The Legislature crafted and yesterday Governor Phil Scott signed H.518, the Municipal Energy Resilience Initiatives Bill into law, setting the stage for $45 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds to support municipalities with technical assistance, energy assessments and municipal weatherization, fuel switching and other potential cost- and carbon-cutting resilience measures.
Vermont’s municipalities own and operate more than 2,000 buildings and facilities around the state, which are used to provide essential services to residents. As we know from Vermont’s Climate Action Plan, the building thermal sector accounts for 34% of the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Working to increase the energy efficiency and clean heat measures installed in Vermont’s municipal infrastructure presents a significant cost-saving opportunity to meet our state’s emissions reduction targets.
“With the global pandemic, we learned that the ability to safely gather and maintain community function varied widely across our communities. The versatility and resilience of our municipal buildings and infrastructure were deeply tested,” said Representative Laura Sibilia of Dover, Vice Chair of the House Energy and Technology Committee and the lead sponsor of H.518. “With no county government in Vermont, many of our smallest municipalities in particular lack the capacity for the planning and implementation of adaptation projects needed to address global pandemics, a rapidly changing climate and the global volatility of fossil fuel pricing. H.518 is designed to help address that, utilizing one-time federal dollars to help communities plan for buildings that can safely connect and protect citizens from future pandemics and weather more extreme events and shifting energy market forces.”
“These resources will help foster more local conversations and connect communities to regional and state level technical assistance and grant funds to increase resilience and lower costs,” added Representative Sibilia.
“Vermont communities are eager to be part of the solution when it comes to addressing the climate crisis and this new and important program is designed to help them do that – efficiently and more affordably – no matter their size or location, ” said Johanna Miller, Energy & Climate Program Director at the Vermont Natural Resources Council. “I very much appreciate the leadership of the Legislature and this bill’s lead champion, Rep. Laura Sibilia in particular, for creating this opportunity for municipalities to increase their resilience, cut their energy costs and reduce their climate impact.”
The Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services will be overseeing the implementation of this work through the expansion of their existing State Energy Management Program (SEMP), which will include distribution of $36,000,000 in direct grants of up to $500,000 to covered municipalities for weatherization, thermal efficiency, and to supplement or replace heating systems with more efficient renewable or electric heating systems. The Agency of Commerce and Community Development will also receive another $2,400,000 to distribute to Regional Planning Commissions to assist municipalities with grant and assessment applications and provide technical assistance.
“Fossil fuels are expensive, prone to price spikes, and responsible for the climate crisis. This funding will jumpstart the critical work municipalities are doing to move away from fossil fuel dependence and towards more affordable, cleaner heating options,” added Ben Edgerly Walsh, Climate & Energy Program Director with the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. “We’re deeply grateful for the hard work the Legislature did to make it happen, and the efforts already beginning in municipalities around the state to make the most of this opportunity.”
“State and local governments must be partners in climate action – and by installing more efficient and affordable clean energy in municipal buildings around the state, these community hubs can demonstrate the many benefits of working together for a more resilient future,” said Lauren Hierl, Executive Director of Vermont Conservation Voters.
Visit the Vermont Buildings and General Services Energy Office website for more information coming soon about the program and sign up for the Vermont Energy and Climate Action Network emails and with your Regional Planning Commission to stay tuned to the program’s rollout and ensuing opportunities potentially available to your community.