North West Regional Planning Commission steps up climate efforts, Berkshire’s Marlena Valenta leads initiatives | Environment

ST. ALBANS — For Marlena Valenta, thinking about the scale of the climate crisis used to be stressful and anxiety-provoking.

But now, thanks to her new position as energy and climate planner for the North West Regional Planning Commission, she is optimistic about the future.

“The more I work in this field and the more I learn about it, the more optimistic I become, and my stress has really been alleviated, because I think the human spirit in this case is too big to fail,” he said. she told the Messenger. “People are feeling stressed about it, the best thing they can do is get involved.”

Valenta, a BFA-St. An Albans graduate and Berkshire resident, he started with the NRPC in January when a state grant funded energy planning positions in each of Vermont’s 11 regional planning commissions.

Funding for the position is only for one year, but chief executive Catherine Dimitruk said the NRPC is working hard to find a way to keep the position longer.

Since January, Valenta has developed and implemented initiatives in Franklin and Grand Isle counties that follow the NRPC Regional Energy Plan 2017.

The plan, which includes goals and strategies for energy conservation and renewable energy generation, will be updated in the coming months by the NRPC’s revitalized climate and energy committee, so that be better aligned with the goals of the Vermont Climate Action Plan and the Global Warming Solutions Act. .

“If we want to meet our climate goals… then we have to weatherproof our homes, switch to electric vehicles and ditch fossil fuels for heating,” Dimitruk said. “These will be so huge in the next two decades.”

Valenta knows some Vermonters are skeptical of these changes, and that’s why she’s passionate about hosting events that allow Vermonters to hear directly from friends and neighbors who are finding success after making respectful choices. of the environment.

Marlena Valenta, Energy and Climate Planner for the North West Regional Planning Commission

“I think what’s so great about energy and climate work right now is that we’re reaching a point where it’s really a financially smart choice for people,” she said. declared. “I grew up in this area, so I wouldn’t recommend things to people that would put a strain on them. I can now say, ‘It’s not only very good for the environment, but it’s also very good for you personally.”

Weatherization efforts

To help residents of Franklin and Grand Isle counties learn about weatherization, Valenta and the NRPC have partnered with Window dressersa Maine-based nonprofit that helps residents reduce heating costs, fossil fuel consumption, and CO-2 emissions by minimizing the amount of heat lost through windows.

NRPC and Window Dressers enroll residents in insulated and affordable window inserts made of pine and hermetically sealed clear polyolefin film. Low-income residents may receive an insert free of charge.

In November, a community build will take place at the Opera House in Enosburg, and volunteers will build the window inserts just in time for installation before winter.

So far, approximately 300 window inserts will be built for residents of Franklin County and the Champlain Islands. The target was 150.

“I’ve been really encouraged to see the overwhelmingly positive response we’ve had,” Valenta said. “I think that kind of indicates that people in the region really want to focus on climate and energy.”

The Richford Conservation Commission will be one of the main volunteer groups during the community build in November. Supporting the work of municipal climate committees is another important aspect of Valenta’s role.

“We have very good conservation commissions, municipal workers and selection committees in the region who have been doing this work for a long time,” she said. “People like this should reach out and get help.”

Awareness of electric vehicles

Next month, another city climate-focused committee, the Swanton Energy Committee, is hosting a test drive of electric vehicles in partnership with the NRPC.

From 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. on June 1 at the Swanton Village Offices, event attendees will be able to talk to current electric vehicle owners and dealers and ride or drive different cars.

Village Superintendent Reg Beliveau and Jen Cortez formed Franklin County’s only energy committee in May 2021 with the goal of helping Swanton residents improve their greenhouse gas footprint.

In July 2021, the Energy Committee hosted its first electric vehicle test drive event. Within weeks, three Swanton residents had purchased an electric vehicle and cited the event as the catalyst for their decision.

“It really helps to show why these municipal energy committees are so important,” Valenta said. “The work they do really makes a difference.”

As an electric vehicle owner herself, Valenta knows the benefits of driving one indoors and outdoors. But it’s not as easy for everyone to keep up to date with the latest technologies and incentives, she said.

“Because everything changes so quickly, people always have outdated information,” she said. “They think the battery is really big and located in the trunk or it only has 50 miles of range… But that’s why these events are really helpful: you get the Vermonter perspective in Vermonter.”

Youth participation

When Valenta was a student at Franklin County Schools, she cared deeply about climate and environmental issues, but didn’t know where to go to learn more or start finding solutions.

“It’s such a huge problem that it can seem like, you know, an impossible job,” she said.

In her position at NRPC, she wants to help provide the next generation with the tools and resources they didn’t have.

This spring and fall, she will visit Franklin and Grand Isle High Schools to talk to students about not only the personal and environmentally responsible decisions they can make now, but also the green careers they can pursue at home. coming.

“We’re going to need a very large workforce to make all this weatherization happen and to achieve our other goals,” she said. “I want to make sure young people know these jobs exist.”

Valenta will also work with school districts to coordinate visits from green employers, such as solar installers and weatherization organizations. She is also excited about the prospect of hosting a “green job fair” in the county, a project she says has been successful in other areas.

“I know I really wish I had that when I was in high school, so I’m just basing it on what young Marlena would have wanted,” she said.

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