BRATTLEBORO >> Paul Cameron is packing his things and moving to North Carolina.
The town of Brattleboro's energy coordinator wants to be closer to his mother and brother. His last day is Sept. 30.
"I'll miss many, many things about Brattleboro. It's a very special town in a lot of ways," Cameron said. "I've lived here for 18 years and I love it here and I'll miss it."
Cameron moved here in 1998 to attend college. He obtained a degree in environmental studies from Antioch University New England in 2001.
A year later, he teamed up with former Select Board member Sarah Edwards, who later served as a state representative. Together, they founded Brattleboro Climate Protection. Cameron currently serves as the director of the organization. Allocations to the organization approved during annual Representative Town Meeting funded his position as town energy coordinator.
Cameron and Edwards shared a concern about climate change. The topic was one Cameron became interested in at Antioch. By graduation time, he said, he was ready to do something, "not just talk, but take action."
"We got the town on board. We approached the town manager and town planning director at the time and they were very supportive of the idea of creating a climate and energy program," Cameron said. "The Planning Department provided an office space for the program, which I've continued in for 14 years."
Cities for Climate Protection was a group of cities and towns that formed in 1993 following a climate conference in Japan, where an agreement was developed but the United States refused to sign it. It was clear, Cameron said, the U.S. government was not taking the issue seriously and would not be taking any meaningful action.
Brattleboro was asked to join the network and the Select Board approved.
"The first thing I did was an inventory of how much energy and carbon emissions the town was producing so as to have a baseline. Then we developed a climate action plan as a second step to address this problem and try to bring down the carbon emissions. That was for the town as a whole, not just the municipality; the community," Cameron said, counting about 35 measures in the plan. "I think we implemented almost all of them."
One of the big projects involved looking at improving energy efficiency in the municipal buildings. Honeywell was hired for the job. The company came up with suggestions on upgrading heating and lighting systems. Cameron collected and analyzed data annually on the amount of energy the town used after work was completed in 2008.
The data, Cameron said, shows that energy use has dropped significantly along with carbon emissions.
"The project has saved the town a considerable amount of money in operating expenses," he added.
The town was asked to create an official committee in 2009. The Energy Committee won a Vermont Climate Action Network award in 2013 for pushing several initiatives forward.
Retrofitting the town's streetlights with LED lights is considered by Cameron to be "one of the most successful" projects. The change has saved the town "a considerable amount of money in electric costs," he said. An estimated $80,000 of annual savings was later exceeded.
"From what I hear, there were no complaints from residents about the change, which is unusual for a project that size. LEDs are different than conventional streetlights. They're a lot more focused," Cameron said. "People like it because it's more like moonlight and it doesn't create as much light pollution. You don't have that glow that comes from conventional streetlights that blocks out the stars."
The Vermont Home Energy Challenge in 2013 saw the committee going door to door, asking residents whether they wanted to weatherize their homes. An award from Efficiency Vermont, which ran the program, recognized that the committee had the highest percentage of participation in the region — about 40 percent, according to Cameron. Each region had a winner.
Electric heat pumps, solar and biomass were topics around renewable energy that the committee has chosen to highlight. A series of workshops on those technologies held at the Marlboro Graduate Center in downtown Brattleboro have been "very well received and popular," said Cameron.
Another area of interest for the committee is transportation. Committee members are constantly brainstorming on how to increase carpooling, mass transit options, walking and biking.
"We formed a group called the Transportation Roundtable. It's a group of larger businesses in Brattleboro that are working to promote sustainable transportation with their employees. And we also promote electric vehicles, electric cars and electric bikes," Cameron said. "We had two electric vehicle fairs and we helped the town secure a grant for a charging station in the Transportation Center, which has proven to be very popular."
At the last Energy Committee meeting, a work plan for the coming year was discussed. Cameron called it "very ambitious. But, he said he thinks it's all achievable.
"We've had some wonderful volunteers on the Energy Committee through the years — some very smart, dedicated individuals — and that's allowed us to accomplish a lot," he said. "There's a lot of interest in climate energy issues in Brattleboro and I think that's reflected in the Energy Committee."
Brattleboro has made itself leader in sustainablity and model for other communities, Cameron said, having witnessed "even more of an emphasis or priority" from town officials to address climate change issues in recent years. Usually, environmental benefits coincide with economic ones, and that's helped with motivation.
Brattleboro Climate Protection will be absorbed into the committee.
"The Energy Committee is going to take over a large part of the work I've been doing and carry it on. I'm confident they will do a great job and continue making progress so I'm just working to make the transition as smooth as possible for the committee," Cameron said, addressing questions over whether a new town energy coordinator may replace him. "For the near future, the Energy Committee will carry on a lot of what I have been doing."
He said he hopes to continue working in the environmental field.
"It's been a privilege to work with the town and to work with some really great volunteers. And it's because of that partnership that we've been able to do what we've done," Cameron said. "I think I've learned that one community working together can really make a difference, especially when there's a lot of other communities all over the country that are doing similar things. And that's happening."
Energy Committee Chairman Michael Bosworth said Cameron "from the get-go, has always been a person absolutely committed" to addressing climate change.
"I think he has his own values and principles. He walks the walk," Bosworth said. "He lives downtown. He often walks to his job. He lives simply and believes in not using much power and stuff."
Cameron's office in the Municipal Center was kept "fairly dark," according to Bosworth.
"Because he doesn't use the lights much," Bosworth said. "To me, he's never cared about fame or fortune or being in the limelight unless it helps the cause of addressing climate change. He'll speak up and talk to people about that but it's not for his benefit. He's got a good sense of humor as well that comes out when you know him."
Town Manager Peter Elwell said Cameron has worked tirelessly to achieve energy savings for town facilities and to encourage energy savings throughout Brattleboro and the region.
"We will miss him and his contributions to our Town Energy Committee and related activities, and we wish him well on his return home to North Carolina," said Elwell.
Throughout the years, Cameron has noticed more awareness and acknowledgement — in the U.S. and internationally — about global warming and climate change. Still, there are some skeptics.
"But I think the evidence for climate change is just becoming overwhelming," Cameron said. "Every year seems to be the hottest year recorded in human history. We're setting new records all the time. I think the science is becoming more and more clear as time goes by. It's becoming harder and harder to argue it's not occurring. So then the question becomes, 'What do we do about it?'"
Call Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.