Selectboard approves second year of Regional Energy Coordinator

Selectboard approves second year of Regional Energy Coordinator

Since the summer of 2020, Thetford has been a participant in a regional endeavor to address climate change, in line with the mandate from the State of Vermont to achieve an 80-95% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 from 1990 levels.

A group of seven towns banded together to collectively support an Intermunicipal Regional Energy Coordinator (IREC), whose position would be administered by the Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Planning Commission (TRORC). The position was modeled after the successful Municipal Energy Coordinator position in Hartford. The towns had several up-front priorities in common, including energy conservation, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improvements in efficiency at municipal and school buildings, improving energy efficiency in transportation, and an increase in renewable energy generation.

The cost for this effort was to be shared between the participating towns, with a dollar amount proportional to the size of their grand list (total assessed real estate value). Articles to appropriate this funding were brought before the voters at the 2020 Town Meetings of  Barnard, Pomfret,  Strafford, Sharon, Thetford, and Woodstock. Norwich was approached but ultimately did not put the article before its voters. The measure passed in all of the towns with the exception of Pomfret, which was also the only town that did not have an Energy Committee. Fortunately, the Town of Fairlee stepped forward to take Pomfret’s place in the program, but it had not budgeted for the expense and could only provide a partial contribution through the receipt of a grant. Fairlee's proportionate share would also have been lower than Pomfret’s. The rest of the shortfall from Pomfret and Norwich's projected contributions was covered by allotting the IREC's time to other, separately funded TRORC projects, and was funded from TRORC's reserves.

The hours worked by the IREC for each town are, again, proportional. For Thetford that comes to about 228 hours per year.

Geoff Martin, who had worked as Hartford’s energy coordinator, was hired for the position and began in July of 2020. By September, he had completed an audit of the energy usage of all town facilities and its cost to the town. Some of the other ongoing projects include performing a municipal level greenhouse gas emissions inventory; investigating a lease program for electric vehicle charging stations from Green Mountain Power; setting up the Town’s Energy Start Portfolio Manager Account and tracking town energy use; reviewing energy use by the elementary school and identifying an opportunity to expand the school’s solar array to serve the school, the Town, and potentially community members; drafting proposed language for the Town’s Zoning regulations to achieve greater compliance with the State’s Residential Building Energy Standards and encourage solar-ready and EV charger-ready homes; drafting an energy-conscious purchasing policy; and obtaining a grant for increasing bicycle safety through the VTrans Small-Scale bicycle/Pedestrian Grant Program.

In November of 2020, the Thetford Selectboard received a letter from TRORC requesting renewed support for the IREC position with an approximately 5% increase.The Selectboard included this amount, $15,540, to the 2021 budget, which was approved by voters at Town Meeting.

On June 7th the Selectboard reviewed Geoff Martin’s contract, which is set to be renewed annually on July 1st. The board was unclear about why the amount had increased, and decided to postpone the vote to the next meeting in order to gather clarifications.

On June 21st, Geoff Martin explained that Fairlee had to drop out because their budget was extremely tight, and the grant that covered the 2020-21 costs was not renewed. Fortunately, Bradford was able to take Fairlee's place, and Norwich also decided to join the program. There are reasons why the addition of Norwich and Bradford did not result in a reduction of rates for the other towns, including Thetford. Bradford has a similar grand list to Fairlee and therefore made a similar contribution. The position had not been fully supported by municipal contributions in 2020, and TRORC had made up the shortfall. This, however, meant that part of Geoff’s time was spent working on TRORC’s energy projects rather than for the towns. In the 2021-22 period, all of Geoff’s time will be devoted to the towns because the addition of Norwich, plus the 5% increase, will more fully fund the position. In addition, TRORC will continue to cover a portion of the IREC costs from their reserves, demonstrating their commitment and interest in seeing the program move forward.

The Selectboard ultimately approved the annual contract at their June 21st meeting, commiting Thetford to a second year in the regional program. Thetford's interests are represented on a regional steering committee by Erica Ko, who was appointed to the role by Thetford's Joint Town/School Energy Committee last year.