Ben Meredith

ben.meredithThe Climate Action Alliance of the Valley’s long-time friend Benjamin Meredith, founder and owner of Building Knowledge, a company that does energy audits and guides energy efficiency improvements, came to present to the November 21 steering committee meeting. Benjamin is one of 10 persons selected for a new committee established by Harrisonburg City Council in 2016, the Environmental Performance Standards Advisory Committee, or “EPSAC”. Two elected officials, Richard Baugh representing City Council, and Deb Fitzgerald, representative for the School Board, are among the group. Ritchie Vaughn was elected chairperson of the group to present back to the City Council. City planner Thanh Dang gives overall guidance.

EPSAC began functioning this year. In only three meetings they have reached consensus on a substantial number of issues and possible actions. Excellent minutes are available online at City of Harrisonburg/EPSAC. The purpose of the committee has been established and many ideas have been submitted. Chris Brown, the city attorney, was brought in to explain how Dillon’s Rule governs what can be done by the city independent of state approval. At this point, much research is going into what is getting done and by whom on the issues of interest. The lofty ideals in evidence at the first meeting have been trimmed somewhat by the political climate in which we live. They are reaching out to both Roanoke and Charlottesville for input from their sustainability officers.

Members of EPSAC have now divided into three groups based on their particular interests and expertise: Water Quality, especially concerning the Dry River watershed; Sustainability, led by Tom Benevento; and Building Standards, led by Ben. As so much work has been done already by various city departments on water issues, Ben says that committee appears to be dissolving, although there is no city-wide conservation plan that he knows about. Underway is a plan to draw water from the South Fork of the Shenandoah River in the future. Currently Harrisonburg water comes about equally from Dry River at Switzer Reservoir (the original source) and North River in Bridgewater.

The Sustainability/Integrated plan under development by Tom Benevento’s subcommittee, after hearing from Roanoke and Charlottesville sustainability personnel, are working on a first draft action plan to include many environmental initiatives: greenhouse gas emissions inventory, energy efficiency for buildings, affordable renewables, transportation issues, water, and waste and recycling. The draft will be submitted to city council for feedback in January, after which an action plan and monitoring program will be developed.

The Building Standards subcommittee, led by Ben, will be developing proposals for city properties, including schools, and private commercial properties. They have met with building managers of many of these, and there are complications. While the city has little latitude on how state building codes are enforced, it also isn’t surprising that builders don’t like being pushed to change what they are doing. All MUST build to a minimum standard, but that is rarely more than the Code dictates. There have been recent attempts to track energy usage by city buildings, and all agree on the need for more data collection.

The new Bluestone Elementary School was built “solar ready”. The school board is interested in adding solar panels, and hopes to have the new high school built to the same standard. EPSAC members are encouraging that.

There is a lack of state incentives for energy efficiency, improvements for which often drive up building costs; but, Harrisonburg owns its buildings, so this is in their control. This subcommittee is working on how they can do that without substantial greater expense, and calculate the payoff from improvements.

Ben suggested that the subcommittee would like to create a working group among city operations staff to allow them to upgrade energy efficiency each time repairs or remodeling are done. THAT MAKES EMINENT SENSE TO US, BEN!

– Anne Nielsen, for the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee, November 2017

Most months, the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee invites a community member or group to present to the CAAV steering committee about projects with which they are involved. We are grateful to be working with so many other groups and individuals passionate about creating a more resilient, healthy and just world.