Wendell Energy Committee strives for net-zero community

  • The town offices in Wendell. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Wendell Free Library. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Thursday, January 18, 2018

WENDELL — The Wendell Energy Committee wants its town to become a net-zero community that meets all its energy needs through renewable energy, and it has a plan to get there.

Committee Co-Chairwoman Nan Riebschlaeger said the board is focusing on supporting residents with its Green Fund. The Green Fund, which is supported by Green Communities grant money, helps residents invest in anything that will improve energy conservation in their homes such as storm doors, storm windows or heat pumps.

“We want to do more work helping households reduce their energy use and then helping them convert to renewable energy sources, which is how we’ll eventually get to net-zero,” Riebschlaeger said.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory run by the U.S. Department of Energy, a net-zero community is one “that has greatly reduced energy needs through efficiency gains such that the balance of energy for vehicles, thermal and electrical energy within the community is met by renewable energy.”

Through the Green Fund, Riebschlaeger said households can receive up to $750 each. Having originally set aside $37,500 for the program and having helped around 25 households, Riebschlaeger said about $20,000 is still available.

How did the Energy Committee spread the word? Its members went door-to-door, Riebschlaeger said, talking to residents about energy audits and the Green Fund.

“This is what the state thinks communities ought to try,” she added.

To make the program easier for residents to participate in, Riebschlaeger said she went before the Selectboard Wednesday to successfully request to change the parameters of the Green Fund so residents aren’t required to have an energy audit to receive funding. The change also requires permission through the Green Communities program.

Looking back

Since Wendell was designated as a Green Community five years ago, the town has had a 22-percent reduction in energy costs for municipal buildings and vehicles. Riebschlaeger said Wendell initially received $138,000 in Green Communities funding, with $48,000 remaining including the $20,000 that’s been allocated for the Green Fund.

So far, the town has installed more energy-efficient lighting in the Wendell Free Library, Wendell Town Offices and the fire station, Riebschlaeger said. The library lights, she added, are motion sensored, coming on automatically when residents venture into different sections of the library.

Both the Town Offices and library also received more efficient heat pumps, and the ducts underneath Town Hall, which Riebschlaeger said “had huge holes” in them, were replaced.

“We were heating the space under the building probably more than we were heating the building,” she said. “That has made a tremendous difference.”

What’s next?

With Wendell’s remaining $28,000, Riebschlaeger said the Energy Committee plans to install more energy-efficient lighting in Town Hall, and put a new heat pump, solar panels and insulation, as needed, at the Senior Center.

“As an Energy Committee, getting more solar going in town for our buildings is a goal,” she said, noting that making the Senior Center a net-zero building will be an early focus. “It’s very small and making it net-zero should be a doable thing.”

Plus, changing the lights in Town Hall meets multiple goals.

“We’re really looking forward to, No. 1 getting LEDs in there, but also looking to get something more attractive and keeping with the historic nature of that building,” Riebschlaeger explained.

Should Wendell receive more grant funding, Riebschlaeger said the Energy Committee might work with its counterparts in New Salem to improve energy efficiency at the Swift River School.

Feb. 2 meeting

Those interested in learning more about the Wendell Energy Committee’s work are invited to attend a Feb. 2 committee-sponsored pot-luck in Town Hall.