By Kate Stephenson, Montpelier Energy Advisory Committee Chair
In 2014, Montpelier’s City Council adopted a bold and audacious goal—that the city would be completely “net-zero” by the year 2030—and be the first state capital to produce or offset 100% of its energy use with renewables. In the three years since establishing this goal, Montpelier has made good progress, but there is still much to do. Led by the Montpelier Energy Advisory Committee (MEAC), an all-volunteer group of local residents, the city has been working to both reduce overall energy use through energy efficiency measures as well as increase renewable energy generation.
Cutting municipal energy use
Montpelier has made remarkable gains in energy efficiency while maintaining excellent services and saving money. Municipal operations and facilities consumed just over 46 billion BTUs in FY2011. By FY2016, this had been reduced to 39.7 billion BTUs; a 14% reduction. There have been important efficiency gains across all three sectors of electricity, thermal and vehicles. In particular, Montpelier schools and the wastewater treatment facility are achieving phenomenal gains in energy efficiency. In addition, the extraordinary increase in efficiency at the wastewater facility has been achieved over the same period in which the volume of wastewater processed has more than tripled. Even the city’s consumption of diesel and gasoline has been reduced in the past five years by 16% and 31% respectively.
1MW of municipal solar installed
The City of Montpelier is now getting the majority of its electricity from renewable energy sources with the completion of a 500 kW solar photovoltaic array in Montpelier and a second 500 kW array in Sharon, VT. This innovative Power Purchase Agreement through local solar developer Novus allows the City to invest in renewable energy with no upfront cost and savings on its electric bill from Day 1. The city and school district expect to save $40,000 to $50,000 a year for the first ten years of the contract.
56% reduction in municipal greenhouse gas emissions
One exciting achievement is that Montpelier has achieved a 56% reduction in annual GHG emissions from municipal facilities and operations. There are two sectors that helped the city achieve this important decrease in GHG, while concurrently delivering significant financial savings. The first was switching from dispersed old boilers burning heating oil, to a wood chip-fueled district heat system (a district heat system heats more than one facility). The district heat plant burns wood chips that are both a renewable fuel and are net-zero carbon under both international and national scientific standards. The second was harvesting and flaring fugitive methane at the wastewater facility. In the past, the methane at the Montpelier Water Resource Recovery Facility was left to escape into the atmosphere. But starting in 2012, the WRRF started harvesting the methane in the spring, winter and fall, and combusting it to heat the primary digesters and the filter press building, thereby replacing fossil fuels. In 2015, they began flaring the surplus methane in the summertime, rendering the powerful GHG into bio-generated carbon dioxide. Overall, the process has multiple benefits, scoring significant GHG reduction, energy efficiency, and economic returns for the city.
We recommend that you read more about the Net Zero Montpelier Plans at the article, “Net-Zero Montpelier 2030 Design Competition,” in this issue.