Barre Buttoning Up and Saving Energy

Youth Triumphant, a statue located in the center of Barre

Youth Triumphant, a statue located in the center of Barre

The Push Continues During Heritage Festival

by Carla Occaso

BARRE — A renewed effort to get municipal buildings, businesses and multi-family dwellings to button up and save energy is heating up.

A coalition called the “Barre Saves Energy Initiative” headed up by The Barre Partnership, Barre City Energy Committee and Efficiency Vermont will be reaching out to city businesses during the Barre Heritage Festival July 27 through 30. The goal will be to have them sign up, attend workshops and then undergo energy audits within their building.

“We are targeting at first, downtown businesses to save energy,” said Elaine Wang, co-chair of the Barre City Energy Committee and assistant town manager in Barre Town. “Then we’ll have a 6-month intensive push. We want to have a really consistent drumbeat throughout the fall.”

Changes you can make to become more energy efficient start with lighting and moves on to insulation and sealing a building’s cracks and crevices. Barre City is a challenge because of the older buildings such as the City Hall/Barre Opera House building with its large ceiling and older inner workings.

“Barre Town operations are quite energy efficient. Barre City is more complicated. There is a downtown and there are a lot of buildings that haven’t been retrofitted yet,” Wang told The Bridge July 19.

Tackling residential properties has proven to be challenging — especially multi-family homes. Multi-family homes usually have renters who pay the utilities, so the landlord does not have incentive to increase energy efficiency to save costs. Many people in Barre are financially challenged and don’t own their own homes, Wang said.

However, the coalition isn’t giving up. They are putting together a new presentation for residential building owners with information that will hopefully inspire them to insulate and seal their structures.

Wang said she personally got interested in energy efficiency from her work on climate change for a nonprofit in Burlington, and later for work with an international nonprofit in Barre.

Tim Perrin of Efficiency Vermont has also been working with Barre to save money for a while now. “Barre has made steady progress to reduce overall electric use, with more than a 5 percent reduction over the last five years,” he states in a report. “Barre customers have collectively saved $1,805,698 in electricity, fuel and water costs from efficiency projects installed since 2010.”

Perrin said his work, along with the city’s energy committee and city workers, has generated “lots of good success to share.”

Perrin told The Bridge he first honed in on the wastewater treatment facility that processes and discharges wastewater.

“Wastewater treatment plants are far more energy intensive than an office building,” Perrin said. He and members of the department of public works looked at the pumps, lighting, heat, air conditioning, aeration system and digester for ways to improve. That led to upgrading the heat system, putting in new boilers and adding ventilation. They also put in new ductwork. This made a vast improvement.

Then, he worked with the city to switch 800 municipal streetlights to LED lighting.

“That lowered electricity use significantly and reduced tariffs. Fixtures are leased through Green Mountain Power, so there is a specific tariff. You have $37,000 in street lighting savings from that conversion,” said Perrin. Work on that project was completed in 2015.

Sites are set next on City Hall and the ice arena. They are currently scoping out what the work would entail and how much it would cost.

Meanwhile, most recently, a revved up efficiency awareness “blitz” has started to renew efforts. It started with a community-wide listening tour in October 2015. That was a day-long event in which community people, downtown development, city council, city leaders and businesses discussed how to become more efficient. There was a tour of Capital Candy and an open door heat pump workshop as well, Perrin said.

In addition to improve how the community handles lighting and building efficiencies, the topic of cars and transportation came up. Wang said a plan is in the works to get together a “clean car show” during the Heritage Festival if they can put it together in time. If not, they could do it later. What would this look like? “We want to do a drag race at Thunder Road with electric cars. The pick-up is really fast and most people don’t know that.”

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