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Paul Cameron is leaving Vermont scenes like this one to head back to his native North Carolina.

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Lights out

Energy Coordinator Paul Cameron steps down, leaving legacy of sustainability in Brattleboro

BRATTLEBORO—Paul Cameron will miss Brattleboro.

“It’s a unique and wonderful place,” he said.

Cameron stepped down as town energy coordinator Sept. 30. He plans to leave Brattleboro to return to his family in North Carolina.

His mother is in her 90s, Cameron said, and it no longer felt right living far away.

Cameron spent 14 years working out of the town Planning Department as the town’s energy coordinator. He completed much of the town energy committee’s hands-on efforts.

In 2002, Cameron co-founded the nonprofit Brattleboro Climate Protection with then-Selectboard member and former state legislator Sarah Edwards. The nonprofit has collaborated with the town ever since.

In conjunction with Brattleboro Climate Protection, the town established its energy committee and brought Cameron on as the town energy coordinator to work with the committee in 2009.

“Climate change is the issue of our time,” Cameron said. “It feels vital to be doing work to address it.”

A longtime passion

Cameron’s interest in climate change developed in graduate school.

He moved from North Carolina to attend Antioch University New England in Keene, New Hampsire, in 1998. He graduated with a master’s degree in 2001.

“By the time I graduated, I was really ready to take some action [on climate change],” he said.

He decided to focus his efforts at the local level, since he believes communities have the greatest power at the local level, and multiple communities’ actions to reverse climate change quickly add up. In practical terms, energy efficiency and investing in renewable energy also result in lower operating costs, he said.

“It just simply saves money,” Cameron said.

Cameron spoke highly of past and present members of the town’s energy committee, noting that the committee — which is focused on renewable energy, transportation, and energy efficiency — has an ambitious work plan.

Cameron also noted that the committee’s energy program couldn’t exist without the town’s support.

Representative Town Meeting approved $10,000 in the town budget to fund the town energy coordinator for the last few years. This support has allowed the committee to “take actions that have reduced energy use, protected sustainability, and saved money for the town’s residents,” Cameron said.

Municipal matters

In 2008, the town completed a comprehensive energy analysis that focused on the efficiency of lighting and heating systems in municipal-owned buildings, Cameron said.

These efforts were followed recently with a detailed energy audit of larger municipal facilities.

Town Manager Peter Elwell said the Selectboard and town staff expect to launch discussions about the audit’s results and next steps within a couple months.

Recently, the Department of Public Works finished a multi-year project to replace Brattleboro’s streetlights with LED bulbs.

“It has resulted in significant savings,” Cameron said.

Director of Public Works Steve Barrett said he worked with Cameron, and the streetlight project saved the town more than what the town spent on Cameron’s salary. Barrett expressed his gratitude for the work done by Cameron and the energy committee.

The old street lights, Barrett said, used approximately 50,000 lumens. The new LED lights use approximately 3,700 lumens. The DPW also removed some of the street lights that were deemed unnecessary.

In 2013, the town spent $212,000 on street lights. In the fiscal year 2016, the town spent $130,000, realizing a saving of $82,000.

Introducing efficiencies

The energy committee and Cameron have also held a series of public workshops to teach business owners, residents, and landlords about the variety of renewable energy technologies available to them like solar, modern wood heat, and heat pumps.

Cameron played a role in the town’s no-idling initiative asking drivers to reduce air pollution by not idling their cars. He helped bring electric-car charging stations to town.

In 2013, Brattleboro’s town energy committee received an award for the best energy committee in Vermont from the Vermont Energy and Climate Action Network.

Cameron credits the committee member’s dedication, knowledge, and passion for its success.

“It’s been a privilege for me to work with those individuals. I’ve learned a lot,” Cameron said. “They’re very committed and dedicated and smart individuals.”

Michael Bosworth, chair of the town energy committee, met Cameron in 2007 when both men served on the board of Brattleboro Thermal Utility, a district energy initiative.

Cameron has a “quick sense of humor” and is a “fun person to work with,” Bosworth said.

Bosworth said he has always appreciated Cameron’s commitment to energy issues.

‘He walks the walk’

“He’s continued to be that committed person,” Bosworth said. “He walks the walk in his own life.”

For example, Bosworth noted that along with walking whenever possible, Cameron keeps his office lights dimmed to conserve energy.

Bosworth expects the energy committee to reassess some of its goals and work plan in light of Cameron’s departure to make them more “realistic” for a committee of nine volunteers, he said.

At the Selectboard’s Sept. 20 meeting, the board approved, at the energy committee’s request, reducing the committee’s membership from 11 to nine members.

Cameron’s departure means the committee is losing its only paid, officially designated staff member.

The committee’s work plan includes increasing energy efficiency and use of renewable energy technologies in municipal properties. Developing transportation alternatives to cars — like encouraging biking or walking — made the list, as did improving access to public transportation.

The committee also included education and outreach activities, such as improving resilience to climate change through measures like advocating with Green Mountain Power for Brattleboro to become the first town to operate a municipal microgrid.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a microgrid is a small energy grid designed to power a localized entity like a town or facility. The microgrid provides local energy and control, especially during emergencies. Microgrids have the capacity to connect to a larger power grid or operate independently.

Trail project

Under its transportation mandate, the energy committee helped revitalize the West River Trail project a few years ago, Cameron said. Committee members rebuilt the project’s momentum before handing it off to the Friends of the West River Trail, he said.

Work continues to expand the trail and make it more accessible to people seeking alternatives to commuting by car, he said.

Cameron expects the town will hire another energy coordinator and is confident the committee will carry out more energy improvement projects.

“It’s become part of how the town conducts business,” Cameron said.

Elwell said the town will analyze the duties the energy coordinator performed and the town’s needs before deciding whether to hire a new coordinator.

In the short-term, the committee will “fill the void itself,” Elwell said.

Elwell described the energy committee and Brattleboro Climate Change’s work as a “unique situation because of the public-private collaboration.”

“[Cameron] was selfless about fulfilling” his role as energy coordinator, Elwell continued. “It will be a challenge to maintain the same level of service with the same level of funding.”

Looking ahead

Elwell expects the Selectboard and energy committee will soon study the results of an energy audit completed last year.

The audit looked at the energy use and efficiency of some of the town’s larger facilities.

Elwell said the next step is to prioritize the the projects to come out of the audit.

Work that can be funded through the town’s two enterprise funds — parking and utilities — will be done this year, Elwell said. Projects requiring monies from the town’s General Fund will be discussed in upcoming budget talks.

“We’ll miss [Cameron],” said Elwell. “He’s made a lasting contribution here.”

Cameron, too, will miss many aspects of his adopted community.

He listed a few in a recent email: “Daily walks up Wantastiquet Mountain, picking apples in the fall, summers without air conditioning, the Co-op, Brooks Library, contra dancing, and good friends.”

When it comes to energy and climate change, Cameron encourages everyone to take action — no matter how small.

Cameron said when he started working to combat climate change, the environmental devastation felt overwhelming.

“What I’ve learned is that all of our actions matter,” he said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #377 (Wednesday, October 5, 2016).

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