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Monkton develops Enhanced Energy Plan

It was critical for us to write a plan that involves everyone. Town participation was critical to getting this right.
— Monkton Planning Commission Co-chair Wendy Sue Harper

MONKTON — On Town Meeting Day next year Monkton voters may be asked to approve a new Town Plan, plus an item they’ve never seen before: an Enhanced Energy Plan.
“The selectboard reviewed the Town Plan and Enhanced Energy Plan and we’re impressed at the comprehensive nature of both documents and the clear policies and actions which chart out Monkton’s future,” said Monkton selectboard Chair Stephen Pilcher in an email to the Independent. “This is especially true of the Enhanced Energy Plan, which elaborates how the town can meet Vermont’s (Comprehensive) Energy Plan.”
The 2016 Comprehensive Energy Plan requires Vermont to have a 90% renewable energy portfolio by 2050, and an 80–95% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels.
Monkton Energy Committee member Mark Bolz-Robinson offered his take on the importance of the town developing the Enhanced Energy Plan, or EEP.
“It presents various, updated pathways to helping the town meet regional and state goals for the use of truly clean, renewable energy sources,” he told the Independent.
The “major ask,” in Bolz-Robinson’s opinion, is for “the consideration of a Town Energy Fund, to provide incentives and support for various projects related to energy efficiency improvements, renewables and the like.”
According to the current draft of the EEP, the town’s Energy Committee has suggested perhaps funding a potential Town Energy Fund with a percentage of the tax base or allocating part of the tax payments the town receives from Vermont Gas Systems (VGS) for a natural gas transmission pipeline that runs through the town.
The Town Energy Fund “could provide funding to residents to incentivize energy conservation, efficiency and/or renewable energy efforts for municipal, residential and local business properties,” the EEP says.

WHAT IS AN EEP?
Vermont Act 174, the Energy Development Improvement Act, details a list of planning requirements that would lead to the approval of an Enhanced Energy Plan. Among those requirements are consistency with Vermont’s energy and climate goals and the inclusion of energy analysis across the building, transportation and electrical sectors, according to the Addison County Regional Planning Commission (ACRPC), which completed its own EEP in 2018.
This is an entirely voluntary process. At the moment the ACRPC is working with or has worked with only 11 of the county’s 23 communities to develop an EEP, according to ACRPC Executive Director Adam Lougee — though more towns may tackle the process in the future.
The carrot, Lougee said, is that when a town with an approved EEP is a party to an application submitted to the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) — regarding, say, the siting of a proposed community solar project — that town gets what is called “substantial deference,” which basically means that unless the PUC can find a substantial reason not to, it will follow the mandates of the application the town is a party to, Lougee explained.
This is because developing an EEP requires a significant and detailed planning effort. The proposed Monkton EEP, for example, is 47 pages long, containing hundreds of data points and seven highly detailed maps (which were produced by ACRPC’s GIS Data Manager Kevin Behm).
In other words, with an EEP, there’s no disputing that a town knows its stuff.
Without an EEP, a town in front of the PUC would receive only “due consideration,” which is to say that the town’s wishes would carry less weight.

TOWN PLANNING
It has been a tremendous amount of work, said Monkton Planning Commission Chairs Marilyn Cargill and Wendy Sue Harper.
“It took us a year longer than we hoped,” Harper explained.
With the existing Town Plan set to expire in March 2019, the Planning Commission began the process of rewriting it in 2018, after winning a $9,677 grant from the ACRPC to help with the work. The ACRPC also secured $4,000 in grant money to help the Monkton Energy Committee work on the EEP.
“The biggest part has definitely been creating the Enhanced Energy Plan,” Cargill said.
So big, in fact, that when Monkton voters get asked to approve it, it will likely appear as a separate ballot item from the Town Plan that it’s embedded in.
The best thing the town did, said Cargill and Harper, was to hold an open house in the spring of 2018. About 80 residents attended.
“It was critical for us to write a plan that involves everyone,” Harper said. “Town participation was critical to getting this right.”
There have been no real hot-button topics in the proposed Town Plan and EEP, Cargill and Harper said, but they expect there will be more scrutiny by town residents once it comes time to create from the “vision” of these plans a Unified Planning Document, which will focus on the specifics of things like town zoning.
Once the Town Plan and EEP are approved, creating the Unified Planning Document will be the Planning Commission’s next project.
Then they’ll focus on implementing years two through eight of the plan. (Vermont used to require towns to update their town plans every five years; now it’s every eight years.)
Along the way, the Town Plan may be updated once 2020 census data becomes available.
“It’s a constant work of art that we keep updating,” Cargill said.
Before the Planning Commission co-chairs sat down with the Independent to chat Harper read the entire proposed Town Plan, including EEP, cover to cover.
“I felt very proud,” she said.
The selectboard will hold a public informational meeting on the new Town Plan on Monday, Jan. 6, at 7 p.m. at the Monkton Fire Station, with a hearing to follow at 8.
***
To see the proposed Monkton Town Plan, 2020–2028, click here.
To see Monkton’s proposed Enhanced Energy Plan click here.
Reach Christopher Ross at christopherr@addisonindependent.com.

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