HARTFORD — Members of the public are being asked to comment on an ambitious plan to combat climate change by, among other measures, dramatically boosting the number of electric vehicles in Hartford and encouraging property owners to switch from fossil fuels to electric-powered heat pumps.
Ted Redmond, a consultant for Hartford’s Climate Advisory Committee, presented the proposal to the Selectboard last week. If implemented, the plan would eliminate all fossil fuel heating in municipal buildings, make progress on the same front with private homes and bring more than 2,300 electric vehicles to Hartford’s streets by 2030.
Redmond told members of the Selectboard on Tuesday that average temperatures in the area have already risen 2.6 degrees since 1895. According to the plan, the town emits 93,735 metric tons of greenhouse gases annually. Transportation accounts for nearly 50% of its emissions, while almost 49% comes from heating fuels and the electricity needed to power buildings.
He said that the town has significantly reduced its emissions but warned that it is “nowhere near the pace that would meet our goals to be carbon-neutral, so we see the need to act.”
Hartford’s goal is to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
“It’s a big lift. Doable, but it’s a big lift,” Redmond said.
The plan includes increasing on-site renewable energy from 3% to 15% of residential and commercial electricity, and replacing 25% of the diesel usage in Hartford with cleaner-burning biodiesel. However, it also includes many low-cost, grassroots solutions like encouraging residents to collect rainwater for their plants and start community gardens.
The plan suggests increasing population density to cut vehicle miles driven and would encourage the use of electric vehicles by seeing where EV chargers would be most beneficial. In 2019, only about 25 EVs were registered in town, according to the plan.
In 2019, the town of Hartford declared a climate emergency to encourage more local action to limit emissions. Then, at Town Meeting in 2020, residents passed an article requiring the town’s municipal infrastructure to achieve carbon neutrality by 2027. An ad-hoc team of 32 community members, including residents, business owners and Town of Hartford staff, volunteered over 1,200 hours to come up with the climate action plan with the help of Redmond’s Minnesota-based firm, paleBluedot.
Because the “estimated economic risk of climate change” to Hartford is almost $9.9 million annually, supporters of the plan assert that it would ultimately save the town tens of millions of dollars in energy and transportation costs, energy efficiency and social costs related to climate change, such as its impacts on farmland and productivity.
But implementing the plan could require substantial capital investments, and no estimates were given for those costs at this stage.
“I really do wonder about federal involvement, because if we are going to do this, then the grid is going to have to be improved, and where all the power lines are running,” Selectboard member Dennis Brown said at the meeting.
Town Manager Tracy Yarlott-Davis, during an interview Friday, said there’s also work to be done within the local bureaucracy.
“We need to do some really deep dives into the costs of the plan within the constraints of a municipal budget,” she said. “I appreciated that their goals were reasonable and feasible. That’s important for a town with limited resources and staff.”
Wilder resident Carolyn Hooper, a volunteer on the team that helped develop the plan, told the Selectboard that equity was “strongly built through everything we did.” The submitted plan includes a group purchase campaign to convert at least 150 homes and 20 businesses to energy-efficient heating each year. Another group purchase program would help families buy electric vehicles.
“As a single, low-income mom, I want to be able to buy an EV and I want to be able to put heat pumps in my house,” Hooper said. Since she became involved with the planning team, Hooper said that she has found “the confidence to make an impact on (her) neighborhood.” She turned her yard into an “edible landscape” and captures the rain from her roof to water it.
Climate Advisory Committee Chairman Erik Krauss said in an interview that the planning team’s focus on greenhouse gases and efficiency to cut emissions kept it “focused.” Electrifying heat sources is a major part of the plan.
“The thing I like to think about is using less overall because there is no magic potion here. We’re making choices between the least damaging options we can,” Krauss said.
The town, which is in the process of hiring a sustainability coordinator, has invited community members throughout the Upper Valley to weigh in on the plan by July 21. Krauss said that he envisions the proposal, if approved and implemented by the Selectboard later this summer, as a “living plan” that would change every year as Hartford evaluates its progress.
Redmond said more than 25 people had already commented on the plan and mainly supported implementing it.
“Our challenge is getting to that swath of the public that is not in tune with this issue,” Krauss said. “We want this to be all hands on deck. When someone doesn’t see something being done, take the ball and run with it. Don’t assume that leadership has it all under control.”
Claire Potter is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3242.