVs in Vermont by 2025—a major increase from the current 2,000.” (Transportation contributes 47% of Vermont’s GHG emissions.) p. 13
The article ask that we halt any fossil fuel infrastructure. Would this mean no new gas stations? How about repairs using new parts or equipment to existing pipelines?
Do we need any new gas stations? But, I see your point. I think there needs to be more clarity around what fossil fuel infrastructure is and what infrastructure we would like to see a halt to. The resolution aims to show local and state leaders that voters are opposed to unnecessary and costly oil and gas pipelines. Building out that infrastructure means that it has to be used and will keep us tied to fossil fuels for much longer than we can afford to be. Instead we should be building infrastructure for renewable energy such as electric vehicle charging. We can also build infrastructure that promotes low or zero carbon transportation such as protected bike paths; more bike parking; safer, more extensive sidewalks; electric buses and trains that work for commuters in the surrounding area.
There is a request that Vermont make sure the transition to renewable energy is fair and equitable for all. How would this happen? Renters, for example, seem at a disadvantage and at the will of landlords.
This is a really important issue. Can we move away from fossil fuels and conserve energy in an equitable way? Or will it only be the preserve of wealthy folks with their Teslas and fancy solar arrays? SEVCA does really great work with its free low-income weatherization program and Efficiency Vermont’s rebates are pretty generous. VSECU also offers a good selection of low interest financing programs to make green energy upgrades available to those without thousands of dollars lying around. The State can continue to support these programs and make funding available and we can continue to push for more to be done to make the average Vermonter someone who can participate in the transition to renewable energy.
I can say from experience that as a former renter of numerous drafty homes that it is really frustrating to spend a large chunk of your hard earned money on heat that then escapes out of the basement, attic, windows and countless other leaky spots. It’s also worth noting that low and middle income families spend a disproportionate amount of their income on heating their homes. Most of those homes are also tied to propane or oil heat which is especially vulnerable to price fluctuations. If we can make these homes more energy efficient and change from oil/propane furnaces to technology such as air source heat pumps then they’ll be more comfortable, cheaper to heat and using cleaner energy (Vermont’s electricity is some of the cleanest in the nation and will continue to get cleaner through their Renewable Energy Standard – http://puc.vermont.gov/electric/renewable-energy-standard). I suppose the question is how can we convince landlords to make these buildings more energy efficient? Would a transparent ratings system where they have to disclose the heating costs for the last couple of years in any rental listing help? Can we offer subsidies or tax breaks to landlords that do this work? Can we have landlords and tenants collaborate on energy saving measures? It’s a tricky one for sure.
One thing that renters can do to take part in renewable energy is consider purchasing panels in a community solar array. Instead of panels being built on the property the array is built on a good location nearby and community members buy as much as they need and can afford. The credits for the power production go against their Green Mountain Power bill and can be transferred when they move to a different property with the GMP service area. VSECU offers a loan called the VGreen ITC loan that is designed so that your monthly payments are equivalent to your old GMP bills and once the loan is paid off you now own some solar panels which will continue to produce energy for you which is now effectively free.
Some of the current carbon pricing proposals are also attempting to address this problem. The new “ESSEX” plan that is being proposed for Vermont would raise the price of gasoline through increasing fuel taxes but would also direct that money toward reducing home electric bills. If such a proposal becomes accepted, there would be much more incentive for landlords to transition off fossil fuels (for heating oil for example) and onto renewables (through installation of air source heat pumps for example).
Some public and nonprofit landlords are already making good decisions in getting off fossil fuels, and some private landlords as well. The state can direct grant and loan money (as it already does to a degree) toward weatherization of apartment buildings, and also to education of landlords in how best to do so.
The article calls for weatherizing town buildings (and adding solar, and phasing out of fossil fuel use.) This has been an ongoing effort in Brattleboro. Why ask town to do something it is doing? Isn’t this like asking them to commit to firefighting, or collecting taxes?
We’re glad the town has started to weatherize some of its buildings and that it has others scheduled over the next few years. However, we want the town to know that this is something the voters care about and when questions come up about whether we spend the money on this or that energy upgrade hopefully they will remember the wishes of the people.
There will also be future decision points where the town will decide whether to spend money to weatherize town buildings, including later this spring when the town decides whether to upgrade the Municipal Center. The Selectboard will recommend whether to do so, the Representative Town Meeting will vote up or down. If the resolution passes, hopefully it will help the Selectboard and Town Meeting Members with their decision.
Similarly, at some point there will be electric vehicle police cars available for purchase. Since Brattleboro replaces 1-2 of its police cars every year, if an EV becomes a viable choice, but it might cost more, it will be up to the Selectboard whether to recommend such a purchase and up to Town Meeting members to agree or not. Again, if the petition passes, hopefully it will help the Selectboard and Town Meeting Members with their decision.
Why did you choose to make this advisory? It’s “one of the most urgent problems” we face. Why not something specific and binding?
We’re not lawmakers, rather we are citizen advocates and we wanted to find out if voters in the town are behind the measures that we suggest. We also understand that all of this is about collaboration and partnership. Hopefully, once the voters decide we’ll be able to have some good conservations with the Selectboard and Town staff about how best to proceed such as with last year’s plastic bag ban article.
I have to ask, Daniel. When you first proposed something similar to the Selectboard, you admitted using fossil fuels and got some teasing. How’s the personal effort going? Have you since switched to 100% renewable energy? Using solar?
Oh boy! That presentation was a lot of fun but also a very serious and moving experience. Part of the problem with being alive right now is the fact that our current way of living is not compatible with what science tells about the future of the planet. So yes, my drafty home is heated with oil. My car uses some gasoline and I have to drive to work every morning. But, we also live in a moment where the alternatives are no longer a pipe dream. When we traded in our old Subaru a couple of years back we bought a little Prius C which gets an easy 50 MPG and costs about $16 to fill up. When we bought our first home in December we had an energy audit done. Once we got the data we made insulation a priority and used a low interest Heat Saver loan from VSECU to make it affordable. We got rid of the propane powered hot water heater and replaced it with a super efficient heat pump hot water heater. We also bought a Nest thermostat (got a nice rebate from Efficiency Vermont too) to make our use of heat smarter. I have enjoyed doing some DIY weatherization around the place by weatherstripping doors and insulating sash weight cavities around the windows with spray foam. We’ll have to replace the roof soon so the plan is that once it comes off we’ll get some good insulation put in. Then, all things being well, we’ll be able to change our heating to air source heat pumps in a couple of years. I’ve been doing a little bit of solar sales on the side from work and if I can make enough from that then we’ll most likely buy into a community array.
Anything else people should know about the article?
It’s not perfect, and was made by local people that care. If you care about this kind of thing too then get involved with climate activism, join your local energy committee, advocate for change on a state and local level and work together to create the solutions that we need. Oh yeah, and VOTE!
Answers provided by Daniel Quipp and Michael Bosworth