With a national political conversation that seems to become more divisive and fragmented with each passing day, engaging locally to create meaningful and inclusive democratic change is as important as it ever has been. At moments like this, Vermonters have historically responded by gathering in granges and town halls to find common ground on issues of local, national, and international importance. As Vermonters search now for ways to act locally to improve the affordability and economic vitality of our state, the Climate Economy Model Communities Program just launched by the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD) and partners provides just such an opportunity.
Climate change presents us with the greatest economic development opportunity of our time. For two years VCRD has been convening a statewide conversation about the climate change economy and how the inevitable transition from carbon-based fuels represents a huge economic opportunity for Vermont. With the launching of the Climate Economy Model Communities Program, VCRD, in collaboration with Green Mountain Power, Vermont’s other utilities, and Efficiency Vermont, will now expand this work to focus on affordability for homes, businesses, organizations and economic development initiatives for two model communities in 2017. The Model Communities Program will help local leaders in this work to make Vermont more affordable by developing more efficient transportation choices and reducing our dependence on expensive, out-of-state fuels and by creating well-paying jobs in the clean energy sector.
Each year, Vermonters spend over $2 billion, or nearly eight percent of our gross domestic product, on gasoline, diesel, heating fuel, natural gas and propane to heat our buildings, power transportation and support industry. With no local fuel supplies, most of these dollars flow out of state. The average Vermont family spends about $5,000 to cover its energy costs annually with over half of that spent on transportation and the remainder split between electricity and heating. These expenses represent a hefty financial burden, especially for those Vermonters struggling to make ends meet.
Meanwhile, reports show that the clean energy sector of Vermont’s economy is growing by leaps and bounds. The most recent Clean Energy Industry Report shows that over four percent of Vermont’s workforce, nearly 17,700 Vermonters, work in fields related to energy efficiency and renewable energy. Many of these jobs are in the trades – electricians installing solar panels, carpenters and other technicians insulating homes, and plumbers improving heating systems. Vermont’s overall spending on energy, and the job creation represented by the transition to a new energy economy, demonstrate the economic potential for a community that is motivated to identify community-led rural development initiatives that also help to combat climate change.
Through our Community Visit process, VCRD has pioneered a model of neutral local facilitation that engages many diverse voices from all corners of a town to envision a new and vibrant future. We bring in experts from around the state to work with local leaders to help develop a plan and identify resources to make that future a reality. The time is right to apply this same model to a locally-led conversation around the climate economy. A simple application (available atvtrural.org/model-communities) is due March 22, and two towns with a population between 1,000 and 10,000 will be selected to participate this year. For those Vermonters ready to roll up their sleeves, engage with their neighbors, and work towards an inclusive and prosperous future, please consider applying to participate in the Model Communities Program.
Jon Copans, Director of the Climate Economy Model Communities Program at the Vermont Council on Rural Development.