OpinionSelectboard turns down cost savings: show your support for town solar

 

John Quinney and the Charlotte Energy Committee

Charlotte has an exciting opportunity to save taxpayer money, advance its renewable energy goals, and go solar. At their January 27th meeting, however, the Selectboard rejected the energy committee’s proposal, and the opportunity to save about $2,000 a year on the town’s and Charlotte Volunteer Fire & Rescue’s electricity bills. Matt Krasnow and Fritz Tegatz voted in favor; Louise McCarren, Carrie Spear and Frank Tenny voted against.

In 2020, there are countless reasons to go solar, all of them practical. Perhaps easiest to wrap one’s mind around are the cost savings. Under this proposal, the town’s savings arise from net metering credits that are to be produced by a 500 kilowatt solar array, owned by Green Lantern Solar, and sited in a reclaimed gravel pit in Vernon, Vermont. Colchester School District has already agreed to purchase 90% of the credits produced by this solar array; Charlotte was to purchase the remaining 10%. This array will come on line by July 1 this year. There is no upfront cost to the town aside from legal fees already incurred for reviewing the net metering agreement.

On the surface, nothing would appear to change—the town would still get its electricity from Green Mountain Power. But by assigning the net metering credits, purchased at a 12% discount, to the town’s electricity bills (the Library, Senior Center, Town Hall, Thompsons Point Wastewater Treatment Plant, and Fire & Rescue), about 85% of the town’s total annual electricity use would be offset. Charlotte taxpayers would save about $2,000 a year, for the next 25 years.

The energy committee’s proposal had the support of the Library and Fire & Rescue. Over the last few years, dozens of towns and school districts in Vermont have entered into such arrangements with solar developers, many of them with Green Lantern Solar. These towns are saving money and showing their support for solar. Last Monday night, our Selectboard chose to do neither.

Particularly troubling is the disregard for key provisions of the updated Town Plan, which was passed just a few months ago with over 80% of the vote. Among the specific actions listed in support of energy efficiency and renewable energy, the Town Plan includes the phrase, “Charlotte will encourage greater use of renewables within municipal buildings.” The first chance we get since the vote to take action on our new town goals, we fail to do so? Aren’t Selectboard members obligated to uphold the Town Plan?

Fortunately, the Selectboard has another opportunity to consider this proposal and change the outcome.

We took note of concerns stated by the Selectboard and members of the audience and responded as follows:

What about the technology risk associated with a 25 year agreement? Green Lantern has reduced the term to 20 years. Also, the town may opt out of the agreement at any time provided we’re replaced by an equally creditworthy town or school.

Payment terms. Green Lantern adjusted these to be more favorable to the town.

What if the solar array fails to perform? Green Lantern has six months to fix the problem – reduced from a year. For the past three years, Green Lantern’s “up-time” across more than 50 solar arrays in Vermont is above 99%.

What has other towns’ experience been? The energy committee agreed to contact several towns that have net metering agreements with Green Lantern in place, in order to gather information on the performance of the solar installations, actual savings on electricity costs, and more.

Not enough time to read the net metering agreement? Fair enough. The revised net metering agreement was distributed to the Selectboard on January 29th.

The Selectboard will take up the revised proposal at their February 10th meeting at Town Hall. We urge all Charlotters who support solar and are concerned about climate change to attend the meeting. The agenda and relevant materials will be available on the town’s website on Thursday, February 6th, or by requesting them from John Quinney. We will also post reminders on Front Porch Forum.

Meanwhile, the energy committee has an online petition in support of solar for Charlotte. Search for “Approve Solar Proposal for Charlotte” at the Change.org website, or look for the link on Front Porch Forum. We know there is strong support for solar in Charlotte, and now is the time to take action and show it.

Make your voice heard. Let the Selectboard know that you expect them to support solar. Come to the February 10th meeting and sign the petition.

Champlain Valley School District capital construction bond on this year’s ballot
CVSD school board
On the ballot for Town Meeting Day, March 3, not only will there be articles about the school district’s proposed budget, fund balance, and school buses, but this year there will also be an article about the proposed Capital Construction Bond. We will be providing more information about the other articles in upcoming posts, but we wanted to share details about the proposed bond with our communities as soon as possible. We hope to answer some immediate questions below. More information about the proposed budget and bond can be found on the Budget page of the CVSD website, www.cvsdvt.org/budget.

What is the process used to determine capital improvements? How does it get determined what work fits in the regular school district operations budget and what needs to be on a bond?

Long-range capital maintenance plans and priorities for each school are developed and refreshed by the district’s Property Services Team. These plans are reviewed each September with building principals for completeness on maintenance items and any additions related to instructional delivery.

The CVSD Property Services Manager and district COO review the list in October determining which items can be:

  • funded through the operational budget
  • funded with existing construction funds
  • large projects grouped for potential biennial bond requests

Priorities are reviewed with facilities managers and building administration.

The entire 5-year plan is reviewed with the Finance and Facilities committee during budget development. A summary of the capital projects is reviewed with the Board during the operations budget presentation.

CVSD is a consolidated district. What does that mean for homeowners in each of our towns?
The school buildings in all of our towns are now the responsibility of the entire CVSD community and deferring these necessary maintenance repairs will only delay them to another year when they will be more expensive. The proposed bond is projected to cost a homeowner $10 per year for each $100,000 of assessed value before accounting for income sensitivity adjustments or CLA.

