Tonight the public has the opportunity to comment on how $2.6 million in clean energy development funds should be spent in Windham County. The money comes via Entergy, which announced last year it was closing its Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon.

This public hearing is to identify new ideas, potential impacts, and reasonable proposals associated with clean energy in Windham County. It will be an opportunity for the public to make suggestions or to raise issues and concerns before the agency begins developing projects and policy.

The big question is, what can $2,600,000 get us in clean energy? What are the criteria that should be used to pick and choose from the numerous projects? Greenhouse gas reduction? Job creation? Kilowatt hours produced? Market penetration? Community ownership? Energy conservation? Regional economic development? Or should we perhaps focus on the production of indigenous fuels such as biomass and methane?

Two major players at tonight's meeting will be the Windham Regional Commission and the Windham Solid Waste Management District. Both have been working for years, if not decades, to incorporate renewable energy into their programs and policies.

The WRC is in the final stage of re-writing its regional plan, and a continuing major theme of the plan is energy. In addition to supporting Vermont's Comprehensive Energy Plan, the proposed WRC Plan states: "The Windham Region can lead by example by increasing the efficiency of its energy-dependent systems, analyzing its current energy usage and identifying critical areas of improvement, and supporting local energy options that benefit its communities."

The WRC Plan supports diversification of energy sources in the region, redundancy of systems to support critical functions in times of supply interruptions, net-metering, and community-scaled distributed generation projects that enhance self-sufficiency and resilience. The proposed plan also encourages a shift away from greenhouse gas intensive energy sources and towards socially and ecologically sensitive energy that has zero or low emissions. The WRC has a long list of specific energy policies in their proposed plan -- everything from promoting conservation, efficiency and building weatherization programs to encouraging the capture and productive use of methane gas.

Windham Solid Waste has been capturing methane from its capped landfill on old Ferry Road for longer than any other landfill in the country. Its Planning and Operations Committee is now working to develop a large solar array on top of the landfill. Recent legislation signed by the governor allows WSWMD to net meter up to five megawatts, which would be a first in the state, if not the country.

The District is also gearing up for Act 148, which will require organic material to be removed from the waste stream starting in 2015. One proposal has the WSWMD building a large anaerobic digester at the transfer station that would produce and burn methane to create power and heat, as well as an agricultural fertilizer with the spent waste. All of this will take professional development and coordination that the Clean Energy Development Fund might be able to help with.

Another proposal will likely come from the Sustainable Energy Outreach Network, a young non-profit based in Brattleboro. SEON has a working group that is focused on expanding biomass opportunities in Windham County primarily through large-scale heating systems. This group has been developing an implementation strategy for potential projects, the supply side of wood chips and pellets from Windham County's robust forests, and strategies for education and marketing.

It is likely that many town energy committees will also be present at the meeting. There are 13 such committees doing an amazing assortment of projects to promote conservation and renewable energy in the region. If someone were to ask any one of them what more might they do if funding were available, there would no doubt be a long list. On top of all the above are the dozens, if not hundreds, of renewable energy related companies, projects and individuals at work in Windham County. Any one of them could have a proposal for a project or business that could change the energy landscape here entirely.

The CEDF Scoping Meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. in the Multi-Purpose Room of Brattleboro Area High School.

Tad Montgomery is founder and principal of Home Energy Advocates, Solarize Windham and Tad Montgomery & Associates, all based in Brattleboro.