Energy awareness comes to Williston (10/29/09)

Oct. 29, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

With each pedal of the mountain bike, two different compact fluorescent light bulbs brightly lit up the Town Hall’s upstairs conference room. Shreyas Malhotra, 7, slowly pedaled the stationary bike, hooked up to different light bulb sets.

“Keep pedaling,” said Seth Wolcott of the Vermont Energy Education Program. “Not easy to light those bulbs, is it?”

Pedaling the bike, Malhotra demonstrated how much energy it takes to light incandescent bulbs versus the more energy efficient compact fluorescent bulbs. The experiment was part of Saturday’s Williston Energy Fair, hosted by Williston Green Initiatives.

On a mostly rainy day, about 60 to 70 people filtered in and out of Town Hall, learning ways to lead a more energy efficient lifestyle. Representatives from the Chittenden Solid Waste District, Building Energy and Vermont Energy and Climate Action Network were on hand to answer questions and provide sustainability tips.

For Malhotra’s father, Vishal, the energy fair was a chance to show his family — Shreyas, 9-year-old Shorya and wife Shakun — how energy conservation can help save the planet.

“I’m teaching them how to save and conserve energy,” Vishal Malhotra said. “I’ve taken them to energy fairs in Boston, but I wanted to show them how their own town is making a difference.”

The Williston Green Initiatives group formed in April 2008 as a subgroup of WING, a community visioning event. Since then, the group has helped administer energy audits within Williston and hosted sustainable living classes and film viewings.

Along with Saturday’s demonstrations and discussions, residents could take a tour with Williston Planner Jessica Andreoletti of Town Hall’s recent energy-saving changes. Button Up Vermont, a nonprofit conservation organization, held a seminar on how to make homes more energy efficient. Approximately 20 residents took the hour-long class.

The energy fair’s success pleased many in the Williston Green Initiatives group.

“We’ve had such a great turnout today and that’s such a thrill to us,” group member Mariana Lamaison Sears said.

“It means that the Green Initiatives group has made a name for itself in town,” Andreoletti added.

The Williston Energy Fair was held in conjunction with the International Day of Climate Action, organized by Vermont-author Bill McKibben’s organization. The group’s goal is to reduce to the world’s carbon output to 350 parts per million, the amount of carbon dioxide that scientists say is a safe level for the earth’s atmosphere. Across Vermont, and the world, different festivals and fairs celebrated the global effort.

For Debra Sachs, executive director of the Vermont Energy and Climate Action Network, the Williston Energy Fair was just as integral to the International Day of Climate Action as the larger events across the planet. Changes start locally first, she said.

“This is sustainability at it’s best,” Sachs said. “Sustainability’s best practice is dialogue.”

The Williston Energy Fair’s goal was to be a “zero-waste event.” Recycling and compost bins were set up.

Recycling and composting is a key component to saving energy, said CSWD’s Nancy Plunkett. She spent much of Saturday’s fair highlighting what people can recycle and compost — many people were unaware of all the possibilities. As Plunkett highlighted in a display, recycling one soda can saves as much energy as it takes to power a standard television for three hours.

“We do need to get back to our ecological principles,” Sachs said.

Vishal Malhotra believes the best way to return to those principles is to educate youngsters with practical ideas. As his sons took turns trying the bike demonstration, Malhotra dispensed some sage advice.

“It all starts with making a habit of turning off the lights when you leave the room,” he said.