What is included in the proposed bond? How are schools in all of our towns impacted?
At Hinesburg, we are addressing deteriorating parking lots and sidewalks, and upgrading the air quality on the second floor of the main building. At CVU, the bond will fund energy efficiency improvements in the 1981 wing, overdue field drainage improvements on two natural grass fields and a resurfacing of the 15-year-old track. At Shelburne Community School, funds will be used to bring the cafeteria’s kitchen into compliance with current code and to repave the parking and drop off/pick-up lot on School Street. And at the Allen Brook School, the bond will fund a fire alarm system upgrade to current life/safety code and additional multiple improvements needed to improve security.

The remainder of the bond will focus on critical repairs and upgrades at Charlotte Central School needed to maintain the health of students and staff and eliminating an astonishing waste of energy.  The project consists of sealing the envelope of the main classroom wing – new windows, doors, insulation and cladding – and replacing the existing outdated air handling units with high-efficiency energy recovery ventilators. We encourage everyone to go to the CVSD Capital Construction website and view the presentation shared on January 21, 2020, by architects Dore & Whittier. There you will find infrared photos where you can almost see gallons of fuel oil being wasted as heat flows out through single-pane windows and uninsulated structural beams.

Additional information can be found on the Capital Construction website, linked from the CVSD Budget page.

Why are voters just hearing about this bond proposal now?
The CVSD Board has committed to putting the district on a path to a sustainable capital funding strategy to minimize costs and stabilize tax impacts. After a period of catching up, the vision is to present district voters with consistent, small investment requests – stewardship bonds – prioritized to eliminate the need for the large construction projects we have seen in the past, and our neighbors are experiencing now. In the short term though, the investment requests will be a bit higher as we clear up deferred maintenance problems.
Our physical assets are managed by a team of highly-skilled, and very busy, facilities managers. One of the CVSD School Board’s first acts after consolidation was to centralize the facilities team in order to achieve operational efficiencies and take advantage of economies of scale.   The board also addressed how to manage and prioritize capital needs.

While Shelburne Community School and Williston Central School had significant deferred maintenance problems that were addressed with their recent bonds, the CVSD board has directed that we respect the tax burden already in place in our community by holding the cost of the first phase of the Charlotte project to a minimum. We are not alone in facing the reality of a backlog of deferred maintenance as Burlington ($70M), Winooski ($58M), South Burlington ($209M) and in fact, the rest of Vermont are all struggling to maintain school facilities in the face of the 13-year moratorium on school construction aid. We are grateful that our own needs are on a much smaller scale.

Thank you for your attention to and support for this important matter. Please direct any further questions to the CVSD School Board.

The Charlotte Town Link Trail: A smart investment in our community’s future
At the Town Meeting on March 3, voters will be asked to approve a request by the Charlotte Trails Committee to fund the next section of the Town Link Trail. As an all-volunteer committee of local taxpayers, we take seriously our responsibility to use our collective funds wisely and efficiently. To that end, we would like to outline reasons why we think our request for funding—detailed in Article 5 on the Town Meeting ballot—is worth your consideration. For more information on the Town Link Trail, including maps of the completed sections and a short video on the trail experience, please see our website.

Trails improve Charlotte’s quality of life. The system of trails and parks in Charlotte offers residents the opportunity to walk, run, bike, and ski through our beautiful landscapes, connect us to each other and nature, and celebrate Charlotte’s cherished heritage. Governor Scott, in his recent “state of the state” address, identified population loss as the number one threat to Vermont’s economic future. Trail systems increase our quality of life and make Charlotte more likely to attract and retain people, especially younger people with families. Visit urban and suburban areas in the Northeast that draw young people away from Vermont, and you will find trail systems in which those municipalities invested years ago and now tout as essential to their quality of life.

Trails keep us and our children safe and healthy. Trails allow us to visit neighbors and Charlotte’s many amenities without getting into our cars or risking our safety on busy roads. In a wonderfully rural area like Charlotte, where we do not have the luxury of sidewalks and public transportation, it is all the more important to give people opportunities to get around and be active without burning fossil fuels or risking life and limb. Imagine if we and our kids could walk from the west village to the Town Beach without dodging speeding vehicles on Ferry Road, or if we could walk to Mt. Philo without adding our cars to those crowding the parking lot there?

Trails are financially responsible. As much as trails can cost because of engineering studies, permitting processes, and construction, they are one of the least expensive ways to improve the infrastructure in our community. Our trails include affordable, unpaved surfaces and are situated either on land the public already owns or on easements generously offered by private landowners. Private donations help cover costs not met by Town funds, which has become especially important as grant money has dried up in recent years. Volunteers help build and maintain the trails, further keeping costs in check. The Trails Committee, which has one of the smallest budgets of all the Town committees, has a track record of building trail sections on time and on budget. Trail systems can raise local home values and increase visits by non-residents to our businesses.

Trails have wide public support. A recent survey shows that 82 percent of Charlotte respondents support extending the trail along State Park Road to Mt. Philo—a project we expect to complete in 2020. A state-run trail count showed as many as 100 people using the Town Link Trail on a Saturday in the fall and about 50 on a weekday. The Charlotte Town Plan, approved by public vote in 2018, includes language supporting the Town Link Trail and other recreational paths.

For these reasons, the Trails Committee hopes you will vote in favor of Article 5 at town meeting. That article will ask for $57,000 to connect the current northern end of the Town Link Trail, near the Champlain Valley Cohousing, to the west village, and start the path from there toward Lake Road and eventually the Town Beach. In the longer run, we want to connect the east and west villages with a trail. We arrived at the $57,000 figure on the basis of per-mile estimates from experienced trail building companies in Vermont. Like most things in life, the cost per mile of trail construction has only gone up over the years. The sooner we can complete the Town Link Trail, the more money we will save Charlotte taxpayers in the end.

Thank you for your consideration.
The Charlotte Trails Committee