Brandon Energy Committee Is Working Toward A Greener Future


SOME OF THE members and volunteers of the Brandon Energy Committee (from l to r): Erin Bal- lantine, David Martin, Jim Emerson (Chair), Jack Schneider, and Jeff Haylon. The group is seated in front of the exhibit on inventor Thomas Davenport at the Brandon Museum. Davenport invented the electric motor in Brandon in the 1830s. Photo by Steven Jupiter

BRANDON—Despite some very vocal opposition to several “green” initiatives recently, the Brandon Energy Committee (BEC) remains determined to propel Brandon into a greener future.  Four of the seven current members of BEC, and one of the group’s volunteers, met with The Reporter recently to discuss the committee’s work and long-term objectives.

BEC is a town committee whose core-but-not-exclusive mission is to help Brandon achieve the energy goals set out by the state: 1) meet 90% of Vermont’s energy needs from renewable sources by 2050 and 2) reduce Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50% from their 1990 level by 2028 and by 75% from their 1990 level by 2050.  

BEC was established by the Brandon Selectboard in 2019.  Its 7 members are appointed by the Board.  In addition to these appointed members, there are 12 or so volunteers who assist the committee with its various projects.  BEC also receives its own budget, the only town committee so endowed.  

Even though the committee ultimately answers to the Selectboard, it has wide leeway to pursue its mission independently.

“We’re one of the most active town energy committees in Vermont,” said Jim Emerson, BEC Chair. “We have a broad goal with no limitations.”

“We can and do act under our own initiative,” added member Jeff Haylon.

“Part of what we do is educate the town, the town manager, and the Selectboard,” said Jack Schneider.

But some of that “education” is failing to persuade recently.  The proposal to replace two of the Brandon Police Department’s gas-powered cruisers with electric vehicles met with fierce resistance from some Brandon citizens.  And one of BEC’s most significant proposals—a town-owned solar array—is encountering similar hostility.  

Both proposals are being criticized for their cost (a $500K bond for the solar array is on the March ballot) and for the perceived difficulty of recycling what are supposed to be renewable sources of energy. At recent Selectboard meetings, on online forums, and in letters to this newspaper, Brandon residents have expressed skepticism about both initiatives.

“We need to get buy-in from the town,” said Haylon.  “It’s gotten wrapped up in politics.  We need to say, ‘Regardless of the media, here are some tangible benefits for you.’”

“The debate about the electric vehicles is good,” added member Erin Ballantine.  “Just having the debate is a huge step forward.”

In light of these critiques, BEC is undertaking an educational campaign in the weeks before Town Meeting, posting to Front Porch Forum and publishing letters and columns in The Reporter (see BEC’s column on the solar array in this issue, for example.)  BEC hopes to convince enough voters to forge ahead with the proposals.  

But the members know there are no guarantees.  It’s a tough year to be asking for large sums, with property taxes anticipated to rise sharply and another six-figure bond on the ballot for a water tank.  However, BEC sees money as a winning basis for the proposals.

“People understand money,” said BEC volunteer David Martin.  

“I saved $3,000 in fuel costs by installing heat pumps,” added Haylon, as a concrete example.

“The solar array will save the town $1,000,000,” claimed Emerson.  “The bond will pay for itself.”

“It’s not just about the environment,” said Ballantine.  “The money is persuasive.  The cost to charge an electric Ford F150 is less than half the cost to fill the tank of a gas-powered F150.”

Haylon and Emerson pointed out that the resource costs of oil extraction are enormous, but people seem to be fixated on the problems posed by lithium miming and recycling.  Those issues, they claim, are rapidly diminishing as the technology improves.

“Lithium isn’t ideal,” said Ballantine.  “But it’s better than gas.”

In an ideal world, we would not even be reliant on cars, the group said.  Public transportation, bicycles, shared cars, more accessible walking paths…all of it would aid the environment by lessening the need for individual vehicles.

“Public transportation is lacking, so no one uses it,” said Haylon.  “We need to improve public transit.  We need to break that cycle.”

There is a sense of urgency to these members’ aspirations.  Climate change—heat, drought, floods, storms—weighs on their minds.

“People are already suffering the effects of climate change,” said Schneider.  

“Some places will be under water,” said Ballantine.

In addition to the larger, more controversial proposals, BEC also advocates for smaller changes: switching to LED bulbs, weatherizing your home, using heat pumps rather than oil furnaces.

“My mother was appalled by plastic bags in the 1950s,” said Emerson, recalling how his sense of environmentalism was sparked by this small detail at a young age.  “She said, ‘We ought not be wasteful.’”

Anyone who’d like to work with the committee is welcome to attend BEC’s meetings (first Monday of the month from 4:30 to 6 at the Town Hall).  

“We have an open door for people to join and participate,” said Emerson.

“Even if it’s just to ask questions,” added Ballantine.  “We’ve seen the flooding and the outages.  We’ve seen the effects.  Community is the thing that will get us through this.”

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