Cow Power

Blue Spruce Farm in Bridport, Vt., is one of the farms that captures methane from manure to generate electricity as part of Green Mountain Power’s Cow Power program.

BRATTLEBORO — The selectboard voted Tuesday night to purchase enough green electricity to make the town’s electric consumption carbon neutral and to establish a new fund to be used for future clean-energy programs.

After discussion at its last meeting two weeks ago, and follow-up conversation Tuesday, the board voted unanimously to purchase 6 percent of the town’s electricity through Green Mountain Power’s Cow Power program for a cost of a little less than $7,000. Members also voted to establish a fund with $70,000 that would be used for making the town more energy efficient and reducing emissions.

The Cow Power program uses manure from Vermont farms to produce electricity. The manure is placed in a digester, where it is turned into methane, which is used to power an electric generator. It’s an alternative to allowing the manure to break down naturally and release the methane — a powerful greenhouse gas — into the atmosphere.

The Cow Power proposal was put forth by Brattleboro’s energy commission, which had recommended that the town purchase 37 percent of its electricity through the Cow Power program, enabling Brattleboro to receive all its electricity from renewable sources. The discussion stems from non-binding goals approved during the 2018 town meeting, in which Brattleboro’s representative voters agreed to take steps to lessen the town’s environmental footprint.

During the past two selectboard meetings, members disagreed about whether to go for the 37 percent option, which would have cost $42,885, or the 6 percent alternative.

“My goal was to really kind of split the baby,” said Selectwoman Elizabeth McLoughlin, who put forth the suggestion to establish the fund as a compromise with those who favored the 37 percent option, “to give the 6 percent to Cow Power but to have something more local and more directly energy efficient within Brattleboro.”

The board will discuss the specifics of the fund and how it will work at a future meeting.

Last month, the selectboard opted to table the issue for further discussion after heated exchanges about the urgency of climate change and whether Cow Power was the best fit for Brattleboro. McLoughlin and Chairman Tim Wessel raised concerns about how much money the town should be investing in the program and whether the move would have a real impact.

Ian Goodnow and Daniel Quipp — who’d been less hesitant about the 37-percent option — joined their colleagues in supporting the idea of establishing the new fund and going with the smaller amount of Cow Power electricity. But both said this wasn’t the end of the conversation around renewable power.

“I like the idea that while the larger amount to Cow Power is a premium to get us to 100 percent renewable, this amount in this fund is going to go actively into saving us money and making us more efficient in the actual energy we use,” Goodnow said. “And we’re going to continue to talk about renewable; we’re going to continue to talk about carbon neutral.”

The town is already purchasing its electricity from Green Mountain Power, the state’s main electric utility, according to town Sustainability Coordinator Stephen Dotson. He explained in an email to The Sentinel last month that the electricity the town uses is already 63 percent renewable and cost the town a total of $840,000 in 2019.

During the February discussion, energy committee Chairman Oscar Heller expressed disappointment with the selectboard’s decision to postpone the vote. But on Tuesday, he said he was “optimistic” about the fund and feels it could prove a good way for the town to tackle energy issues.

“I think it could be good,” he said. “And it could be a good compromise that invests a substantial amount of money in this thing that is important.”

Mia Summerson can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or msummerson@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter

@MiaSummerson