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Officials streamline energy savings process: Village, Efficiency coordinating efforts

2019-01-30

By TOM BENTON, as seen in the St. Albans Messenger: https://www.samessenger.com/officials-streamline-energy-savings-process/

SWANTON VILLAGE — Efficiency Vermont uploaded a new page to its website Monday, simply titled “Swanton.”

At the top of the page, over a portrait of Merchants Row, are the words: “Hi, Swanton! Ready to chip away at your energy bills?”

The page makes the process of reaching out to Efficiency Vermont as simple as possible for local business and/ or home owners, curious about how they might cut energy costs.

Swanton Village is also now sending out Efficiency Vermont information sheets with village bills, so as many residents as possible are aware of this opportunity to cut costs.

Village officials often try to spread the word about cost-cutting opportunities through meetings. In fact, the idea to go above and beyond in promoting Efficiency Vermont’s services came from a series of meetings last October, forums on how to cut energy costs in apartments and homes, and in businesses, as well as forums on improving transportation options, agriculture, tourism, the arts, marketing and getting youths involved in community improvement work. Representatives from the Vermont Council on Rural Development led the discussions, funded by a competitive grant the VCRD awarded the village in 2017, but a team of Swanton residents — calling themselves the “Swanton Energy Initiative” — chose the topics, based on local relevance.

But for the latest step in that initiative, village officials decided to use a more direct form of outreach, sending notice of Efficiency Vermont’s cost-cutting measures with every paper bill and working with the non-profit organization to create a separate page on its website just for Swanton.

Developing Swanton’s brand as a “clean energy” community is one motivator for this outreach. Reg Beliveau Jr., Swanton’s village manager, said he doesn’t believe many residents are aware that their power comes from a 100 percent renewable source: the Orman Croft Hydro Facility, the Highgate Falls hydro dam, which is owned and operated by the Village of Swanton. Combine that clean source with the fact that the Swanton Village Electric Dept. offers the second lowest electric rates in Vermont, and furthering the village’s image as a green energy hub only makes sense, particularly when it comes to incentivizing business here.

But it’s not just about businesses.

“We’d like to target homeowners,” said Elisabeth Nance, Swanton’s economic development coordinator. “We’re not going to have a meeting, because you never know — you might get five homeowners, or you might get three hundred homeowners.”

Instead, all one has to do, whether a business or homeowner, is visit efficiencyvermont.com/swanton. At the bottom of the page is a contact form. Fill it out, and an Efficiency Vermont representative will contact you. Simple as that.

And also free. An Energy Efficiency Charge, typically denoted as EEC, appears on any Vermont electric bill. That charge directly funds initiatives including Efficiency Vermont.

Questions about fuel oil efficiency might be more appropriate for Vermont Gas Systems than Efficiency Vermont. Previously, Beliveau said, homeowners could call Vermont Gas or Efficiency Vermont depending on the issue — for example, furnace questions for Vermont Gas, window and insulation questions to Efficiency Vermont.

Now the village has arranged for Efficiency Vermont to field all these questions, and direct those appropriate to Vermont Gas, simplifying the process even further for Swanton residents.

Another reason for this initiative is accountability. Beliveau estimated the village annually pays more than $650,000 in EEC from Swanton Electric ratepayers to Efficiency Vermont. That figure was clear. What wasn’t, Beliveau said, was how much of that investment comes back to the community.

Those who reach out to Efficiency Vermont may get their own return in various forms. Efficiency Vermont offers significant rebates on energy efficient appliances like washers and dryers or heat pumps, which can double as air conditioners in the summer, as well as cash back on smaller, but equally significant appliances such as smart thermostats. Efficiency Vermont also offers smaller cost-savers, like Energy Saver LED light bulbs, for 95 cents each.

Efficiency representatives may also simply help home and/or business owners research the most energy efficient cost-savings methods for their home or business, simple as that.

It starts with a visit to efficiencyvermont.com/swanton, or calling (888) 921-5990.

For more information, contact the village office at 868-3397.