With heating bills rising, the Energy Conservation Fair draws crowds to White River Junction

A map shows who attended the Affordable Energy Resources Fair before lunch at White River Junction on Nov. 19, 2022, when Vital Communities volunteers Sarah Jackson of Randolph, right, and Lindy Bean of Hanover, New Hampshire, met first entertained event held to show ways to weather houses. Photo by Geoff Hansen/Valley News

Editor’s Note: This story by Patrick Adrian first appeared in Valley News on November 20th.

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — An energy conservation fair on Saturday brought scores of Upper Valley residents to the Lists Community Services Dinner Hall at White River Junction, where homeowners and renters can find a full range of products, information and programs to help them manage their rising warming combat costs.

The Affordable Energy Resources Fair β€” co-hosted by Vital Communities, Efficiency Vermont, and Listen Community Services β€” was the first of its kind for the nonprofit, an in-person event designed to expose residents to the wide array of weathering tools and energy savings bring programs to the Upper Valley.

Rising costs for electricity and heating oil are leading more people to seek help with refueling or other services to reduce their energy bills, said Anna Guenther, energy and transportation project manager at Vital Communities.

Direct aid programs in the Upper Valley “have been telling us since October that they see a level of need that they have not seen before,” Guenther told the Valley News. β€œAnd everyone was really panicking about what winter is going to be like. We knew we had to do something.”

Sharon’s Patty McDonald walked to her car carrying a collection of free home weathering products, including shrink-wrap window insulation, foam pipe covers, weatherstripping, and even socks.

“I’m going back inside,” McDonald said. “I just put that in my car and go back in so I can learn more about what’s available to help people like us.”

A wheel of door prizes from Vital Communities, Button Up Vermont and Listen is part of the Affordable Energy Resources Fair at White River Junction on November 19, 2022. Photo by Geoff Hansen/Valley News

McDonald, whose income is further weighed down by medical expenses for herself and her mother, said any help to save on expenses helps.

“Especially when (the money for) fuel support goes down, you have to do everything you can,” McDonald said. “Necessary items and groceries are now harder to afford so any small cent you can help with is greatly appreciated.”

Volunteer Michael O’Connor, who helped educate visitors about the weathering products available, said that for people, weathering is a straightforward, immediate step toward the broader process of energy conservation.

While attending the Affordable Energy Resources Fair at White River Junction on November 19, 2022, Dave Beaufait, of Enfield, New Hampshire, visits volunteer Jo-Ellen Courtney, also of Enfield, after collecting free materials to open two doors in his Weathering house and a water pipe in a crawl space. Photo by Geoff Hansen/Valley News

“You feel like people come here and ask where to start,” O’Connor said. “So that table was good because you can grab something, go home and start something.”

Quechee’s Jo Crandall said she attended primarily to learn more about Window Dressers, a Maine-based organization that makes insulating window liners, a low-cost weathering model.

Crandall, who lives in a two-bedroom mobile home, benefits from sunlight through her windows to provide natural warmth, but at night the windows are drafty, lowering the indoor temperature.

“My last fill of oil was over $5 a gallon,” Crandall said. “And that’s a bit scary because it’s probably going to almost double this year.”

Representatives from a wide range of organizations were in attendance, from weathering contractors like COVER Home Repair to utility companies like Green Mountain Power and Energy Efficiency Vermont, where attendees were able to learn about available discounts through Vermont’s energy conservation programs.

Matt Sharpe, a technical advisor at Energy Efficiency Vermont, said this show differs from other events in that it brings together multiple organizations under one roof.

“We need more awareness of what’s available to the public,” Sharpe said. “It’s nice to have all of these services in one place so people can see what’s available and what works for them.”

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