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First model climate economy town

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2017-04-12

By Jim Therrian, as seen in the Bennington Banner: http://www.benningtonbanner.com/stories/first-model-climate-economy-town...

POWNAL — Pownal has been selected as the first Vermont town to receive planning assistance through the Climate Economy Model Communities program.

"We had an application process, and Pownal was selected to be the inaugural community," said program Director Jon Copans, of the Vermont Council on Rural Development.

The goal, he said, will be to transform Pownal into a "climate smart" community by implementing comprehensive efficiency efforts, transportation system improvements, renewable energy generation, entrepreneurship and business incubation to spur economic progress.

The VCRD is partnering with Green Mountain Power, Efficiency Vermont and other entities in a program that stresses the economic, as well as environmental opportunities that can be realized through energy conservation, development of alternative energy sources and other local initiatives.

Two communities annually will receive help in building and implementing locally developed plans modeling state-of-the-art rural development in an era of climate change. Copans said he hopes to encourage communities to "embrace the transition to a new economy."

Working with its partners and Pownal residents, VCRD will form a steering committee and begin a series of community forums here by June to solicit the ideas of townspeople. "We want them [residents] to identify what the community wants to work on," he said.

Work will start with planning for a community event to launch the Climate Economy Community Initiative in Pownal. At that time, a statewide team of experts will join with the community as residents look at the town's assets and opportunities and brainstorm ways to create a secure and vibrant future for the town.

All members of the Pownal community are encouraged to participate. Those wishing to be involved can contact Copans at jon@vtrural.org or 802-225-6393.

"The interest we have seen in this new program is encouraging. We had a tough decision to make in selecting from wonderful Vermont communities in all corners of the state," said Paul Costello, executive director of the VCRD. "The Pownal team showed their readiness to embrace the opportunity to lead our transition to a new climate economy. They also made a compelling case that this effort must improve the financial health and well-being of all sectors of their community."

"Thanks to the energy and vision of many individuals, Pownal is an emerging climate economy community," said state Rep. Bill Botzow, D-Pownal/Woodford. "Recent solar and small hydro renewable energy projects, recycling with a vision at TAM, value-added agriculture, farmers market producers, foresters, neighborhood health care and more define us as a resilient community built on tradition and innovation. This project offers Pownal the opportunity to see itself in a new light and take the next steps on this promising path. I am grateful to the VCRD for the recognition and assistance."

"This program builds upon one of Pownal's great assets — our incredible natural resources," said Shannon Barsotti, a town Planning Commission member. "We can focus on protecting our natural environment while also encouraging local economic development through clean energy investment, sustainable farming and forestry, recreational tourism and affordable, energy efficient housing. We want to link Pownal to the economic progress happening throughout our region, from the arts and cultural boom in the Northern Berkshires to the redevelopment of downtown Bennington. This is an exciting opportunity to partner with VCRD and engage our community in planning for the future."

Liz Gamache, director of Efficiency Vermont, added: "Community engagement is an effective way to drive energy savings. We are excited to kick off efforts in Pownal. In partnership with local businesses, residents, and organizations we will help to identify and implement energy efficiency improvements that will reduce costs, increase comfort, and strengthen the local economy."

"We are thrilled to be part of this team and deliver transformation on a town wide level that will strengthen the economy and help families and businesses," said Mary Powell, Green Mountain Power President and CEO. "Initiatives like this will create a more sustainable future, and that is what GMP is focused on — delivering clean, cost-effective and reliable power. Working together we can accomplish so much."

Vermont exports more than $2 billion annually for the purchase of fossil fuels, Costello said when the new program was announced in February, adding, "Vermont towns that capture even a tiny fraction of that outflow can take big steps to secure their economic vitality."

Initiatives to be considered, Copans said, include implementing comprehensive efficiency efforts, transportation system improvements, energy generation, entrepreneurship and business incubation to spur economic progress.

He said the application process solicits ideas from local residents in general categories where initiatives might be developed within their towns. More information on the program can be found at www.vtrural.org/model-communities.

The VCRD is a non-profit organization charged by the federal farm bill to act as a neutral convener at both the local and policy level supporting the progress of Vermont communities.

Jim Therrien writes for the Bennington Banner and VTDigger.org. @BB_therrien on Twitter.