September 25, 2014
Net Zero Montpelier:
Addressing Climate Change at the Local Level
As the reality of climate change becomes more evident each year, so too does the impact it will have on future generations. While meaningful change needs to happen on a national and global scale, we have an obligation to act at the individual and community levels.
I am proud that our city council has taken a leadership role by adopting Net Zero Montpelier. Net Zero Montpelier is a commitment that all of the energy consumed in Montpelier by 2030 will be generated from or offset by renewable sources. It is a major initiative that will require a commitment from most of our residents.
The Montpelier Energy Advisory Committee is laying the foundation to meet the goals of NZM. Chaired by Tim Shea, the MEAC has begun to establish the goals and benchmarks that will guide our net zero work.* We are also receiving major support from Energy Action Network, the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation and Green Mountain Power.
MEAC’s first task will be to create a dashboard that will enable households and businesses to evaluate their energy usage in each of these areas. This dashboard will allow the city to create benchmarks that will be used to measure progress towards NZM.
Each of us consumes energy in three major areas: electric, thermal and transportation. Although electric usage often receives the most attention, electricity consumption may be the easiest sector in which to achieve net zero. It is already possible for homeowners and businesses to purchase all of their electric energy from renewable sources. The city is facilitating significant new solar generation in Montpelier. GMP’s smart meter initiative will help consumers use electricity more efficiently.
Thermal energy (heating and cooling of homes and businesses) will be more challenging as it will require most buildings to switch from fossil fuel to renewable sources of energy. The completion of the Montpelier’s District Heat system was a major step in converting most of our large downtown buildings to convert to renewable biomass energy. GMP has created a pilot project to make energy-efficient cold climate heat pumps available, which are an affordable alternative to traditional fossil fuel heating.
Transportation will pose the greatest challenge. Montpelier’s new transit center will enable greater use of bus transportation. We are working to make Montpelier more bike-friendly. Ultimately, we will be dependent on the development of affordable electric vehicles to transition away from traditional automobiles.
Finally, energy efficiency will be a major component of the Net Zero initiative. Using energy more efficiently for lighting, heating and driving will help us reach our net zero goal.
* The other members of MEAC are Becky Wigg, Dan Jones, Anne Watson, Barry McPhee, Johanna Miller, Ken Jones, Andrew Stein, Dan Costin, Alison Hollingsworth, Bill Neuburger, Barbara Conrey, Geoffrey Fitzgerald and Scott Muller.
City Addresses Parking Issues
Parking issues have has dominated many city discussions lately. Planning for parking might seem to be inconsistent with Net Zero Montpelier, but cars are likely to be with us for a long time. We need to create sensible policies that provide adequate downtown parking, while at the same time encourage the use of bikes, buses and automobiles that don't rely on fossil fuels.
I thought it would be useful to outline some of the ways we are addressing Montpelier's parking challenges:
The city council has authorized planning director Mike Miller to explore the feasibility of building a parking garage downtown. A garage would alleviate pressures on short-term parking, create additional development opportunities, increase housing in our downtown area, and allow us to make better use of prime downtown spaces. Once we identify a potential site and determine whether it can be acquired, we will initiate a public process to discuss design and funding issues.
Community members who participated in the Taylor Street Development charrette process expressed a strong preference that a portion of the development be devoted to green space. That desire, unfortunately, has bumped up against the reality of parking demands associated with the thirty housing units that will be built on the site. Those units will require up to 45 parking spaces, which will leave only a small segment for green space. The city will create incentives to encourage tenants at the site to forego parking, which may enable us to reclaim some of that space for public use.
State Street Diagonal Parking
The city council recently reversed a decision that would have created diagonal parking in front of the Statehouse and added 16 new spaces. Many bicyclists objected to that plan, saying that it would make bicycling on State Street more dangerous.
I joined with three others on the city council to reverse the decision to add angled parking. The city council is pursuing a goal of becoming a bike-friendly community, and this would have been inconsistent with that policy. I believe we need to think differently about how we use our public spaces. The area in front of the Statehouse is one of the most scenic in Montpelier. Adding two bike lanes, rather than parking spaces, will better enhance our community. A parking garage located largely out of public view is a better place to add new parking.
Our zoning ordinance requires developers in some areas to provide for tenant parking or pay a parking replacement fee of $5,000 per space. I believe this policy is anachronistic and should be reconsidered. First, it is unfair to new developers. Most existing commercial owners aren’t required to provide parking or to pay a parking replacement fee. Second, the ordinance discourages investment in our downtown. Third, it doesn't address our parking needs. Many developers simply end up paying the fee, which goes into a fund and doesn't do anything to alleviate any parking pressures created by the development. I have asked the planning commission to consider repealing or revising this ordinance.
* * *
As always, please don’t hesitate to contact me if you want to discuss these or any other issues. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 223-4651.