Counties share $700K in federal stimulus funds

By:  Josh O'Gorman
Rutland Herald

Four southern Vermont counties will receive nearly $700,000 in economic stimulus money to promote energy efficiency.

Independent Sen. Bernard Sanders, who heads the Senate Environment Committee's Green Jobs and New Economy Subcommittee, authored legislation that established the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program.

"The block grant program recognizes the importance of local efforts to create good-paying jobs in developing sustainable energy and promoting energy efficiency," Sanders said. "What I particularly like about this approach is that it relies on local initiatives and grassroots participation."

The grants were designated for county governments and Vermont, which does not have county government, was initially ineligible for the money. Sanders, along with Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy and Democratic Rep. Peter Welch, appealed to the Department of Energy to create county equivalent governing bodies, which opened the door for regional planning commissions to apply for the money.

"We had great support from all three offices in our federal delegation," said James Matteau, executive director of the Windham Regional Commission, which will receive $130,800 in stimulus money.

Peter Gregory, executive director of the Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Planning Commission in Woodstock, said his organization would use the $193,300 it is sharing with the Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission to perform energy audits of municipal buildings and provide money for retrofit work.

The Addison County Regional Planning Commission will also use some of its $153,700 for energy audits of as many as 30 municipal buildings, said executive director Adam Lougee, and will help the towns to write grants for additional money to perform their own retrofits.

"It will hopefully save the taxpayers some money in energy bills over time," Lougee said.

Lougee will also work with towns in his county to take advantage of 2008 legislation that allows towns to establish revolving loan funds through their bonding authority and loan the money to property owners who want to make efficiency upgrades.

The property owners would repay the money by making additional payments on their tax bills, and although the legislation has been on the books for about a year, no town in Addison County has established the fund.

The grants hopefully will help the planning commissions to create programs that are self-sustaining, Gregory said.

"Although this is stimulus money and it will end at some point, we are trying to establish a program that will outlive its funding source," Gregory said.

The Rutland Regional Planning Commission will receive $189,700.