Norwich, Hartford acting on climate emergency

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/10/2019 9:59:45 PM
Modified: 10/10/2019 9:59:35 PM

HARTFORD — Officials in two Upper Valley towns hope to increase awareness of climate change and encourage more people to take action by declaring climate emergencies.

The Norwich Selectboard voted unanimously on Wednesday to adopt a resolution labeling climate change a threat to “our town, region, state, nation, civilization, humanity, and the natural world,” while also committing town officials to seek out sustainable solutions.

Meanwhile, Hartford this week formed a committee to draft its own climate declaration. The group also is charged with formulating a ballot initiative that might require the town to adopt new, ambitious energy goals.

Hartford Selectboard Chairman Simon Dennis said many people accept that climate change is happening but are making few sacrifices to stop it. The prospective resolution and ballot measure are meant to change that, he said.

“We’re all in the process of waking up to this particular historical moment,” Dennis said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “The degrees of temperature increases that we’re committed to and the potential for global temperature increases is staggering.”

Hartford’s ad hoc committee will seek to frame climate change and its effects on society in a way that motivates town officials, businesses and residents to act, said Erik Krauss, chairman of the town’s Energy Committee.

“Additionally, I hope the committee provides recommendations on next steps,” he said in an email on Thursday. “After all, resolutions and goals without strategies, actions and logistical support are ineffective.”

Norwich’s resolution does not mandate any specific action by residents themselves, and in its preliminary discussion Tuesday night, the Hartford Selectboard didn’t discuss any mandates, either.

Krauss said that he expects the committee will put forward new energy goals, but they might not be as detailed as the Town Plan’s 20-page energy section.

Hartford this year adopted an amended town plan that sets goals to reduce carbon emissions from vehicles, town offices and homes. Overall, the town supports Vermont’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40% of 1990 levels by 2030, and an 80% to 95% reduction by 2050.

However, Hartford’s plan also calls for 100% of new buildings to be carbon-neutral by 2030 and sets a goal of reducing energy use in buildings by one-third before 2050.

Dennis said the climate group will take another dive into the policies and could end up with rules similar to those approved by Hanover in 2017.

Residents that year voted to adopt the Sierra Club’s “Ready for 100” campaign, which commits the town to obtaining 100% renewable energy by 2050.

“That was a pretty big step that Hanover took,” Dennis said. “They’ve been quite substantive in their approach to energy and emissions.”

Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin said on Thursday that the Ready for 100 commitment is just one model to setting energy goals. Others can be just as effective so long as communities work to follow through, she said.

In Hanover, the town responded to the climate vote in several ways, Griffin said. Those include adding solar to municipal buildings and lots, exploring ways to procure green power for the whole town, encouraging people to mount solar panels at their own homes and connecting with businesses and Dartmouth College to collaborate on environmentally friendly projects.

Griffin said Hanover devotes about $50,000 a year to ongoing energy work but likely spends more on that when special projects are factored in.

“We said, ‘we have to walk the talk,’ ” she said. “We can’t expect businesses, residents or Dartmouth to move forward to support green power if we don’t do it ourselves.”

While Norwich’s climate declaration didn’t include specific goals, the town last March approved a warning article requesting officials “take immediate and sustained” action to reduce the town’s use of fossil fuels at a minimum rate of 5% a year.

Norwich Town Manager Herb Durfee said the vote led the town to purchase a hybrid police cruiser. It also is looking to partner energy performance contracts that could see municipal buildings upgraded with more energy efficient equipment, he said.

Lebanon’s Master Plan commits the city to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. The city and school district have worked to mount solar panels on their facilities, decommission inefficient streetlights and create a municipal power plan.

Hartford’s climate committee is expected to draft a declaration for the Selectboard to consider by Nov. 5, while a ballot initiative will be presented by Dec. 3.

Tim Camerato can be reached at or 603-727-3223.

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