Sierra Club discusses renewable energy in Upper Valley

by Mika Jehoon Lee | 4/13/17 2:05am

On Wednesday evening, Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune and Hanover town manager Julia Griffin spoke to nearly 70 Upper Valley community members and Dartmouth students at the Hanover Town Hall about the nationwide transition to renewable energy and Hanover’s upcoming May 9 vote to commit to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

Vice chair of the Upper Valley Group of the Sierra Club Judi Colla opened the event by introducing Ready for 100, which is a national campaign organized by the Sierra Club to accelerate the country’s move toward 100 percent clean energy. Colla said that the Upper Valley Group decided to participate in the Ready for 100 program to prevent Liberty Utilities’ development of fossil fuel infrastructure in Hanover as well as make the town transition to a healthier energy future.

After Colla’s talk, Griffin discussed Hanover’s past and current efforts to support clean energy. Griffin said that Hanover was the first town in New England to become a Green Power Community, a designation from the Environmental Protection Agency. Since 2014, Hanover has partnered with the EPA to use renewable energy in amounts that exceed its usage requirements, which depend on each community’s annual electricity usage. According to the EPA, 22.3 percent of Hanover’s total electricity use came from renewable energy sources in 2017, ranking Hanover 22nd of 61 GPCs.

Griffin added that the town staff has spent $50,000 every year on energy efficiency improvements. She said that Hanover has installed low-energy heat pumps, solar panels and LED lighting. The town has also been discussing a potential construction of a solar farm with the College as well as Dartmouth’s transition from the current steam-based heating system to a hot water-based system. Using hot water instead of steam to power heating systems has allowed colleges such as Stanford University to reduce carbon emissions.

Brune, who spoke after Griffin, said that the current political climate increases the U.S.’s need to convert to renewable energy. He said that President Donald Trump and his allies do not believe in the existence of climate change and that they are trying to undermine the progress environmental activists have made in the past 30 years.

“We are seeing tens and millions of people facing water shortages and extreme weather events on an annual basis,” Brune said. “The threat was real on November 8, and it got a lot worse on November 9.”

Brune also spoke about the economic and technological feasibility of the U.S.’s future conversion to clean energy. He said that countries like China and India have put a freeze on new coal developments not only because coal contributes to climate change, but also because it is not economically competitive. According to Brune, solar wind and other renewable energy sources are now cheaper than coal and natural gas.

During a question and answer session following Brune’s talk, Hanover resident John Schumacher asked whether Hanover will be able to commit to a goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2020 instead of 2050, given that most of the people in attendance at the event were elderly.

In response to Schumacher’s question, Brune stated that any community’s transition to clean energy depends on the availability of technology and capital. There have been rapid technological developments in the renewable energy sector, but communities need to continue building political will and securing money, he said.

Cornish resident Joanna Sharf asked Brune for advice on how to persuade a town resistant to committing to renewable energy to follow Hanover’s footsteps.

In response, Brune said that it is important to understand your audience and their values and how climate change and energy issues address what they care about.

Thetford resident Stuart Blood said that as a non-Hanover resident, he did not have a lot of information about what Hanover’s commitment to 100 percent renewable energy would entail. The event not only allowed him to become more aware about the strengths of Hanover’s commitment, but also encouraged him that Thetford can use Hanover’s green energy campaign to start its own clean energy initiative.

Megan Larkin ’19, who is a member of Divest Dartmouth and former campus organizer at NextGen Climate, an organization that strives to prevent climate disaster, said that the College administration should help Hanover commit to 100 percent renewable energy to send a message that Dartmouth considers climate change and global warming as serious issues. Larkin also encouraged Dartmouth students to be active and informed citizens by supporting sustainability initiatives such as the College’s fossil fuel divestment and attending or voting at the town meeting on May 9.