Sierra Club Chief Urges Hanover to Take Action

Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, April 13, 2017

Hanover — Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune visited Hanover Town Hall on Wednesday night to describe national sustainability efforts and promote a local offshoot: next month’s Town Meeting vote to commit to using 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

Hanover’s proposed energy goal is part of the “Ready For 100” campaign launched by the Sierra Club, a nationwide environmental and outdoor recreation group founded in 1892. The initiative would include power for electricity, heat and transportation.

Brune and others at Wednesday’s event portrayed the campaign as a way to counteract environmentally unfriendly moves from the Trump administration, present a positive project to fight climate change and transition to a renewable-based economy.

“We don’t have to be a movement that says ‘no’ to things,” Brune said, referring to things like coal plants and natural gas pipelines. “We can be a movement that says ‘yes’ to a lot more.”

The leader of the Sierra Club organization since 2010, Brune has helped to move the country away from fossil fuels by opposing new coal plants and working to decommission those already in operation, among other efforts.

But now, as President Donald Trump denies climate change, rolls back environmental regulations and promotes coal and natural gas, Brune believes that sustainability advocates need to advance their own vision for the country’s energy system.

“The threat was real on Nov. 8,” he told the audience of about 60 people, “and it got a lot worse on Nov. 9.”

A combination of national and local concerns inspired town officials and organizers for the Sierra Club Upper Valley Group to support an article on Hanover’s Town Meeting warrant that would declare the community’s commitment to 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030, extending to heating and transportation by 2050.

For Judith Colla and other members of the local Sierra Club group, it was a proposal from Liberty Utilities to bring a natural gas pipeline to Lebanon and Hanover that spurred them to action.

“The best defense,” she said before introducing Brune, “... may well be a good offense.”

Colla said residents of several other towns, including Cornish, Plainfield and Hartford, were working to build support for the Ready For 100 campaign as they had in Hanover.

For Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin, the election was a catalyst, just as it was for Brune.

“If it doesn’t happen at the local level,” Griffin said of the struggle against climate change, “it might not happen at all.”

As Griffin sees it, in order for the town — municipal offices, schools, businesses, and private residences — to go completely renewable, local government has to “walk the talk.”

Griffin has been looking for improvements to efficiency in every place she can find them, from adding heat pumps in public buildings to installing engine shutdown devices in public works trucks to keep them from idling too long.

Twenty-three percent of Hanover’s electricity already comes from renewable sources, she said.

“What’s next for the town?” she said. “Solar panels on every roof we own.”

That project will require a major bond in the next few years so that the town can buy in bulk, she said.

Later, during a question-and-answer session, Brune and Griffin addressed another issue that arises from the need to make these investments: cost.

“Hanover’s a very wealthy town, so we’re very privileged to be able to do this,” said an audience member who did not give her name. For other towns, she added, “that isn’t the case.”

“Give to the other communities,” another man said. “We’re not all as rich as Hanover is.”

“That’s not something that Hanover can do for Lyme,” Griffin replied, naming a neighboring town as an example, “or that Lyme can do for Piermont. That’s something Piermont has to do for Piermont.”

Each town’s residents have to make their own commitment to renewable energy and devise an economic plan that makes sense for their community, she said. “I don’t think Orford wants Hanover there telling them what to do.”

In response to another question, Brune advised advocates to discern what their neighbors’ motivations are and pitch renewable energy to them based on that, whether those motivations be their children, the environment, economic viability, or self-reliance.

“Find out what they care about, and then show how what we’re offering ... speaks to their core values,” he said.

Reaching full renewable energy sourcing in Hanover would, of course, include Dartmouth College, which is contemplating a switch away from No. 6 fuel oil, among other sustainability initiatives. A task force of students, professors and administrators is working on a proposal to submit to college President Phil Hanlon in time for Earth Day on April 22.

“We are excited by the aspirations that Hanover has embraced,” college spokeswoman Diana Lawrence said in an email on Wednesday, “and we have a committee of faculty, students, and staff working on refreshing our own sustainability goals at Dartmouth. We expect these to be completed shortly.”

During his remarks, Brune recalled something that David Brower, a famed environmentalist and the first executive director of the Sierra Club, used to say: “All our defeats are permanent, and all our victories temporary.”

Brune predicted that this maxim will prove to be untrue when it comes to renewable energy gains.

“When you all vote on May 9, and when Hanover becomes 100 percent power by renewable energy, raise your hands if you think in 10 years someone’s going to say, ‘Let’s go back to fracking,’ ” he said.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.