Dummerston again asks for energy data


DUMMERSTON -- In their quest to understand residents' energy usage, the members of Dummerston Energy Committee will not be denied.

They took a fair amount of flak last year -- but pressed on -- when some complained that a townwide energy survey raised privacy concerns.

And, while that survey eventually generated a decent response, committee members now want to reach out to nearly all town residents again because they believe the initial data may be skewed.

"The advice we got from a professional pollster was, you can't make any policy decisions based on this right now," committee member Bill Conley said. "But you can start to see where there are some trends."

The request is generating skepticism among some Selectboard members who doubt the effectiveness of another energy survey.

"There has to be a certain percentage of people ... who are going to say, 'What you want, it's none of your business,'" Selectboard member Bill Holiday said.

The energy committee last year sent out about 1,000 detailed questionnaires that included inquiries about homes and vehicles, heat and energy sources, use of renewable energy and recent energy-efficiency upgrades.

There also were questions about the way in which Dummerston residents generate heat, get water and cook during a power outage.

The latter inquiries were meant to assess the town's resiliency during a prolonged, widespread interruption in electrical service. But the overall purpose of the survey was to accurately gauge the quantity and manner of the town's energy consumption.

The town plan sets forth a goal of reducing Dummerston's per-capita, nonrenewable energy consumption by 40 percent. And committee members hope to use the survey to determine how far the town still has to go to reach that goal.

"We might find that we need to educate people in a certain area," said Stan "Smokey" Howe, who serves on the committee.

Without the survey, Howe said, "we don't know what area to focus on."

The survey sparked concerns, however, with Selectboard members last year hearing complaints about questions that were deemed "intrusive." The fact that the surveys mentioned a possible follow-up phone call also irked some residents.

"We did get some people who really, really didn't want to respond," committee member Sam Farwell said. "And they didn't want to respond so much that they sent the survey back, telling us that they weren't going to respond."

Farwell again assured residents that there will be no attempt to single out homeowners. Committee members say they are interested in the data only in the aggregate.

"I can't emphasize enough the confidentiality," Farwell said. "We are not looking at the addresses at all."

In spite of some residents' concerns, the first survey generated a relatively strong response of about 350.

Committee members say they're happy with the response rate but not with the data, which they believe represents only those who are highly interested in energy issues.

For example, one in five of the initial respondents said they had commissioned a detailed energy audit of their homes.

"Does anyone here think that 20 percent of the town has done an energy audit?" Farwell said. "So that tells us that we don't have good data. It's great data, but it's not representative of Dummerston."

The plan now is to follow up with a postcard. The document emphasizes that the survey is voluntary but notes that it is "not too late to respond."

Residents will be asked to fill out the survey online -- it is available at www.dummerston.org/energy -- or to contact the committee for another paper copy.

"I don't think we're going to be making any phone calls. We're not mentioning any phone calls in the text of the postcard that we intend to mail out," Farwell said. "But we're hoping that most of the people who haven't responded just haven't gotten around to it."

He noted that no postcards would be mailed to those who specifically told the committee they had no interest in the questionnaire.

Dummerston Selectboard did not nix the idea. But officials weren't exactly enthusiastic about it, either.

Selectboard member Lewis White said he "wouldn't waste my time sending out any more."

"You may have flawed numbers anyway. People may have given you numbers that aren't true just to quiet you down," White said.

"I've never agreed with a survey, ever, and that's just my feelings on any survey," he added.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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