Dorset energy committee held up as a model

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DORSET - The Dorset municipal government has saved tens of thousands of dollars over the past decade by making basic changes to its energy practices.

It switched from sodium-vapor to LED street lights, cutting the town's street-light bill by about $3,000 a year. Dorset also weatherized all its municipal buildings, including air sealing and insulating the town office and fire stations, which saved $1,000 to $3,000 a year in heating costs.

These efforts were led by the Dorset Energy Committee, a group of local volunteers empowered by the town Select Board in 2007 to promote affordable and renewable energy, garbage reduction and recycling, as well as energy efficiency.

"They helped to lower the town's energy bills thereby saving tax dollars," Dorset Town Manager Rob Gaiotti said.

The committee also helped put together a grant application that brought the town $40,000 for its weatherization projects, including buying new boilers, Gaiotti said.

The Dorset Energy Committee's work was highlighted last Thursday during a public energy forum in East Arlington's Martha Canfield Library. The event, co-organized by the Bennington County Regional Commission, Efficiency Vermont, and Vermont Energy and Climate Action Network, aimed to encourage and assist more towns in the area to form energy committees.

Bennington County has 16 municipalities, but only Dorset and Manchester have active energy committees, according to the county regional commission.

"If you want to make a difference as an energy committee, it's a marathon, it's not a sprint," Jim Salsgiver, a member of the Dorset Energy Committee, told a standing-room only crowd of about 50 people that cold Thursday evening.

He said the committee's to-do list, which includes an enhanced town energy plan and ideas for public transportation, just keep on getting longer by the year.

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A committee accomplishment highlighted at the forum was its helping Dorset officials come up with an energy-code compliance system for new homes. The Residential Building Energy Standards has been state law since 1997, but most Vermont towns don't have a way of implementing it, forum speakers said.

In Dorset since 2014, residential building contractors have been required to officially acknowledge they're aware of the state energy code before they can receive a certificate of occupancy from the town office.

"It can potentially be a model for the State, and it will impose no costs on the Town while helping to ensure that residents can be comfortable that their house projects are completed in an energy efficient manner," the Dorset Energy Committee wrote in its 2014 annual report.

Bennington County's other energy challenges include coordinating community solar projects, switching from petroleum-heating systems to alternative forms and setting up electric vehicle demonstrations, said Jim Sullivan, director of the Bennington County Regional Commission.

Town energy committees, Sullivan said in an interview, are in a unique position to educate community members and undertake local projects, which contribute to Vermont's goals of energy efficiency and conservation. By 2050, the state wants renewable energy to be the source for 90 percent of its total energy consumption: for electricity, transportation and heating.

"Energy committees are well positioned to determine which strategies would work best in their towns and to identify the people and organizations best suited to take a lead role," Sullivan said.

The next step, he said, is for officials and nonprofit organizations to help local residents plan and strategize how to form their own energy committees.

The Dorset committee, for one, advised incorporating "fun" activities to help build camaraderie amid the work. Their members have done field trips such as visiting a recycling center and a wind turbine manufacturer.

Tiffany Tan can be reached at ttan@benningtonbanner.com, @tiffgtan at Twitter and 802-447-7567 ext. 122.


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