December 29, 2016

VCRD unveils ‘Model Communities’ program

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Council on Rural Development is set to begin a program seeking to harness climate change as an economic opportunity for local communities.

The group’s Climate Economy Model Communities Program kicks off in early 2017, with an RFP process scheduled to start in February. VCRD Executive Director Paul Costello said the organization, with support from Vermont partners, will select “two towns to provide concentrated services to in the next year.”

Through these services, the goal is to work with the local community to advance economic opportunities while reducing the community’s carbon footprint. For some, Costello said, this offers a different way to think about climate impact.

“You can think of the climate change issue as apocalyptic, or you can think of it as a problem that we need to rally to for solutions, essentially an economic problem, which will challenge the creativity of leaders in the business community to come up with answers,” Costello said.

He said all views in the community will be welcome to help figure out those answers.

“VCRD will facilitate the community engagement strategies, and we’ll be working closely with staff from Efficiency Vermont and GMP (Green Mountain Power),” Costello said.

Jon Copans

Jon Copans

VCRD recently hired Jon Copans as the director of the Climate Economy Model Communities Program. Copans, most recently the Deputy Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service, will lead the RFP process as part of his work with the new program.

Costello said the potential results of this program include “the whole nine yards” of energy efficiency efforts, including support for home retrofits, switching from carbon-based tools to electricity, and other projects. The local municipality, homeowners, businesses and nonprofit organizations will all play a role in figuring out the way forward in this program, Costello said.

Local projects responding to climate change and the creative efforts around them, he added, could lead to the “creation of hundreds or thousands of new businesses over the next 20 years.”

Costello pointed out that efforts like the GMP-driven Solar City initiative in Rutland, which is “a good part of the branding” for Rutland, are attractive to young workers and leaders who want to live in communities that embrace energy efficiency and new technology.

Costello also said the creativity coming out of these efforts, and leading to jobs, could “be the foundation for prosperity in the future.”

In its work, he added, the VCRD team is interested in working with communities to affect solutions to these issues.

“For us, the climate-change challenge is essentially an economic challenge,” Costello said.

The Climate Economy Model Communities Program formed out of the VCRD’s Vermont Climate Change Economy Council, which has held two statewide conferences.

Visit www.vtrural.org to read more about VCRD’s work.

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