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Feb 20, 2003 to Feb 6, 2013

My Opinion: A Petition? Really? We're Already Doing Good Work for Brattleboro's Energy Future


I’m usually a fan of petitions. They’re an easy way to make your voice heard, especially these days when, on a national level, it sometimes feels like our leaders don’t share our values. But lately a local social media petition has been trying my patience a bit.

There’s an electronic petition making the rounds urging our town to “End Brattleboro’s Municipal Use of Heating Oil”. It points out, fairly, that as a town Brattleboro emits large amounts of carbon dioxide burning fuel oil, and that this is something that we should be working to reduce as much as possible. I fully agree with this sentiment. My problem with the petition? It seems to be either ignorant or dismissive of the very good work that has already been done around this issue. This is surprising, since the author has been present at almost every Selectboard meeting since I have been a member.

The petition claims the town has been “slow to act”, but of the total of 9 energy improvement upgrades recommended in 2016 (last year, mind you), 4 have been fully funded, and 2 have been partially funded. So, in one year’s time a lot of good work has been done toward these energy upgrades, to the tune of one third of the total project costs (over half of a million dollars) are now funded, and work will begin this year. Town staff and citizen volunteers have put many hours into these efforts and finding creative funding sources. Additionally, just this May 16th, the current Selectboard voted to change the Transportation Center heating system to a pellet boiler, as per the Energy Committee’s recommendations of 2016. Surely these moves are not indicative of a town is dragging its feet on financially smart energy upgrades.

Speaking of moving away from fossil fuels, I’ll point out the news from the last few days that the state has approved our former landfill solar array, one of the largest in Vermont, of which the Town of Brattleboro is the largest participant. This will not only move Brattleboro forward as a major investor in green energy, but also reap an approximate 70 to 80 thousand dollars a year in reduced cost of electricity and many thousands in additional property tax revenue to reduce our town taxpayers’ burdens.

I believe that along with moving away from fossil fuels, we must also be respectful of both the heavy burden placed on our taxpayers and of the democratic process, which works well, but sometimes more slowly than some people desire. I’m proud to live in a town where activists with good ideas can feel heard by their town government; I would just like to feel that when good efforts are already being made, those same people are paying attention.

Tim Wessel, Brattleboro Selectboard

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Initial reaction

The petition folks haven't reached out in this direction yet, so we don't know if this is advisory or not.

If advisory, it is a waste of energy for the reasons Tim mentions above. Of all the things the Town spends time on, energy has been one that has gotten attention and action steadily for the last 20 years. We could only hope that other committees and departments could be as successful in planning and implementation. How many energy improvements have been made in the last year vs, say, skateparks built, bike paths added, public arts projects installed, etc.?

The Energy Committee is one I often point to to show doubters that steady work and effort leads to results. Those results add up. They are not dysfunctional.

I can see how some might characterize the Town as slow to act. The opportunity to put a similar pellet boiler between the library and municipal center was shot down, for no good reason, last year. It has taken steady pushing to get energy audits, and then to fund the recommendations. Long term energy thinking isn't yet fully incorporated - we're still a bit split-minded. Look at the energy wasted to appoint a weigher of coal...

If it is the bigger petition to get more signatures and make it binding, that changes the game a bit. It could be mighty cold in some buildings if heating oil was suddenly not used, and no alternatives had been put in place. But sure, cold turkey is a method for quitting an addiction.

If the request isn't an immediate and drastic ending of heating oil, and is instead a gradual transition like we are already doing, then I tend to return to "what's the point... we're heading in the right direction."

 
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Where's the request?

I've read this petition several times and still cannot discern a concrete request in it, unless you want to be generous and interpret this as a request to "hurry up" with the steps towards a goal that we are already working towards.
The "letter" embedded in the petition simply says "End Brattleboro's Municipal Use of Heating Oil" and that's it... so the question, to me, becomes: are people who sign on to this petition just agreeing with the longer description of the petition, or the actual "letter" I just quoted, or both? These are important distinctions, and in my mind the lack of clarity here makes the intent of the petition signers that much more unclear.

 
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"Consideration of a question in open and informal debate"

Why hasn't a link or a copy for the "electronic petition making the rounds" been provided with this discussion article?

