BRATTLEBORO -- Asked to come up with projects that could benefit from millions of dollars in clean-energy funding, those who gathered at a meeting in Brattleboro Wednesday night mentioned solar, wind, biomass, anaerobic digestion and even hemp.
The number and variety of those proposals led to renewed calls for those who manage Vermont's Clean Energy Development Fund to come up with a detailed plan for how to spend more than $2.6 million allocated for Windham County.
"Having this money come to Windham County is a great opportunity for our region," said Paul Cameron, Brattleboro town energy coordinator. "I support slowing down and developing a strategic plan."
Because Entergy is closing its Vermont Yankee nuclear plant at year's end, the state negotiated a deal with the company that includes several payments designed to alleviate the impact of losing a major taxpayer and employer.
The deal, which was ratified when the Vermont Public Service Board gave Yankee a certificate of public good to operate through the remainder of 2014, includes $10 million for economic development in Windham County as well as $5.3 million for clean-energy development.
Officials recently announced that Entergy had handed over the clean-energy cash. And half of that funding is to be spent locally; hence the Clean Energy Development Board's meeting Wednesday night.
"At least 50 percent of those funds must be spent in or for the benefit of Windham County," Andrew Perchlik, manager of the Clean Energy Development Fund, told about 50 people who attended the board's hearing at Brattleboro Union High School Wednesday.
Perchlik said Entergy has been a contributor since the fund was established in 2006. "But this year, it's a little different," he noted.
The fund has been focused on small-scale renewable projects, Perchlik said, adding that "a lot of our funding in the last few years has gone to solar."
Perchlik said state officials, with the public's comments in mind, will develop a proposal for using the clean-energy funding from Entergy. There then will be a public-comment period on that proposal.
There is no time frame for spending the money, Perchlik added.
With the clean-energy board seeking input, testimony on Wednesday included:
-- A presentation from a Windham County Wood Pellet Cooperative.
-- Gary Fox of Rockingham Conservation Commission spoke about "retrofitting buildings with renewable thermal energy," and he asked for ways to incentivize weatherization of old buildings in downtown business districts. "It's really challenging to be competitive as a tenant in these buildings," he said.
-- Emily Peyton is a gubernatorial candidate but also a hemp advocate who said the plant can be used for a variety of purposes, including one similar to wood pellets.
"I visited a plant in the UK that was processing hemp, and it was spitting out pellets from the dust," Peyton said. She added that "there's a giant wave of awareness it's just catching on, because it's the billion-dollar cash crop."
-- Bob Spencer, executive director of Windham Solid Waste Management District, noted that Vermont's recycling requirements soon will include compost. "The big unknown for the state is organic food waste how are we going to meet this mandate?" Spencer said. One answer at the district's Old Ferry Road facility, which already collects compost that is collected curbside in Brattleboro, might be a "standalone anaerobic digester to process food waste," he added.
-- Peter Thurrell of Westminster's Soveren Solar said he has driven by Vermont Yankee and envisioned solar panels that could replace some of the plant's power-generating capacity. "The economics of solar have come almost to a point where we can make that dream come true," Thurrell said.
Several attendees called for a plan to sort through and prioritize those ideas.
Chris Campany, executive director of Windham Regional Commission, said WRC has no interest in applying for any Clean Energy Development funding. But he offered the commission's expertise.
"As you've no doubt seen and will see, there is very strong interest in clean energy throughout the Windham Region, and great ideas for projects," Campany told state officials.
He lobbied for the Clean Energy Development Board and the state Public Service Department to "develop a plan that makes the most-effective use of these funds for the greatest possible impact, and we ask that you partner with the Windham Regional Commission in the development of this plan."
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.