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Thetford Energy Program Honored at Fairlee Climate Conference

  • Bob Murphy of Efficiency Vermont speaks with Ken Champagne, building engineer at Lake More Resort during the annual "Community Energy and Climate Action Conference" at the Lake Morey Inn and Resort in Fairlee, Vt., on Dec. 7, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Bob Murphy of Efficiency Vermont speaks with Ken Champagne, building engineer at Lake More Resort during the annual "Community Energy and Climate Action Conference" at the Lake Morey Inn and Resort in Fairlee, Vt., on Dec. 7, 2013.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Solar-powered moving flowers line the booth of SunCommon, a solar energy business marketing at the annual "Community Energy and Climate Action Conference"at the Lake Morey Inn and Resort in Fairlee, Vt., on Dec. 6, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Solar-powered moving flowers line the booth of SunCommon, a solar energy business marketing at the annual "Community Energy and Climate Action Conference"at the Lake Morey Inn and Resort in Fairlee, Vt., on Dec. 6, 2013.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Bob "the Green Guy" Farnham speaks to a group on communicating effectively about climate change and energy efficiency during the annual "Community Energy and Climate Action Conference"at the Lake Morey Inn and Resort in Fairlee, Vt., on Dec. 7, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Bob "the Green Guy" Farnham speaks to a group on communicating effectively about climate change and energy efficiency during the annual "Community Energy and Climate Action Conference"at the Lake Morey Inn and Resort in Fairlee, Vt., on Dec. 7, 2013.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Bob Murphy of Efficiency Vermont speaks with Ken Champagne, building engineer at Lake More Resort during the annual "Community Energy and Climate Action Conference" at the Lake Morey Inn and Resort in Fairlee, Vt., on Dec. 7, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Solar-powered moving flowers line the booth of SunCommon, a solar energy business marketing at the annual "Community Energy and Climate Action Conference"at the Lake Morey Inn and Resort in Fairlee, Vt., on Dec. 6, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Bob "the Green Guy" Farnham speaks to a group on communicating effectively about climate change and energy efficiency during the annual "Community Energy and Climate Action Conference"at the Lake Morey Inn and Resort in Fairlee, Vt., on Dec. 7, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

Fairlee — The Thetford Energy Committee was honored Saturday at a statewide energy conference for a home weatherization program that became the model for a statewide campaign.

More than 260 people, many of them from municipal energy commissions from across the state, attended the sixth annual Community Energy and Climate Action Conference at Lake Morey Resort, largely to share and collect tips about engaging communities on issues surrounding energy use and climate change.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and Vermont Public Service Department Commissioner Christopher Recchia also made appearances, while May Boeve, executive director of the grassroots climate action website 350.org, was the keynote speaker.

“Climate change really is defining the moment that we live in, it will be with us forever, and therefore, our challenge is to tackle it in a way that we’re building the kind of world we want to live in, and I think that world looks in many ways like Vermont,” Boeve said.

The day-long event was hosted by the Vermont Energy and Climate Action Network, a network of Vermont organizations helping communities to reduce energy costs and climate impacts, and the UVM Extension.

Thetford Energy Committee Chairman Bob Walker called the event “reinvigorating and inspiring.”

“I think you need that occasionally because it can get kind of grim looking at the big picture. I try to keep the blinders on and look at the little advances that we’re making locally, which I think we are, we’re making some positive steps locally,” Walker said. “It’s also cool to get to listen to people who have to say things … about different projects that they’re working on.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Peggy Richardson, of the Hartford Energy Commission, who joked that she attended to “energize myself in the face of despair,” but added she was looking for tips of ways to work against climate change that she could maintain over time.

As she works on Hartford’s energy issues, she said, engaging in presentations and building relationships with other attendees helps her to keep in touch with what’s going on outside of town, as well. “It’s great if Hartford wants to go zero emissions,” she said, but it’s important to keep in mind the bigger picture so that these small projects can connect to each other.

“This (conference) helps me see both levels, not as much global, but state as well as local,” she said.

Walker, who is also executive director of Sustainable Energy Resource Group, a nonprofit that helps Vermont and New Hampshire residents and municipalities reduce their energy usage, spearheaded Thetford HEAT (which stands for Home Energy Action Team) when it was launched in 2011. The program received the conference’s “best project award,” one of three awards presented during the day-long event.

The program was designed to motivate residents to tighten up their leaky homes, reaching 650 residents and persuading 30 families to make efficiency improvements to their homes, according to information distributed Saturday. Fifty volunteers were trained to go door-to-door to discuss topics like air-sealing windows and chimneys, adding insulation, installing propane boilers and more — as well as how to take advantage of rebates and finance the upgrades.

The improvements cut projected fuel use by an average of 25 percent and translated into savings of more than $900 a year for each family.

What’s more, the success of the program provided a template for the Vermont Home Energy Challenge, in which communities throughout the state are competing to weatherize the most homes in their regions this year. The challenge was launched by Efficiency Vermont, a nonprofit created at the behest of the Public Service Board to promote energy efficiency, and the Vermont Energy Climate Action Network, a network of groups working to decrease energy costs and climate impacts.

“The biggest thing that I think was helpful was identifying the homeowners who had gone through it and working with them to help them tell their story, because the homeowners are more likely to listen to friends and neighbors,” Walker said. “Efficiency Vermont has created a bunch of great programs, but it’s kind of hard to sell a program from Burlington … in Thetford, whereas if we can bring that program with people who have actually gone through it and tell it ourselves in town, I think that’s the most effective message.”

Fran Putnam, of the Weybridge, Vt., Energy Committee, accepted the “individual energy leadership” award Saturday. During a presentation, she said Weybridge drew heavily on the experiences of Thetford HEAT in instituting its own home weatherization program.

“Why reinvent the wheel?” she asked. “If it worked in Thetford, it’ll work in Weybridge.”

Sanders and Welch both spoke to the importance of citizens acting locally while movement at the national churns along — slowly.

“I am here because I respect enormously the work that you are doing,” Sanders said.

“If we’re going to transform our energy system, it’s not going to come from Washington or Paris or London, it’s going to come from the grassroots and people knocking on doors, talking about how they make their own communities more energy efficient, how they move the sustainable energy, etc., and I don’t know that there’s any state in the country per capita that’s more aggressive at the town level, the local level, than we have been.”

He called climate change “the issue of our day,” and compared climate change to be “not unlike the health care situation,” in that it’s “dysfunctional” and “largely expensive,” and Washington is making “modest progress.”

Welch offered similar sentiments about “taking action where you live.”

“It is just amazing to me,” Welch said, “to see how folks like you, Bob Walker, and others, they just get out there and go neighbor to neighbor with practical intelligence, a willingness to share information, to answer questions, to show how it can be done, it actually can make a real difference in that community. … It’s also very empowering to see that you don’t have to just complain about how we’re not getting things done in the House of Representatives, you can take action yourself and get things done back home.”

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.

Related

Letter: Saving Money Via Efficiency

Thursday, January 2, 2014

To the Editor: I want to thank Maggie Cassidy and the Valley News for the nice article on Dec. 8 on the Thetford Energy Committee’s award for its efforts to expand home weatherization in town. The award was made at the recent Vermont Energy and Climate Action Conference. I also want to let readers know that the 25 percent annual …