Thursday March 08, 2018
The South Burlington Energy Committee (SBEC) wants to thank the community for keeping their eyes on the prize in regard to energy efficiency, conservation, and awareness. One of 50 communities in the United States who took part in the Georgetown University Energy Prize (GUEP), a two-year, nationwide competition, South Burlington is now saving over $750,000 in energy costs per year under the leadership of SBEC. According to the city, this savings will lead to more than $5 million in savings over time.
SBEC member Karen McKenny said, “Our main message is one of thanks to the residents, our partners, and the leadership of South Burlington for embracing change during this competition. We all felt we moved the needle pretty dramatically and could not have done it without the support of the community.”
SBEC is a volunteer group of 11 community members. Their mission is to promote energy conservation, energy efficiency, and the use of renewable energy resources among the city’s residents, businesses, and in municipal affairs. The SBEC Chair is Sam Swanson and Keith Epstein is vice chair. Along with McKenny, the other committee members are Donald Cummings, Drew Gelfenbein, Jeremy King, Linda McGinnis, James Mount, Marcy Murray, Patty Tashiro, and Fred Kosnitsky, who wrote a weekly Eye on the Prize energy column in The Other Paper since 2014.
McGinnis, who was appointed by Governor Phil Scott to the newly formed Vermont Climate Action Commission, notes, “Working with this team of dedicated professionals, volunteering their time to help our community save energy, save money, and reduce our carbon emissions, was - and continues to be - an inspiration. I work with communities across Vermont on efficiency and renewable energy projects and they all are learning from South Burlington’s example.”
The city and SBEC joined the GUEP in 2014. The competition was a catalyst to advance change, as it focused on innovative approaches to decreasing per capita energy usage, best practices for sustained energy efficiency, and public education in methods, benefits, and environmental costs of the full fuel cycle. During the two-year GUEP measurement period, SBEC hosted and participated in over 50 events, laying the foundation for ongoing progress. Although Fargo, North Dakota won the overall GUEP prize, the city points out the real prize to residents are the continued energy savings and awareness.
In addition to hosting monthly energy workshops and creating an outreach program to help residents save money on their energy costs, SBEC reports a myriad of accomplishments including upgrading inefficient light bulbs in city buildings for an annual saving of $17,000, receiving a $40,000 grant to develop a program encouraging condo owners and associations to weatherize their homes, and installing a 50kW solar array in Dorset Park to supply power to the city.
McGinnis says, “One of the most exciting projects that came out of the energy prize effort was the completion of the landfill solar project, a project that is already saving our municipal and school budgets tens of thousands of dollars a year on electricity bills. This project brought together a wide range of public and private partners to ensure that the city incurred no upfront capital costs and that the savings generated will be invested in future efficiency projects, generating even more savings. That’s what I call a win-win strategy!” McGinnis reports the project is a model that is being replicated in many other communities she works with across Vermont.
Many SBEC projects were created by businesses who either funded or partnered with the committee to create change. SBEC worked with Efficiency Vermont developing a program to replace residential incandescent bulbs, which in 11 months replaced 40,000 bulbs. Also with Efficiency Vermont, they helped create a direct mail program encouraging residents to upgrade electric water heaters to heat pump water heaters. With Green Mountain Power (GMP), SBEC upgraded 400 leased city streetlights to LEDs, saving $12,000. Along with assisting the development and implementation of the grant to weatherize condos, Vermont Gas (VGS) co-sponsored energy efficiency programs with SBEC. In addition, SBEC reports $35,000 was received by their sponsors, including Efficiency Vermont, VGS, GMP, Vermont State Employees Credit Union and others. These funds helped support the committee’s GUEP efforts.
GMP CEO Mary Powell said “GMP was delighted to partner with South Burlington,” adding, “The impressive grit, dedication, and commitment we saw in this community is a great example, as we all work together to lower carbon and cost, while increasing reliability. This is our energy future and it is bright!”
Karen Glitman, director of Efficiency Vermont, said, “Efficiency Vermont was honored to be a part of this effort. Hundreds of South Burlington residents and businesses were engaged in saving energy and starting their journey toward a more efficient future, which is the biggest win in this contest.”
The energy committee has been busy at local schools as well. According to McKenny, the group has worked with all school levels on classroom curriculum, including green teams, science fairs, “Lights Out Leaders,” and “Phantom Detectives,” in addition to other projects. South Burlington High School science teacher Phil Surks says that activities related to energy production, consumption, and conservation are now at the forefront of everything they do in the classroom.
SBEC efforts have been recognized by the Vermont Energy and Climate Action Network (VECAN), which is a network of over 100 Vermont town energy committees and the organizations that support them. The energy committee won a VECAN Best Project Award and a VECAN Best Overall Energy Committee Award. Also, SBEC won the South Burlington Land Trust Annual Award, which honors a person or a group whose work complements the mission of the land trust.
More recently, in 2017, the SBEC made their case to city council for South Burlington to join the Vermont Climate Pledge Coalition, which is an initiative to meet or exceed the obligations for the United States set forth in the Paris Agreement. It pledges to reduce greenhouse emission levels from 2005 by 26 to 28 percent by 2025 and to be 90 percent renewable by 2050. Last summer, the city council signed a draft climate resolution to join the coalition. Along with naming Paul Conner as South Burlington’s first chief sustainability officer, the city also reported it will continue to invest in energy efficient upgrades such as building improvements, heating system updates, and LED street lights.
Meanwhile, SBEC has retained the branding they created for the GUEP competition, the moniker, South Burlington Energy Prize. The committee continues not only its regular monthly meetings, but, more importantly, its mission to address the goals in the city’s Comprehensive Plan, “to promote energy efficiency, affordable energy, and lessen our reliance per capita on non-renewable energy resources.” On the drawing board are initiatives such as net-zero energy buildings that create their own energy from renewable sources and reducing transportation-related carbon pollution.
McGinnis says, “With the imminent availability of the VW settlement funds in Vermont, there are opportunities to expand vehicle and bus electrification, and charging stations, while continuing our efforts to make South Burlington a more walkable/bikeable community.”
“The real motivator for me was the opportunity to make change in and for South Burlington,” says McKenny, adding, “I’m proud of the work we have done and the results we have accomplished together as a small town in Vermont. Way to go South Burlington!”
For more energy news, tips, and resources, visit the SBEC at energyprize.org or on Facebook.