Panton, Green Mountain Power partner on major energy effort

PANTON — A town-wide effort officially kicked off at Panton Town Hall on Tuesday morning that has the potential to help Panton’s farmers, business owners and roughly 700 residents save money on their power bills — and could make the rural lakeside town a statewide model of energy efficiency.
Since April, town and Green Mountain Power officials have been talking about what GMP calls “a community-wide rapid energy transformation project.” On Tuesday, GMP, Efficiency Vermont, Vermont Energy Investment Corp. and Panton leaders shared details of what is dubbed “eVolve Panton.”
They include improvements to Panton Town Hall’s basement-level town clerk’s office, the public works garage and park-and-ride lot across the road from the town hall, work that GMP had already agreed to perform as part of the company’s agreement with Panton for its support for GMP’s nearby 40-acre, 4.99-megawatt solar array.
Work on that solar array, which the Vermont Public Service Board in July awarded a Certificate of Public Good, began in early August on land owned by the Vorsteveld Farm, north of Panton Road. The array will be one of Vermont’s largest.
Now, GMP and its partners have expanded eVolve Panton to include affordable energy audits and energy-efficiency improvements to homes and businesses and farm buildings, plus, if the town chooses to fund it, further work on the upper level of town hall. A community forum GMP held in Panton in May helped the company design the effort.
Efficiency Vermont Director Liz Gamache said eVolve would like to upgrade all of Panton’s homes. Gamache said that target could be possible because one eVolve Panton financing option will allow homeowners to use money saved on energy bills to help pay for work that made the savings possible, and because other financial incentives that will “make it easy for everyone to participate” will be available.
“eVolve Panton will focus on all residents of Panton,” said Gamache, one of several speakers outside of town hall on Tuesday. “Our goal is to have 100 percent participation, no matter what a person’s income level or position is.”
More savings for homeowners will come from the large-scale coordination of improvements, according to Dan Mackey, a GMP employee with the title of “innovation champion.”
Mackey said GMP will seek bids for work on large numbers of homes, with volume discounts resulting in savings the company will pass on to homeowners. GMP will also put together energy-improvement teams that can finish individual projects in a matter of days, rather than leaving property owners to deal with several contractors over longer periods of time.
“We’re coordinating everything so if they’re having weatherization done, solar, heat pumps, heat-pump hot-water heater, Tesla Powerwall (batteries), the whole gamut of everything that we’re offering, we can make that an event of a time frame of two or three days, as opposed to spreading it out over two or three weeks,” he said.
Gamache added that all residents would have “energy advisors” to help them develop the “right strategy” for their individual properties.
One Panton resident also took a turn behind the podium, former selectman Eric Carter. He gave eVolve two thumbs up.
Carter recalled his enthusiasm at a May meeting when preliminary plans were discussed, and said he was determined to be the first resident to sign up.
“I had to knock people out of the way,” he said. “I had to fight through the crowds to get there because everybody wanted to sign up.”
Carter said he had previously gotten energy audits for his home, but following through was too costly.
“You get the bill, and it’s $12,000. And I look down through that list of things, and I can’t afford that,” he said. “This team of Efficiency Vermont and Green Mountain Power has solved that problem. They have come up with a simple plan in which me, the guy that writes the check, doesn’t have to write the big check at the beginning.”
Carter described the expected result of the eVolve process.
“Over time, I’m happy. My wife is happy because it’s not 20 degrees below zero in the house and icicles are forming. At the end of the day my house is comfortable and my energy bills decrease,” he said.
GMP President and CEO Mary Powell tried to recruit Carter as a pitchman.
“Wow, can we take you on the road?” Powell said.
GMP spokesperson Kristin Carlson traced the roots of eVolve Panton to discussions with town officials about siting the company’s solar array. As Selectman Howard Hall noted on Tuesday, residents asked questions when GMP made the proposal last fall, but virtually no one objected.
Carlson said GMP recognized the town’s receptiveness to discussing energy issues.
“That’s where it kind of sparked the idea, because we met with a town that was really excited about a new energy future,” she said.
Hall also said practical matters figured in the selectboard’s decision to support the project. As well as the money-saving improvements to the two town buildings — they will get new thermal envelopes and heat pumps — and the parking lot (which received an electric-car charging station), GMP is also providing Panton a battery-powered micro-grid that will keep town buildings running in the event of a larger power outage.
“We’re very excited about this,” said Hall, who also supports Panton’s funding of further energy improvements to its town hall. “It benefits our town hall and also our public works garage. This will be a big benefit by saving energy and also lowering the cost for the residents of Panton.”
GMP’s Powell also said the town’s manageable size, as well as receptive attitude, made it perfect for the eVolve experiment.
“Where else do we have a community that is already interested in energy transformation, and … the size really makes it something we felt we could wrap our arms around together,” she said.
Powell, speaking to a crowd of two dozen that also included both of Addison County’s Democratic state senators, Claire Ayer and Chris Bray, and Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, also said the project was possible because of the partnerships GMP had developed with the Vermont nonprofits.
“This is just an example of the nation-leading work Efficiency Vermont and the VEIC are doing,” Powell said. “Green Mountain Power can partner with them and partner with the community that wants to transform and help Panton become a real example of energy transformation.”
If all goes well, Powell hopes, even expects, major changes in Panton’s carbon footprint and in the quality of its buildings’ energy efficiency to occur quickly — and that the town of 700 could be a model for a country of 319,000,000.
“We are going to be able to do in 12 months what would otherwise take about 20 years to accomplish,” Powell said. “We’ll deliver a lower carbon, a lower cost and a more sustainable future for Panton, and I believe become an incredible example not just for the rest of Vermont, but for the nation.”
Or, as Hall put it, Tuesday was not just another day on Jersey Street.
“It is an exciting time for our little town,” Hall said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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