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Vt. city’s goal: ‘Net zero’ fossil fuel use by 2030

MONTPELIER, Vt. — With the launch of a wood-fueled downtown district heating system still six months away, officials in Vermont’s capital city on Monday set the goal of making Montpelier a “net-zero” user of fossil fuels by 2030.

More electric vehicle charging stations and a campaign to have homeowners install new high-efficiency heat pumps are among the steps the city will take in conjunction with the statewide group Efficiency Vermont and the state’s largest utility, Green Mountain Power Corp., in pursuit of the goal, officials said.

“Deploying technologies in our cities and towns ... will have economic and environmental benefits for all Vermonters,” said Mary Powell, the utility’s chief executive. “It makes perfect sense that Vermont would be the state where we can successfully make our capital net zero.”

Powell and others involved said getting more energy closer to home will create new jobs for workers — from solar installers to loggers who harvest wood — and put the city in a leadership role in the effort to stem climate change by reducing the use of fossil fuels.

Montpelier, the nation’s smallest state capital, has a population of about 8,000.

Officials say the city is well positioned for the effort. Fifteen percent of its homes have had recent energy retrofits recently aimed mainly at reducing heating loads, according to Efficiency Vermont. Meanwhile, the downtown district heating system, tying 37 city, state and private buildings to boilers fueled by wood chips from Vermont forests, is scheduled to be operational by the fall.

A central part of the strategy is to use more solar- and wind-generated electricity, especially for space heating and vehicles. Growing numbers of cars will be powered by renewable sources, energy planners said, while highly-efficient heat pumps, which extract heat from even frigid outside air and move it inside buildings, will play key roles.

Andrea Colnes, executive director of the Energy Action Network, a group involved in the effort, said in an interview a model for what Montpelier is trying to do is Samso Island in Denmark, where extensive use of wind power has enabled the population of 5,000 to generate more energy than it uses every year since 2005.

Colnes acknowledged it may be difficult for Montpelier to measure exactly its progress toward, or achievement of, the net zero goal. In theory, the city would have to add up every instance in which someone started up a vehicle with an internal combustion engine or turned a thermostat up to kick on a fossil-fueled-fired furnace, and then find enough renewable energy to offset those uses.

“I don’t want to pretend we have all the answers because today we were just launching it,” Colnes said.

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