BRATTLEBORO—As Windham County blazes a trail toward a revitalized economy pending the closure of a local nuclear plant — and major employer — the state on May 14 took public input on how best to use a related $5.3 million green energy windfall.
Approximately 50 people attended meeting that day at Brattleboro Union High School, there at the invitation of the Clean Energy Development Board (which manages Vermont’s Clean Energy Development Fund), to offer project ideas.
Proposals included biomass, hemp, and solar, with advocates also speaking for establishing an anaerobic digester at the Brattleboro landfill and creating a wood pellet cooperative.
Windham County is due $2.6 million of a total $5.3 million headed to the state, part of an agreement reached last December by the state and Entergy, the owner of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant in Vernon.
CEDF said in a press release it will be “particularly interested in investing in the development of the distributed generation clean energy sector of the Vermont and Windham economies in coordination with State and regional economic development organizations.”
In exchange for a state-issued Certificate of Public Good that permits VY to operate until the end of this year, Entergy made a number of financial commitments in its December 2013 agreement with the state.
Windham County will benefit from two provisions in the agreement. The first is $10 million over five years to fund economic development activities. Windham County will also receive 50 percent, about $2.6 million, of the CEDF monies to develop green energy projects.
The General Assembly created the CEDF in 2005 to increase the number of local and small-scale renewable energy installations in the state.
According to Andrew Perchlik, CEDF’s fund manager, “These are the last funds the CEDF expect to receive from Entergy and we want to be sure to leverage these dollars to achieve maximum economic and clean-energy benefit to the state and Windham County."
Perchlik added that the comments and project ideas gathered at the May 14 hearing would inform the Fund’s fiscal year 2015 strategic plan. The Fund board will also take comments in writing. The comment period closes at the end of June.
Although the CEDF does not fund efficiency programs directly, a few commenters asked that the board consider creating a structure that considered or supported increasing a building’s energy efficiency.
Other comments focused on how to get the best bang for the buck — for example, asking whether to fund one project through to completion or create a revolving loan fund to fuel many projects over the course of years.
Ideas from the floor
Some speakers supported the idea of building a county-wide strategy that could coordinate projects, planning, and funding in order to leverage the money to attract more funds.
Chris Campany, executive director of the Windham Regional Commission, said, “The Windham region has an outstanding community of energy coordinators. Energy committees, volunteer and non-profit organizations, energy consultants, and contractors, and building professionals.”
“We hope the PSD (Public Service Department) and CEDF board will develop a plan that results in the most effective use and greatest impact of this and future funding, and that you will partner with the Commission and this broad range of stakeholders in the development of this plan,” concluded Campany.
Campany called on the board to create an “actionable plan for investment” that would leverage the funds effectively and include Windham County players.
The plan would identify the best technologies for development, identify barriers to funding, bolster and strengthen clean-energy finance activities, and evaluate programs that are making necessary adjustments.
Guy Payne, executive director of the Sustainable Energy Outreach Network, echoed Campany’s request for a region-wide strategy. Payne’s group supports the development and use of biomass energy systems, such as wood pellet heating.
However, Payne said increasing wood pellet installations without considering the supply chain could create unintended consequences, and added that local loggers have concerns about increasing tree harvests without long-term planning.
Laura Sibilia, director of economic development and SeVEDS contact for the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp., encouraged the board to invest in planning as part of its overall strategy. SeVEDS focuses on improving the economy of the Windham County region.
Chad Simmons, a member of the anti-nuclear organization Safe and Green, said that the variety of projects pitched at the meeting left him feeling inspired. He also encouraged the board to consider energy efficiency.
State Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, reminded the audience that although half of the new funds will go directly to projects in Windham County, the county can also compete for the remaining statewide $2.6 million.