With emails I’ve received and posts on Front Porch Forum, there seems to be confusion on where I stand with a gas infrastructure project in Bristol, so let me address a few things.
The pipeline issue is a complicated one. It has the potential to help people economically, though the main concentration of gas would be in the police district area of the town, serving roughly half the population of Bristol. And while there does seem to be some initial savings in switching to gas, an even greater immediate benefit to a home or business can be weatherization and energy efficiency measures. This is what the Bristol Energy Committee has been actively promoting over the last few months with Efficiency Vermont’s Button Up Hero program. A change in fuel type doesn’t necessarily equal savings in the long term.
My main concern with such a large infrastructure project has always been the Selectboard’s engagement with their own commissions and committees. Throughout the years-long process, they’ve neglected to consult with their own planning, energy, and conservation departments, and later denied public engagement with the community. I think that’s a disservice to the town that they serve, and the Town Plan as voted and passed by the residents of Bristol.
The water infrastructure upgrade last year on West street was disruptive and problematic due to a number of issues. The complexities of a gas pipeline laid alongside aging waterlines under every street in the ‘village’ is that project multiplied tenfold, and again, as with the Selectboard, I don’t yet have confidence in the company or outside contractors that might be doing that work.
The gas project should have been thoroughly vetted and I still strongly support this practice. I’d also support opening it up for a public vote.
As for gas relating to future growth in Bristol, I do know in my numerous discussions with main street business owners, that a great deal aren’t interested in connecting to a new fuel source. Some even cite it as a detriment. Property owners are currently renovating main street buildings to be all electric and completely renewable because of the long term savings potential. The new business park development at Stoney Hill is also looking beyond fossil fuels with net-zero housing and renewably powered workplace buildings. This practice is already in place at the existing Bristol Works! business development with half the facility already powered by solar power. And they’re looking to increase that to 100% in the coming year.
As for our middle and high school, Mount Abe has impleted renewable standards with its biomass woodchip heating system using materials directly from a Bristol-based supplier, so money is kept right in town. And going forward, renovations to the building will most likely include “performance contracting” to upgrade the energy efficiency of the school at little/no up-front cost. This approach utilizes future energy savings to pay for energy improvements like solar, wind, and geothermal (and possibly other safety, health, and accessibility upgrades).
There are many different ways to bring improvements and benefits to the town. A Selectboard member makes a myriad of decisions every year that affects residents on many levels. It requires a thoughtful and nuanced approach that looks at all sides of a subject.
Let’s not make this about a single issue, because it’s not.