Energy conversation begins: Hinesburg Selectboard schedules Lot 15 public comment; plans Town Meeting Day energy discussion

By MADELINE HUGHES

As the Selectboard wrapped up the Town Meeting Day warning for voters, board members debated whether an energy resolution drafted by the town’s Energy Committee should be put to voters on March 5.

The resolution asks the town to halt the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure and transition to renewable energy. Board members disagreed with each other, and had a conversation for about an hour on the subject, which was one of the items they potentially had to approve.

“It’s carbon light,” Selectboard Chair Phil Pouech said, expressing a wish that the resolution would go further.

Board member Andrea Morgante wanted the board to approve the resolution so it would be on the Town Meeting agenda and hopefully churn up interest.

“The State of Vermont and the Town of Hinesburg has (sic) has a goal in the Comprehensive Energy Plan to achieve 90 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2050, yet is making insufficient progress towards achieving that goal,” the resolution reads.

The resolution asks the town to deter installation of fossil fuel infrastructure on town lands, and asks the town to promote renewable energy sources in new development.

“This is a step we can take… we understand there is a long-term greater good that will be served if we choose this,” Morgante said. “It’s for preserving the longevity for future generations for our kids and the planet. Maybe it won’t pass, but it’s important we recognize these are the options we can take.”

Board member Merrily Lovell added that this statement might help move the conversation forward in town on such a pressing issue.

“This is a strong statement… and then these other things will follow,” Lovell said.

Board member Tom Ayer asked how restricting access to natural gas could potentially affect housing projects and access to affordable heating.

“We can’t pick the energy side of the town plan and disregard the affordable housing part of the plan,” Ayer said.

Chuck Reiss, chair of the Energy Committee, applauded the conversation happening at the Selectboard table.

“This is the kind of discussion we should have town-wide on the floor and see where the town goes with it,” he said.

Thomas Murray, vice president of Customers and Communities for Vermont Gas, was also present at the meeting. He talked about how Vermont Gas is implementing renewable energy sources, such as digester gas created from methane.

“Thinking of our infrastructure as just a fossil fuel infrastructure is not looking to the future,” Murray said. Currently about one percent of the gas flowing to Hinesburg is renewable, he added. “Over time we will have (more of) it in our portfolio.”

The board decided not to put the resolution as written on the town meeting warning. Instead, the board directed Pouech to refine the resolution with Reiss and allow the Energy Committee to bring the resolution to the floor for discussion at town meeting.

“I want to be able to defend it like the town budget, but now (as is) it would be hard for me to defend it,” Pouech said.

Other news

  • At its Feb. 4 meeting, the Selectboard is going to schedule public comment regarding Lot 15 in Commerce Park where the Hannaford Brothers grocery store project is proposed but mired in permitting obstacles.

The Selectboard must make a decision to potentially acquire land through eminent domain – the process where  government might buy private property for public use – by Feb. 14. The town asked the state Environmental Court for a stay – a suspension – that will pause the 120-day time period that began in October after the town Development Review Board rejected the grocery company’s latest permit application. The court has yet to rule on the decision.

  • The town received official notice from St. Michael’s Rescue that it will cease ambulance service to Hinesburg and St. George on June 30, 2020.
  • The Selectboard approved its Town Meeting Day warning with a proposed budget of $4,012,539, which represents a increase of 4.09 percent over the current budget.

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