Landfill solar array has new owner

In 2018, the town of Brattleboro became one of many other stakeholders in a solar array at the Windham Solid Waste Management District on Old Ferry Road in Brattleboro.

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BRATTLEBORO — A new fund is designed to bring the town into a new era of energy-related decision making.

“I think it will allow us to do some amazing things,” said Select Board member Daniel Quipp.

Town staff and the Select Board have been energy conscious in planning capital projects and vehicle purchases in recent years. But the Fossil Fuel-Free Town Infrastructure Fund, approved unanimously by the board at a remotely meeting held Tuesday, is intended to go even further to make investments in projects that will remove fossil fuels from the operations of town and create long-term cost savings.

Sustainability Coordinator Stephen Dotson named the fund and came up with the concept after the board decided to invest less than the town Energy Committee recommended in Cow Power but create a fund to tackle energy projects more aggressively. Cow Power is a Green Mountain Power program that pays farmers to convert methane on their farms into electricity and costs GMP customers 4 cents more per kilowatt.

In March, the board voted unanimously to purchase 6 percent of the municipality’s electricity every year from Cow Power and establish the fund. Dotson said in consulting with GMP, it would be nearly impossible to apply 6 percent across about 53 accounts for the town.

His suggestion, to purchase the power for accounts for electric vehicle charging stations and Brooks Memorial Library, would add up to the 6 percent and allow for what he called “great opportunities” for outreach on the project.

“Electric vehicle chargers are critiqued for their sourcing,” he said, adding that he thinks the library will be supportive of the decisions made by the town.

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Dotson outlined five areas of focus for the fund: efficiency work, energy generation, energy storage, electrification/de-carbonization, and planning and project research and development. He said all the measures have cost-saving results in the end.

“A lot of them have cost-saving measures together,” he said.

The fund is starting with $70,000, of which Dotson wanted to earmark $61,000 for implementation and $9,000 for planning. He said when money accrues, the town can achieve big things.

Town Manager Peter Elwell said about $13,766 leftover from 2016 energy audits of municipal buildings can be put in the fund. Once the new fiscal year begins July 1, the fund will get another $70,000 and total $144,766, which he called “a really significant start.”

Asked by board member Tim Wessel about the need for dedicating so much to planning when the town has a department dedicated to the purpose, Dotson described a need for expertise and “special engineering knowledge.”

The board will sign off on plans proposed by town staff under guidance for the fund, Wessel said.

“We shouldn’t overthink it,” he said. “It’s a guideline we should embrace and then argue over whether [a project is] an appropriate use.”