Jon Copans: Modelling a local and vibrant climate economy

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Jon Copans, who is the director of the Climate Economy Model Communities Program at the Vermont Council on Rural Development.

With a national political conversation that seems to become more divisive and fragmented with each passing day, engaging locally to create meaningful and inclusive democratic change is as important as it ever has been. At moments like this, Vermonters have historically responded by gathering in granges and town halls to find common ground on issues of local, national and international importance. As Vermonters search now for ways to act locally to improve the affordability and economic vitality of our state, the Climate Economy Model Communities Program just launched by the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD) and partners provides just such an opportunity.

Climate change presents us with the greatest economic development opportunity of our time. For two years VCRD has been convening a statewide conversation about the climate change economy and how the inevitable transition from carbon-based fuels represents a huge economic opportunity for Vermont. With the launching of the Climate Economy Model Communities Program, VCRD, in collaboration with Green Mountain Power, Vermont’s other utilities, and Efficiency Vermont, will now expand this work to focus on affordability for homes, businesses, organizations and economic development initiatives for two model communities in 2017. The Model Communities Program will help local leaders in this work to make Vermont more affordable by developing more efficient transportation choices and reducing our dependence on expensive, out-of-state fuels and by creating good paying jobs in the clean energy sector.

For those Vermonters ready to roll up their sleeves, engage with their neighbors, and work towards an inclusive and prosperous future, please consider applying to participate in the Model Communities Program.


Each year, Vermonters spend over $2 billion, or nearly 8 percent of our gross domestic product, on gasoline, diesel, heating fuel, natural gas and propane to heat our buildings, power transportation and support industry. With no local fuel supplies, most of these dollars flow out of state. The average Vermont family spends about $5,000 to cover their energy costs annually with over half of that spent on transportation and the remainder split between electricity and heating. These expenses represent a hefty financial burden, especially for those Vermonters struggling to make ends meet.

Meanwhile, reports show that the clean energy sector of Vermont’s economy is growing by leaps and bounds. The most recent Clean Energy Industry Report shows that over 4 percent of Vermont’s workforce, nearly 17,700 Vermonters, work in fields related to energy efficiency and renewable energy. Many of these jobs are in the trades — electricians installing solar panels, carpenters and other technicians insulating homes, and plumbers improving heating systems. Vermont’s overall spending on energy, and the job creation represented by the transition to a new energy economy demonstrate the economic potential for a community that is motivated to identify community-led rural development initiatives that also help to combat climate change.

Through our Community Visit process, VCRD has pioneered a model of neutral local facilitation that engages many diverse voices from all corners of a town to envision a new and vibrant future. We bring in experts from around the state to work with local leaders to help develop a plan and identify resources to make that future a reality. The time is right to apply this same model to a locally led conversation around the climate economy. A simple application, (available at is due March 22, and two towns with a population between 1,000 and 10,000 will be selected to participate this year. For those Vermonters ready to roll up their sleeves, engage with their neighbors, and work towards an inclusive and prosperous future, please consider applying to participate in the Model Communities Program.

For more information, please visit the program website at: or call Jon Copans at 225-6393.

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  • bill_christian

    If the cost of gasoline and heating oil was higher, we would buy cars that used less gas, buy electric cars, or figure out something else entirely, and we would replace the rubber door strip that lets in all that air. Until costs go up, we will not take the very serious actions needed. I have no doubt whatsoever that the cost of gas and oil will go up, but there are two very different ways it could happen. One way is we wait until it goes up naturally due to shortages, but that will cause two problems. The first is massive worldwide harm to people (like financial collapse, starvation, and war). The second is the permanent change to the climate that will result from burning most of the available oil, coal, and natural gas that is now sleeping safely underground. The other way that cost could go up is to tax fossil fuels to cover the eventual permanent harm caused by burning them up. This method (the carbon pollution tax) can gradually push us to do what we’ll have to do eventually, but without all those children starving and stuff. That is how we arrive at the lofty goals outlined in this article. And to top it off, the carbon pollution tax doesn’t even have to raise taxes on the average Vermonter. We simply cut other taxes by an equal amount.

    • Neil Johnson

      People will buy fuel efficient cars, anyone under a budget know how much they’d save. If we opened the gates to electric vehicles under 5hp, no regs, we’d be flooded with electric/velopeds. If we allowed a financing option for homes being built and upgraded, we’d get that done too. If we allowed cars to be build in the 1800-2000 lb range with aerodynamics we’d have 50-80mgh cars for less than $10,000 but our regs won’t allow this. We should be the green auto/transportation petri dish of the nation, but we wouldn’t allow that type of business in Vermont. Ask Jan, he’s had permit night mares. If we allowed small strawbale homes 6/acre we’d have super efficient homes for less than $91,000. Two people on minimum wage can afford that. Allow them to put on a used trailer (heaven forbid) and one person on minimum wage could afford it!

      We need to prepare for down turns, without a doubt, sending money to Montpelier isn’t going to help us with that!. God they can’t get it done in prosperous times and with more money than they’ve EVER taken in!

    • Glenn Thompson

      “buy electric cars”

      FYI, if the electric vehicle market starts to take off, (it hasn’t yet) it is estimated the US would require an additional 8 Open Pit Copper Mines to meet demand. Out here in Southern Arizona, one proposed Copper Mine is facing fierce opposition. The issue I have with electric vehicles is the enormous amount of raw materials mined from beneath the Earth required to manufacture an electric vehicle. If Opposition to new Open Pit mines becomes so strong no additional Copper mines go online, that will create a shortage of raw materials…..and prices rise.

      IMHO, whatever replaces the I.C.E, it won’t be electric vehicles unless a battery technology that we don’t know about yet is developed.

      Bottom line, unless we use our resources wisely, we most likely will run out of raw materials sooner than we will run out of oil. During one of my trips out West, I got close up and personal with a 500′ wind turbine. It is beyond ridiculous to use up so much raw materials to produce something that produces so little power given the size of that monstrosity.

      As for the future of fossil fuels…..hate to ruin anyone’s day, but checkout Microwave technology for extracting fossil fuels.

      “U.S. oil reserves would also be vastly expanded. America controls the world’s largest untapped oil reserve, the Green River Formation in Colorado. This formation alone contains up to three to four trillion barrels of untapped oil shale, about half of which is probably recoverable with microwave fracking.”

  • Arthur Hendrickson

    Do you realize that one non-stop flight from New York to Hong Kong uses enough fuel (52,000 gallons) to heat 56 Vermont homes or businesses for a year? Then consider there are over 27000 scheduled airline flights in the United States every day polluting and burning up the resource. Those that think a carbon tax on our gas and fuel oil in Vermont will save the planet are only fooling themselves.

  • Willem Post

    Mr. Copans is listing a number of government initiatives and programs to achieve reduced energy consumption.
    This will keep busy many paperwork bureaucrats at the state and local level.
    When is this folly finally going to end?

    Vermont needs a statewide building code that REQUIRES all NEW buildings to be energy neutral or energy surplus. Denmark already has such a nationwide code.

    To encourage people to build such buildings, 2%, 30-y mortgages should be made available to EVERYONE, who is financially qualified, and who builds such buildings.
    All the rest of the details are handled by local contractors and state certified inspectors, as it is done in Denmark and Norway.
    By all means KEEP THINGS LOCAL.
    Let us get the state out of the energy business.
    Look what it did to healthcare and education.