By Don Keelan
When I came to Vermont some 37 years ago, I was impressed with the frugality and practical approach taken by the folks I first encountered. Never was this so affirmed than at Robert Todd Lincoln’s Hildene, in Manchester.
In 1983, as a new Hildene volunteer, I was given a tour of the historic home by the then chair of the board of trustees, Oscar V. Johnson (1911-2002). Oscar was one of the original founders of Hildene, and he pointed out to me the flag pole in front of the 24-room Georgian revival house. I had said to him, “What an unusual flag pole.”
Oscar noted that when the Friends of Hildene closed on the property with the Christian Science Church, in August of 1978, the Friends had only $800 or so left in their checkbook. He wanted a flag pole, so he went to the local plumbing supply store and bought three pipes and threaded them together. A globe was required, so he purchased a toilet bowl float and painted it gold. Forty-two years later, the pole and globe are still in place — Vermont frugality at its best.
What I had embraced about Vermonters came to a screeching halt on Jan. 11, 2020, when I read Keith Whitcomb, Jr.’s piece in the Rutland Herald. According to Whitcomb, the Marble Valley Regional Transit District (MVRTD) is planning on buying an electric powered transit bus for about $800,000, or twice the cost of a diesel powered bus. And plans are for two of them. It gets even more insane when you add the additional cost for the charging infrastructure, estimated to cost $150,000.
MVRTD will not be using its cash to pay for the difference between a diesel bus and an electric one — in this case, two of them at an additional cost of $800,000. The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (VDEC) and Vermont Energy Investment Corp. (Efficiency Vermont) will contribute the funds from the Volkswagen settlement.
Over and above the base cost of $800,000, there will be $950,000 spent to acquire the two electric buses that may or may not meet the assigned task. Unless there have been vast improvements since 2013, when MVRTD had its last electric bus, it could be that the buses still won’t be able to climb the hills of Rutland. So why not wait for the technology to catch up, as well as reductions in cost that will ultimately come into place?
If the end goal is to reduce the carbon footprint that exists in Rutland today, why not use the funds from VDEC and Efficiency Vermont for a better alternative — the weatherization of Rutland homes?
If those in charge of the bus deal were to allocate and donate $3,000 to Rutland homeowners for weatherization projects, they would be able to improve 316 residential properties. This would go a long way in reducing the carbon footprint from residential fossil heating. It would save the homeowner substantial dollars in heating cost, make homes more comfortable and lower the use of fossil fuels.
In time, MVRTD should have electric buses that will cost much less and be more efficient than what is available today. Brilliant minds throughout the world are working on this subject, so why the rush to spend so much that will have such a small impact?
Whitcomb noted that the acquisition of the buses will be several years away. Why wait? Use the funds that are now available to take care of the homes in Rutland and make a climate impact today.
There has been, and continues to be, a great deal of emotion leaking into what should be sound decisions on how to bring Vermont’s greenhouse gases into compliance. Maybe it’s time to assess what is being planned to see if it meets the common-sense sanity test that once was the foundation of those who made this state what it is today.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.