Nine Addison County towns join Vermont energy challenge

MIDDLEBURY — Nine Addison County towns have thus far jumped into the mix of communities vying for bragging rights in the state’s Home Energy Challenge, a competition to see which town can get the largest proportion of its residences weatherized by the end of this year.

As the Addison Independent went to press, the Addison County towns of Bristol, Cornwall, Goshen, Middlebury, Monkton, New Haven, Salisbury, Starksboro and Weybridge were among the more than 65 Vermont communities that had signed up for the challenge that has a nice payoff for the winner: A financial reward of $10,000 that can be applied toward a municipal energy efficiency project.

But the $10,000 prize is not the only benefit conceived by the creators of the challenge, Efficiency Vermont and the Vermont Energy and Climate Action Network. The friendly competition is intended to encourage residents to weatherize their homes to keep them more weather-tight, cost-efficient and more environmentally friendly; to introduce Vermonters to the variety of energy efficiency programs that are currently at their disposal; and to raise general awareness about the benefits of saving energy dollars.

“Dollars motivate all of us, but there is also a potential enormous reduction in greenhouse gas emissions,” noted Kevin Lehman, a planner with the Addison County Regional Planning Commission who is assisting local towns taking part in the Home Energy Challenge.

Towns participating in the challenge are being asked to weatherize 3 percent of their total households this year. Vermont has established a statewide goal of weatherizing 25 percent (80,000) of its homes by the year 2020. Gov. Peter Shumlin and the Vermont Legislature continue to spar over potential funding sources to help Vermonters bankroll their individual weatherization projects.

But Lehman and local energy coordinators noted people already have help at their disposal.

Homeowners can qualify for up to $2,000 in incentives toward weatherization projects through Efficiency Vermont.

And in a major development, the nonprofit NeighborWorks of Western Vermont has begun to offer — thanks to an infusion of federal money — a variety of weatherization consulting services to Addison County residents. Lehman said NeighborWorks and its Home Energy Assistance Team Squad will lead homeowners through an entire weatherization project, including assistance in reducing the cost of an energy audit to $100 — a service that usually costs far more.

NeighborWorks can also provide the homeowner with assistance in securing weatherization incentives and/or energy efficiency loans, as well as managing the project and recommending contractors.

NeighborWorks of West Rutland is currently on a mission to weatherize 1,000 Rutland County homes within a three-year period that ends this August. Participating homeowners can count on saving an average of 375 gallons of heating fuel per year, according to NeighborWorks literature.

With that kind of help, local energy coordinators like Fran Putnam of Weybridge and Laura Asermily of Middlebury are optimistic their towns can achieve the goal of weatherizing 3 percent of their communities’ homes by year’s end.

And they are already getting some good results.

Putnam is one of 14 volunteers helping to advance the Home Energy Challenge in Weybridge. Thus far, 17 residents have requested free home energy visits, conducted by trained volunteers. Thirty-nine residents have requested the more involved and sophisticated home energy audits that measure the escape of heat and identify specific weatherization remedies. Seven Weybridge homes have already been weatherized. The Weybridge Energy Committee conducted a phone-athon recently that reached 225 local homes.

“We think this is a win-win for homeowners, contractors, and the environment,” Putnam said.

ENERGY AUDIT RESULT

The Borden-O’Donohue residence in Weybridge recently completed a major weatherization project. It was in 2007 that Laurie Borden, husband Richard O’Donohue and Laurie’s mom, Margaret Borden, decided to build their modular home. The home features a separate abode, connected by a breezeway, for Margaret Borden.

The family had always been energy-conscious and decided this past December to submit their home to an energy audit. They learned there was a lot they could do to make the home more weather-tight, and ultimately invested more than $9,800 in recommended upgrades that included more insulation in the attic and basement; air sealing of all attic and basement doors, outlets and vents; the upgrading of attic hatches; replacement of an inefficient fridge; and placing child-proof caps on unused electrical outlets.

The family received $1,751 in incentives to apply toward the project, which is estimated to save them 24 percent in energy costs each year.

Laurie Borden said the project is already paying dividends; the family’s monthly heating bills lately have been around half of what they had been.

“We are really happy,” she said, noting the family’s next goal: Installing some ground-mounted solar arrays.

Asermily reported some good success in Middlebury.

Since Middlebury is the county’s shire town, Asermily and her fellow volunteers often find themselves providing weatherization guidance to people from surrounding towns, as well as locals. They have been getting people to sign up for audits and fill out pledge cards stating what kinds of weatherization actions they are willing to take, which counts toward the Home Energy Challenge competition.

“I think it has been excellent,” she said of the interest in the Home Energy Challenge. “People are really mobilized.”

In a related development, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility (VBSR) has launched a Business Energy Action challenge for 2013. The challenge encourages participating businesses — of which there are now more than 50 — to focus on reducing thermal and electrical consumption, primarily through energy efficiency.

Founded in 1990, VBSR is a nonprofit, statewide business trade organization with a mission to advance business ethics that value multiple bottom lines: Economic, social, and environmental. VBSR members employ more than 13 percent of Vermont’s workforce and generate more than $4 billion in revenue annually.

More information about the Home Energy Challenge can be found at efficiencyvermont.com.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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