Residents debate adopting town energy plan

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

Even without full implementation, Williston’s energy plan will satisfy the requirements of Act 174, giving the town a say in where the Vermont Public Utility Commission sites renewable energy projects in town. 

The selectboard is considering adopting the 45-page plan into its Comprehensive Town Plan. It was written by a volunteer energy task force under the guidance of the planning commission over the past two years. On Tuesday, the selectboard held the first of two public hearings ahead of a decision on whether to adopt it into the Town Plan. 

Planning Director Matt Boulanger advised the board that adopting the plan will signal to the state that the town will do its part to help Vermont achieve its renewable energy goals — to source 90 percent of the state’s energy needs from renewable sources by 2050. After adoption, the town will be considered “energy compliant” and receive “substantial deference” in renewable energy siting decisions.

After the hearing, board members informally signaled their support. A second public hearing is scheduled for August. 

But while the board may be willing to adopt the plan, implementing it, including creating and filling the position of “energy coordinator” and seating a volunteer energy committee, is less certain.

“I do not want to commit to making this a priority in the next budget season,” said board member Jeff Fehrs.

A group of nearly 100 residents, led by the Sustainable Williston group, signed a petition urging the board to adopt the plan and hire an energy coordinator. 

“We are excited about the opportunity for us as a community to take this concrete step towards a more sustainable and resilient future for Williston,” states the petition. 

The planning commission also supports adoption and hiring of an energy coordinator.

The plan lists 15 specific actions the town needs to take in order to transform its use and production of energy in support of the state’s goals. Actions cover the areas of transportation, building energy usage, recycling and consumption, electrical energy generation and agriculture. It defines goals, tasks and timeframes in each of those sections. 

Among the actions are: doubling renewable energy production in town, reducing energy use by 27 percent per capita, weatherizing 90 percent of homes and 50 percent of businesses, and equipping most homes with renewable-powered heat pumps.

Brian Forrest, the town’s volunteer energy coordinator who helped write the plan, said it addresses the contribution Williston has made to global warming and shows that the town takes the problem seriously.

Sustainable Williston member Marcy Kass said switching from fossil fuels is “the most important thing we can do in our lifetime.”

“If I listen, I can hear future generations cheering us on,” she said. 

Resident Leslie Allen argued that the plan is futile and based on the “hoax” of global warming. 

“We would be spending money for no purpose,” he said, doubting the conclusions about the manmade causes of global warming described in the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2018 report. “It is likely this is part of a natural cycle.”

“We are not going to make any changes to global temperatures,” he continued. “We are being duped into doing things that are detrimental to ourselves with no prospects of helping ourselves.” 

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