Burlington keeps focus on climate crisis during pandemic

Published: Apr. 28, 2020 at 9:47 PM EDT
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The city of Burlington is vowing to balance the climate emergency and the coronavirus pandemic as its top priorities.

City leaders maintain that reaching net-zero energy by 2030 remains one of Burlington’s core values but they say some initiatives are now on hold as a result of the public health emergency.

“We’re going to continue to focus on our core values and we are going to continue wherever possible to make progress on these two emergencies at the same time,” said Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington.

Weinberger says that, realistically, some projects will have to be cut or significantly delayed due to financial challenges. He says the city won’t be able to generate new projects in the same fashion it could before the pandemic, but he says the city is still rolling out new initiatives to help Burlingtonians individually meet their energy goals, and to get the city back on track with theirs as much as possible.

Weinberger and the Burlington Electric Department recently unveiled the Burlington Green Stimulus package. It offers immediate help and recovery loans to residents and businesses practicing energy efficiency.

“We’re talking about a very significant investment here; $800,000 of repurposed incentive dollars that we’re really accelerating out the door to have an impact in the months as we’re coming out of this stay home order,” said Weinberger.

The stimulus package provides incentives such as home energy loans, electric bike incentives and weatherization assistance programs.

General Manager Darren Springer says it also makes sure broken appliances are replaced with eco-friendly ones.

“We’re trying to make it as affordable as possible for those situations where you need to replace an appliance or you need to replace a heating or cooling system, to go with the option that is energy efficient, that is renewable,” said Springer. “We want to come out the response to the pandemic even stronger in our efforts on net-zero energy.”

The Burlington City Council is also taking strides toward ensuring the climate crisis stays at the forefront of conversations. On Monday, the council unanimously passed a resolution to make sure they get updates on the city’s progress toward net-zero energy at each council meeting.

Jack Hanson, P-Burlington City Council, who introduced the resolution, says the coronavirus pandemic has delayed some pieces of legislation the council was getting close to finishing.

He says the council was working on getting rid of minimum parking requirements for new developments and mandating landlords to meet certain energy efficiency standards.

Although the pandemic is hindering the city’s energy goals in some ways, Hanson is hopeful the lifestyle changes people are adopting now will persist in the post-coronavirus world and expedite the city’s progress toward net-zero energy.

“Many more people are working from home now and I think many people are actually understanding that they prefer not to commute and sit in their car for two hours a day,” said Hanson. “There are going to be these lasting effects from COVID-19 that will actually give us more of an opportunity to reduce our emissions and live more sustainably.”

Hanson says the city committees will start meeting remotely to pick back up where they left off on some of those paused initiatives.

Weinberger also touts the city’s new lease with BETA Technologies as evidence of the city’s ongoing commitment to reaching net-zero energy.

Weinberger says it’s unknown right now which city initiatives will be let go due to financial challenges caused by the pandemic but he’ll have a better idea in the coming weeks exactly which ones will be affected.

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