BENNINGTON — The town is back in the energy business — in a manner of speaking.
The Select Board voted this week to re-establish the defunct town Energy Committee and will seek seven to 10 people to focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy options.
After receiving letters of interest, which are due by May 6, the board plans to issue appointments for one year.
During that period, the committee will first help flesh out its role as a standing town committee and then explore possible energy-savings initiatives or policies to recommend to the Select Board.
The move, which is the first recommendation in the recently adopted town Energy Plan, was urged by members of Climate Action of Bennington and the Bennington County Regional Commission during a Feb. 25 board meeting. They also provided general goals for such a committee — based in part on committees previously formed in Dorset, Manchester and other Vermont towns — along with a list of people interested in volunteering.
Richard Dundas, a member of the Climate Action group, which he said is interested because of its concern for climate change issues, said the proposal provides possible committee goals but is not meant to be "a document you had to abide by."
David Durfee, the primary author of the proposal first outlined in February, said he offered three options with three levels of detail — from a statement of goals to longer versions with possible actions to be considered or pursued.
Town Manager Stuart Hurd said the Energy Committee openings will be posted online and sent out to media as a press release. Because the committee is new, board interviews of those expressing interest should be held, he said.
After some discussion by the Select Board, it was decided to ask the committee to focus during the first few months on its role of exploring energy-related issues, reporting on a regular basis to the board and making recommendations.
In addition to support from BCRC and Climate Action, the town Planning Commission has endorsed reforming a town energy committee, Chairman Michael McDonough said during the Feb. 25 meeting.
Madison Kremer, an AmeriCorps VISTA employee with the BCRC, said at the meeting that Dorset and Manchester have formed energy committees and she had been discussing committees with Arlington and Shaftsbury officials.
The Dorset committee was the subject of a Banner article in early February, which highlighted the money it has saved the town through its recommendations.
Durfee said most energy committees he knows of "focus almost entirely on saving money for the town," and on helping to meet the state's long-term goal of deriving most energy from renewable resources.
His short version proposal recommends an energy committee that would:
- Increase public awareness of the challenges of unsustainable energy use and global warming
- Develop a network of like-minded individuals and groups within the community
- Assist local governments, community entities and individuals to recognize opportunities to make a difference on energy issues
- Develop a broad information and action network with regional, statewide and wider resource organizations, other communities and other information sources.
Among the possible specific initiatives suggested are to participate in community activities to focus on climate issues and sustainable energy; develop a network of individuals who could help with short-term activities and maintain liaison with groups and organizations; use social media, letters to the editor and other means to encourage discussion of climate challenges and the consequences of warming; encourage ways to reduce energy use and spur economic development; join statewide energy advocate organizations; maintain contact with supportive lawmakers, and develop appropriate relationships with select boards, the BCRC and other government agencies in surrounding towns.
Select Board Chairman Donald Campbell raised some concerns this week about the exact role the Energy Committee will fill in town government, initially proposing that the first year be devoted to defining that role.
However, board member Jeannie Jenkins said she wouldn't want the group to spend an entire year defining how it will function, and the board eventually agreed to ask for a report on those details within the first three months.
Campbell said he would like to see the committee take on the task of prioritizing and considering the 46 other recommendations in the town Energy Plan.
Hurd raised concerns that the new committee could add to the burden of town offices staff unless it were essentially "self-sufficient."
By that he primarily meant being responsible for adhering to the state's opening meeting law, taking and posting meeting minutes and reporting on a regular basis to the Select Board.
Campbell and other board members agreed those duties should normally fall on members of the volunteer board.
Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien