Could a Monorail Help Vermont's Capital Achieve Green Goals?

The proposal is one of many concepts currently on view, as Montpelier plans to reduce carbon emissions in a big way

The public is weighing in on a design competition that could help shape the future of Vermont's capital city by inspiring change to its energy system, transportation network, housing districts, and more.

"It's very exciting," said Montpelier resident Tino O'Brien, who came to vote on the designs now on display on Main Street in Montpelier.

The non-profit Net Zero Vermont is asking people to pick their favorites from 20 proposals, which aim to contribute to Montpelier's goal of moving toward becoming a carbon-neutral community by the year 2030.

One proposal imagines downtown Montpelier with a monorail replacing cars. Another includes new buildings whose grassy roofs cut storm water runoff. Most call for a dramatic expansion of solar, wind, and hydro power generation.

"My concern with some of the designs is affordability; who's going to pay for it," observed Ryan Stevenson of Montpelier. "I think some of this is a little too lofty for what I think is realistic, but there are some plans that aren't."

The concepts are vying for a $10,000 design prize. Each re-envisions this city of roughly 8,000 as the nation's first low-or-no-carbon capital; slashing fossil fuels, and offsetting what fuels are used by producing surplus renewable energy.

"The future really looks pretty grim," Deb Sachs of Net Zero Vermont said of the threats posed by climate change.

Sachs admitted it's audacious to try to transform a community's energy sources, traffic patterns, cultural landscape, housing needs, and more. But audacity is what it will take, she insisted, to move the needle on climate change.

One concept calls for people who live downtown to simply walk to a green-powered gondola then ride it to their hillside office at the National Life building, instead of driving an SUV or other gas or diesel-fueled vehicle.

"It's a fun way for the city to be able to wrestle with things," Sachs told necn. "We may not adopt all these ideas, but it's meant to provide information, dialogue, and a forum for that dialogue. This is a gift to the city in that way."

Mayor John Hollar of Montpelier said the city as a whole seems to recognize the threat of climate change.

Hollar noted that while the design competition is not an official city government effort, it is in line with Montpelier's goal to move away from fossil fuels by 2030. That target was announced in 2014.

"Setting a goal that is really difficult to achieve is important in making people think more urgently," Hollar said. "Sometimes, big thinking gets you big things."

Public voting on the design proposals is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Wednesday evening. The concept illustrations and descriptions are on view at the former "One More Time" storefront at 62 Main Street.

After the public votes, a panel of experienced planners and green energy experts will evaluate the ideas, Sachs said.

She added that the thinkers behind the top picks that emerge will be asked to provide more information and suggestions, which will be shared with city councilors, the mayor, and other officials as they continue planning for the 2030 carbon-neutral goal.

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