Hartford Expects Energy Coordinator to Save Money for Town

Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, June 18, 2017

Hartford —Hartford is about to become the first municipality in Vermont to put a full-time energy coordinator on its payroll, a move the town anticipates will significantly reduce its annual energy bill of roughly $900,000, and save millions over the next two decades.

Voters approved a budget that funds the position in March, and the position has been recently advertised at a salary of about $47,300, with benefits bringing the total cost to an estimated $55,000-$65,000, according to Town Manager Leo Pullar.

An advertisement for the position on the town’s website states the energy coordinator will be responsible for “energy consumption and overall costs, strengthening reliability, resiliency and sustainability of energy infrastructure, employing new technologies and best practices, contributing to a cleaner environment and enhancing the quality of life for Hartford residents and businesses.”

Pullar said the application process will close on June 27, and that it may take about four to six weeks to hire the person into the town’s Planning and Development Department.

“The initial focus will be to get some of our municipal expenses under control, just to have visibility on some of them,” said Pullar, who said he’s seen the value of dedicated energy coordinators during his time as an administrator in the U.S. Army. “Our wastewater and water facilities are tremendous energy users. We hope the individual will bring down those energy costs, and we see them as an asset for the entire community.”

A five-year municipal Energy Action Plan published by Hartford earlier this year recasts the town’s public services as a collection of energy-using facilities.

The report documents that Hartford spends more than $200,000 a year on 70,000 gallons of gas and diesel to fuel 40-plus municipal vehicles such as police cruisers and plow trucks.

It spends another $130,000 on 50,000 gallons of heating oil and kerosene to heat buildings such as the Public Safety Complex and the Bugbee Senior Center.

More than $500,000 goes toward roughly 2,500 kilowatt-hours of electricity, the majority of which powers the town’s water and wastewater facilities.

In addition, the municipal government uses about 2 million gallons of water to supply everything from the fire station to the swimming pool.

Selectboard member Alan Johnson, who has been deeply involved in a three-year push to make the position a reality, said the potential for savings is huge, especially when the Hartford School District’s $720,000 in energy expenditures is added into the mix. Though the school district will not pay into the energy cordinator position, Johnson said the district has been “extended the invitation to take advantage of this resource. The attitude has been expressed unanimously, ‘taxpayer money is taxpayer money.’ If we can reduce school taxes, that’s a win for everybody.”

He said that a conservative estimate shows the position saving the town tens of millions of dollars over a 20-year period.

Johnson also envisions the coordinator helping curb energy use for residential and commercial properties throughout the town, which he said will ultimately produce hundreds of millions of dollars of savings for the community.

Johnson said the town would help individuals to save on their personal energy bills in a variety of ways, including education programs, weatherization grants and by developing policies that would create energy-efficient usage options as a default.

Selectman Mike Morris agreed that the position would more than pay for itself.

“It’s going to cost a little money up front, but this is an investment,” he said. “That’s the way I look at it.”

The idea of towns having a dedicated energy coordinator has been floating around Vermont for decades.

Since 1975, the role of municipal energy coordinator has been provided for in Vermont statute, which assumes a volunteer will fill the position and act as a point person for a variety of energy initiatives.

There are roughly 70 such volunteer municipal energy coordinators across the state in towns such as Londonderry and Waitsfield, where Town Administrator Valerie Capels says coordinator Chris Badger has helped the community develop a town-owned solar array in 2014.

“He was instrumental in getting that off the ground,” she said.

Energy coordinators have had growing prominence in Vermont since 2011, when then-Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, set an ambitious goal of having 90 percent of Vermont’s energy come from renewable sources.

That goal, bolstered by a statewide energy plan and reiterated earlier this year by newly-elected Republican Gov. Phil Scott, has led to the Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission and other regional commissions across the state to include municipal energy coordinators as part of their regional energy plans.

The proposed Two Rivers-Ottauquechee plan, which will come before the commission members for a vote on June 28, foresees municipal energy coordinators and energy committees as playing key roles in implementing energy plans, and accessing funds for things like weatherization programs.

According to materials on the Two Rivers-Ottauquechee website, three of its 30 member towns — Hancock, Rochester and Pomfret — rely on volunteer energy coordinators to play this role, while 11 communities, including Hartford, have recognized energy committees that may or may not include an energy coordinator in their ranks.

Another 11 towns — including Topsham, Vershire, West Fairlee, Bethel, Royalton, Barnard and Bridgewater — don’t have a coordinator or a committee, according to the materials.

Kevin Geiger, a regional planner with the commission, said he sees a difference in towns that have people dedicated to energy coordination.

“Here’s someone who can help us get this stuff done, whether you’re talking about energy improvements for a building or a fire truck or whatever the case may be,” Geiger said.

Geiger applauded Hartford’s move, and said he hopes the new hire will use the regional plan to navigate everything from the siting of renewable energy projects, to considering blocking out space for a bus stop in a commercial project that may need one 20 years down the line.

A handful of other Vermont communities do have paid dedicated energy coordinators, but their costs are largely borne by grant-funded nonprofits, as is the case in Brattleboro and Waterbury, according to Hartford’s Energy Action Plan.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.