 
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Not a discussion article

This isn't an article for discussion, this is an opinion piece. If you're having trouble finding the petition, here is the text:

"Petitioning Town Manager, Brattleboro Peter Elwell and 1 other
End Brattleboro's Municipal Use of Heating Oil

Daniel Quipp Brattleboro, VT

Each year the Town of Brattleboro buys about 80,000 gallons of heating oil for it's municipal buildings. This annual purchase results in about 800 metric tons of carbon dioxide. Want to know more? Watch this 7min video presentation given by Daniel Quipp of 350 Brattleboro. (link)
The town officially acknowledged the problem of climate change with a resolution passed in 2002, however it has been slow to act. Help the Town Manager and Selectboard understand that you want to see changes to how the Town's buildings are heated (for example, efficient wood pellet boilers, air/ground source heat pumps, air source water heaters, renewable energy) in order to reduce the town's greenhouse gas emissions and use our tax dollars in a forward thinking way.
Making investments in reducing our fossil fuel use makes sense economically as oil prices can fluctuate wildly and will save the Town money in the long term. Reducing our fossil fuel use is also the right thing to do in terms of our responsibility for protecting a livable climate. "

If you click on "Read the Letter" you get this statement:

"Letter to
Town Manager, Brattleboro Peter Elwell
Brattleboro Selectboard, Chair Kate O'Connor
End Brattleboro's Municipal Use of Heating Oil"

 
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It takes two

There were two comments before my first comment. The discussion has already begun. Indeed, we now have the text of the petition your opinion is based on. Someone is paying attention. Thank you very much.

Aside from acknowledging the slow to act claim based on time passed from the Selectboard's 2002 climate change resolution, what we are really talking about is a significant impact on the board's future budgetary processes.

 
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Thoughts from an Energy Committee Member; Petition Link

Thanks for the post, Timmy.

For those wanting to sign the petition, you can find it here:

End Brattleboro's Municipal Use of Heating Oil

Note that the energy committee isn't in any way involved with this petition, in fact we haven't even discussed it.

I did sign the petition, despite the ambiguous language, for a bunch of reasons. 

I sat down with John Allen and Patrick Moreland last year to find out why John has been so reluctant to sign on to the town's conversion to modern wood heating systems.  One of the things that he told me is that "People just aren't talking about energy and climate issues, at least not to me."  A petition like this is undeniable and can be pointed to when such comments arise in the future.

Secondly, I was strongly disappointed when the police and fire stations were designed with barely above code levels of insulation and propane heating systems.  Propane!!  This was very confusing after the hours and hours that energy committee members put in trying to get the town to design energy efficient, 'high performance' buildings.  I just felt like we were ignored and the town made huge mistakes.  Hopfully it won't be repeated with the Municipal Center's renovations.

Yes, the town has made some substantial strides over the last 10 years, and we should indeed be a bit proud of the results, but it has come at the cost of countless (and I mean, literally - countless) hours put in by a lot of people, with many frustrations and some obstructions from those in power.  If David Gartenstein hadn't found our committee $40,000 by diverting a portion of the agricultural preservation fund we never would have gotten the building audits accomplished and none of that work would be happening.  And we have soo, soo much more to do.

As for the "heavy burden on taxpayers," I wonder what people in 3rd world countries who are getting slammed by the early onset of global warming would think about such a comment coming from a community as relatively wealthy as ours.  I don't mean to belittle people who are struggling to pay the bills, but I would say that our society seems to be a bit out of whack with regard to how we prioritize our spending.

Lastly, Timmy, I want to say how grateful I am that you are on the Selectboard.  Your and Brandie's presences have made all the difference.  David Schoales has been a stalwart on these issues, for the most part (his stance on wind power confuses me), and others have contributed here and there, but there's a clear sense of opening and possibilities with the current Board.

Lots more to come, soon.

Tad Montgomery

 
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True

John Allen has been the primary doubter who has slowed things recent years, though he's more educated about all of this now. But he still thinks wood might skyrocket in price like oil, and generally likes that status quo.

[How about a petition to run for that seat, petition folks? Might be a faster way to reach goals. : )]

 
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Going off point for a second

Going off point for a second this is the same Selectboard member who thinks that even though there is not a single person of color working in any capacity for the town that there is diversity in the workforce.
Maybe he just had problems with change...

 
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Moral Authority

Wait, isn't this the guy who admitted in front of the select board that he heats his home with heating oil? I like the intention, save the world and all that, but shouldn't people put their own houses in order before telling the town what to do? Something about a mote in thy brother's eye? Where are the people who are leading this movement by example? I don't want to see grand pontifications, but boots on the ground making real change, and showing the rest of us what to do.

 

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