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Marshfield, Plainfield RAMP up Energy Efficiency

2019-06-16

By Carl Etnier, as seen in the Montpelier Bridge: http://www.montpelierbridge.com/2019/06/marshfield-plainfield-ramp-up-en...

An unanticipated knock on the front door sometimes heralds a visit from religious missionaries. In Marshfield and Plainfield this year, it may be more likely to announce the arrival of neighbors on an energy mission.

“Unleashing the power of neighbor-to-neighbor connections” is one principle a newly launched building energy task force has been charged to consider for the two towns. It’s part of a year-long push to build an economy that remains robust in the face of climate change, while reducing residents’ emissions of greenhouse gases. The two towns have dubbed their efforts RAMP, for Revitalizing All Marshfield and Plainfield.

RAMP is part of the Climate Economy Model Communities Program at Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD), a nonprofit that has worked since 2015 to connect rural economic development to climate change responses. “The climate economy is the only economy of the future,” said VCRD Director Paul Costello at a RAMP gathering in May. “It’s the only possible economy that’s going to work for us.”

The door-knocking neighbors could be part of a campaign to get more homeowners to install solar panels, convert from fossil fuels to renewable electricity, weatherize their homes, and otherwise save money while reducing emissions. The Marshfield Energy Committee claims credit for 100 home and business energy audits in town already, according to committee Chair Rich Phillips, but at the May meeting he said, “They need to continue, and we need to find a way to make them more successful.” Only 30 percent of those who went through the initial energy audit went on to install renewable energy or efficiency projects, he added.

RAMP grew out of climate-related town meeting resolutions in Marshfield and Plainfield in 2017 and 2018, according to Plainfield Energy Committee Chair Bob Atchinson. The towns applied to VCRD for assistance and were selected to receive a year of work from Model Communities Program Director Jon Copans and the state and non-profit partners he brings to these conversations.

Asked how RAMP differs from ordinary municipal planning, Copans called town plans “really important documents to develop a vision of where a community is going,” which the town can use zoning and other means to put into practice. For the one-year model communities process, he said, “We at VCRD really focus on action and on specific things that can be taken on right away. This isn’t a planning exercise; this is a doing exercise.”

Meetings are held at Twinfield Union High School, the towns’ jointly operated K‒12 school. About 120 people showed up for an initial brainstorming meeting in April. “It was really striking—the long, long list of assets we have. Both Plainfield and Marshfield have a lot of great stuff happening, amazing people,” said Jamie Spector, who works at the Health Center in Plainfield, providing therapeutic services in schools. Spector helped organize the first meeting and cook the community dinner served there.

The May meeting of RAMP was to prioritize the work identified in the brainstorming session. Meeting attendees proposed four task forces. They will work on strengthening the downtown areas in Marshfield and Plainfield, improving transportation, building a more robust farm and food network, plus the building energy work.

And connecting residents to one another is a theme in all the work. Marshfield resident Joseph Gainza said, “It’s no news to anybody here that there are a lot of people hurting economically in our towns. But it’s also no news that there are a lot of innovative, creative, and skilled people in our towns—and they may be the same people.” He advocated for a do-it-yourself approach to solar and home energy retrofitting, which, he said, “plays on the strengths of our community, which are that we care about each other and we have a lot of skilled people who are willing to help other people while they are helping themselves.”

People leaving the May RAMP meeting were encouraged to sign up for one of the task forces, which will convene at 6:30 pm June 20  at Twinfield. A team of outside experts will be on hand to provide advice on the task forces’ action plans.

RAMP represents the fifth VCRD climate change model community, after Pownal, Randolph, Middlebury, and Swanton. Copans says VCRD is about to begin work with Dorset in July.