Editor’s Note: This story by Patrick Adrian first appeared in the Valley News on Nov. 20.
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — An energy-savings fair on Saturday brought a variety of Upper Valley residents to Listen Community Services Dinner Hall in White River Junction, where homeowners and renters found a full scope of products, information and programs to help them combat their rising heating costs.
The Affordable Energy Resources Fair — co-hosted by Vital Communities, Efficiency Vermont and Listen Community Services — was the first of its kind for the nonprofits, an in-person event designed to connect residents to the wide range of weatherization tools and energy-saving programs in the Upper Valley.
Rising costs of electricity and heating fuel are resulting in a higher volume of people seeking help with fuel assistance or other services to reduce their energy bills, said Anna Guenther, an energy and transportation project manager at Vital Communities.
Direct assistance programs in the Upper Valley “have been telling us since October that they are seeing a level of need that they haven’t seen before,” Guenther told the Valley News. “And everyone was really panicking about what the winter will be like. We knew we had to do something.”
Patty McDonald, of Sharon, went to her car carrying a collection of free home weatherization products, including shrink-wrap insulation for windows, foam coverings for pipes, weather stripping, even socks.
“I’m going back in,” McDonald said. “I’m just putting this in my car and going back in so I can learn more about what’s available to help people like us.”
McDonald, whose income is further strained by medical costs for herself and her mother, said that every piece of assistance to save costs helps.
“Especially with (the money for) fuel assistance going down, you have to do everything you can,” McDonald said. “Necessity items and groceries are harder to afford now, so every little cent you can have help with is greatly appreciated.”
Volunteer Michael O’Connor, who helped educate visitors about the available weatherization products, said weatherization appeals to people as a straightforward, immediate step toward the larger process of energy saving.
“There’s this feeling that people come here and ask where they should start,” O’Connor said. “So this table has been good because you can grab something, go home and start something.”
Jo Crandall, of Quechee, said she attended primarily to learn about Window Dressers, a Maine-based organization that builds insulating window inserts, a low-cost weatherization model.
Crandall, who lives in a two-bedroom mobile home, benefits from sunlight through her windows to provide natural warmth, but at night the windows are drafty and lower the inside temperature.
“My last fill-up of oil was over $5 a gallon,” Crandall said. “And that’s a little scary because it’s probably going to get close to double this year.”
Representatives were present from a broad spectrum of organizations, from weatherization service providers like COVER Home Repair to utilities like Green Mountain Power and Energy Efficiency Vermont, where visitors could learn about available rebates through Vermont energy-saving programs.
Matt Sharpe, an engineering consultant with Energy Efficiency Vermont, said this fair differed from other events in that it brought multiple organizations under a single roof.
“We need more awareness of what is available to the public,” Sharpe said. “It’s nice to be able to have all these services in one place so people can see what is available and what will work for them.”
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