For much of the state, yesterday marked the first morning this autumn that there was frost on the windshield. It was just the reminder we all needed that winter is imminent.
Another telltale sign was the annual Button Up Vermont news conference, urging Vermonters to be thinking about weatherizing homes and businesses.
The front steps of Aldrich Public Library in Barre served as the backdrop for the coalition of weatherization advocates, whose members were pushing for educating the public about services and resources available for comfort from the cold, saving money and cutting carbon.
Button Up Vermont is a community-based, public outreach campaign designed to help Vermont reach a statewide goal of 25% energy savings in 80,000 homes by 2020.
Rebecca Foster, the new director of Efficiency Vermont, said Button Up Vermont, which started in 2013, has seen its number of projects and participants growing year after year. She said today there are more than 50 communities statewide taking part in the program, which offers resources, including weatherization workshops, home energy tours, books and pamphlets outlining DIY projects, and more.
At a grass-roots level, she said, towns and cities across Vermont, along with local energy committees, and through the efforts of community action councils, social service organizations, and business partners (like Vermont Gas and Green Mountain Power, for example), the network of help is comprehensive.
We need these kinds of partnerships in order to make a difference. The task is daunting, but certainly not impossible.
Eighty thousand is an ambitious goal. With the second-oldest housing stock in the nation, there remains much to be done for projects spanning all income levels.
Much emphasis was placed Thursday on making all of the same resources available to low- to moderate-income Vermonters as well.
Moderate-income households — approximately 60% of all Vermont families — are eligible for 50% of their project costs up to $4,000. In addition, no- and low-interest loans are available based on household income through the Heat Saver Loan program.
Vermont Gas Systems, for example, has partnered with Efficiency Vermont and Burlington Electric Department to provide funding to help even more Vermonters reduce energy usage.
Lauren Grimley, energy efficiency manager for VGS, stood alongside representatives of the environmental lobby — some of whom oppose VGS projects elsewhere in the state — to deliver the message: “There has never been a better time to button up.”
Robert Dostis, vice president of stakeholder relations for GMP, told the crowd that while Vermont’s energy goals are ambitious (he was in the Legislature at the time they were put into place), it is encouraging to see the state moving toward those goals.
“We got us into this fix,” he said. “Now we need to fix it together.”
Thursday’s frost may not be the most effective incentive for the campaign. Another factor has played a critical role in raising awareness, and spurring action.
Foster pointed out that many individuals are likely more mindful of the discussion of “carbon footprint” in light of the recent global climate strike. She said this year’s Button Up Vermont campaign is especially timely in that the dialogue in the last few weeks has centered on climate change, and the local role in which individuals, families, businesses and communities can have an effect on using fewer fossil fuels (specifically, oil for furnaces).
“The energy we use to heat our homes and buildings is the second largest source of carbon emissions in Vermont, making weatherization one of the most impactful carbon-cutting actions we can all take as individuals, while also reducing our energy bills and increasing comfort,” she said.
Conor Teal, a member of Barre’s energy committee, pointed to the effectiveness of the grass-roots movements that have become so crucial to informing and creating energy policy.
Barre City/Barre Town represents one of more than 120 energy committees around the state. Teal said it is that frontline work that is getting attention in the right places. The cost-savings are obvious; the comfort levels on cold days are noticeable.
“Stop heating the outdoors,” one Button Up Vermont poster on display outside the library proclaimed.
The difference can be made, and all of us can play a part, especially before the snow flies.
For more information, and a list of local workshops, go to https://buttonupvermont.org/