In early February, Efficiency Vermont hosted its 16th Better Buildings by Design conference. One of my favorite events of the year, Better Buildings brings together our partners from the building, design and clean energy industries. More than 1,000 attendees from across the country attended this year’s conference, which offered more than 40 workshops over the course of two days.
This year I kicked off the conference with some welcoming remarks and talked about the role I see energy efficiency playing in the industry, as a unifier. It’s a common-sense solution that isn’t up for debate, because it’s hard to argue that no matter where our energy is coming from, we should try to use less of it. And when we improve our building envelopes and upgrade our building systems we aren’t just saving money, we’re also enhancing comfort and making spaces healthier and more productive.
Vermonters are using about 14 percent less electricity than they did in 2000 thanks to energy efficiency. It is integral to our grid, it increases the stability and reliability of our power supply and it is a cost-effective investment. For every dollar put toward efficiency, there is a two dollar return. At Efficiency Vermont we aim to continue delivering on that investment, with a focus on housing affordability and economic growth and development.
Affordability and availability
I highlighted some of the ways Efficiency Vermont partnered with local organizations, developers, contractors, and property owners to increase housing availability and affordability in 2016.
In Waltham, Vermont, we assisted with the transformation of an abandoned mobile home park to a 14-home, net-zero modular home park at McKnight Lane. This project was developed by Addison County Community Trust in partnership with Cathedral Square Corporation, and all of the homes were built by VERMOD, based in Wilder. It brought together energy efficiency and renewable generation and storage with the support of Green Mountain Power, to create a stable stock of long-term affordable housing.
In Milton we aided in the design and development of Elm Place, the first passive house, multi-family building for low-income senior citizens. Also developed by Cathedral Square Corporation, this project demonstrated that the highest level of energy efficiency isn’t just for those with means. Not only is it providing low-cost housing to a fixed-income population. It is also serving as a healthy and comfortable living environment.
These are just a few examples of how local organizations, developers and utilities can work collaboratively to make a huge impact on Vermonters’ lives. And with more projects in the works this year I’m excited to watch that impact continue to grow.
I also acknowledged the many ways that energy efficiency can serve as an economic driver. Looking around the room at all of the conference attendees, workshop presenters and exhibitors, it was evident how widespread this industry’s reach is. Vermont’s 2016 Clean Energy Industry Report states that more than 17,000 workers — that’s 1 in every 17 — works in energy efficiency, renewable energy, clean transportation or a related support service industry. And a recent report from E4TheFuture, an advocacy organization, states that nearly 8,600 Vermont residents work in jobs related to energy efficiency. Beyond these employment numbers, energy efficiency also helps to move business forward in Vermont. Businesses can reap many benefits from energy savings — ranging from a healthy bottom line to a more comfortable and safe workforce, to improved operations and productivity. In 2016, we saw these benefits play out in businesses across the state including Adams North Barre Granite, Champlain Orchards, 14th Star Brewery, Jolley, and Higher Ground, to name a few.
The success stories from each of these businesses demonstrate the many ways that Vermont companies can improve their work conditions and operations while reducing costs with energy efficiency. I see so much potential for our state’s key industries to grow and thrive, and I’m excited to continue our work supporting that momentum with full force in 2017.
Achievements across Vermont
Before officially kicking off the conference with an excellent keynote speech from Ann Edminster, an international expert on sustainable residential construction and zero-net energy, I had the pleasure of recognizing some of the incredible achievements by architects, engineers, builders, and contractors using energy efficiency and sustainability practices to construct or renovate Vermont buildings.
Given annually, the Best of the Best awards are given for commercial and residential new construction, major commercial rehabilitation projects and home improvements made by Home Performance with ENERGY STAR contractors. The winners exemplify the integration of innovative energy efficient practices with durability, artistry and practicality. A total of 17 award recipients from across Vermont were recognized this year.
For more information about the conference, a video recording of Edminster’s keynote address, and the complete list of Best of the Best award winners, visit www.efficiencyvermont.com/conference.
Liz Gamache is director of Efficiency Vermont.