Date of Award

2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Natural Resources

First Advisor

Stephanie Kaza

Abstract

While global, national, and regional efforts to address climate and energy challenges remain essential, local governments and community groups are playing an increasingly stronger and vital role. As an active state in energy system policy, planning and innovation, Vermont offers a testing ground for research into energy governance at the local level. A baseline understanding of the energy planning and energy organizing activities initiated at the local level can support efforts to foster a transition to a sustainable energy system in Vermont. Following an inductive, applied and participatory approach, and grounded in the fields of sustainability transitions, energy planning, and community energy, this research project identifies conditions for change, including opportunities and challenges, within Vermont energy system decision-making and governance at the local level. The following questions are posed: What are the main opportunities and challenges for sustainable energy development at the town level? How are towns approaching energy planning? What are the triggers that will facilitate a faster transition to alternative energy systems, energy efficiency initiatives, and localized approaches? In an effort to answer these questions two studies were conducted: 1) an analysis of municipal energy plans, and 2) a survey of local energy actors.

Study 1 examined Vermont energy planning at the state and local level through a review and comparison of 40 municipal plan energy chapters with the state 2011 Comprehensive Energy Plan. On average, municipal plans mentioned just over half of the 24 high-level strategies identified in the Comprehensive Energy Plan. Areas of strong and weak agreement were examined. Increased state and regional interaction with municipal energy planners would support more holistic and coordinated energy planning. The study concludes that while municipalities are keenly aware of the importance of education and partnerships, stronger policy mechanisms and financial stimulus are essential if Vermont hopes to increase strategic energy planning alignment and spur whole-scale energy system change. Study 2 examined local energy actors to assess their ability to develop and sustain energy action on the local level. A survey of 120 municipalities collected statewide baseline data covering the structures, processes, and activities of local energy actors. The analysis examined the role that various forms of capacity play in local energy activity. The results show that towns with higher incomes are more likely to have local energy actors and towns with higher populations have higher aggregate energy activity levels. Structurally, energy actors that had both an energy coordinator and an energy committee were more active, and municipal committees were more active than independent committees. Access to a budget and volunteer engagement were both associated with higher activity levels.

The network of local energy actors in Vermont consists of committed and knowledgeable volunteers. Yet, the capacity of these local energy actors to implement sustainable energy change is limited due to resource constraints of time and money. In most cases, the scope of municipal energy planning strategy is modest. Prioritization of strategy and action at the central and local levels, along with increased interaction and coordination, is necessary to increase the regional compatibility and pace of energy system transformation.

Language

en

Number of Pages

202 p.