In an office on the second floor of the City Hall building, across from the City Clerk desk, Tad Montgomery plans his work. He has been tasked with managing the implementation of the Energy Chapter of Lebanon’s Master Plan. He is aware of the breadth of work required, but nonetheless optimistic, especially given the city’s reputation as a leader in the Upper Valley, and given the progress it has already made and plans to make.
Tad’s father was a surgeon in the Air Force, so he describes himself as being from “everywhere,” listing, among others, Michigan, Wisconsin, and the Hudson Valley. Everywhere they lived, his mother would create opportunities to connect him and his family to nature. He studied ceramic engineering at Alfred University and then completed his graduate studies in environmental systems analysis at Humboldt State University, deciding during this time that he wanted to focus his time and energy more substantially on global warming. After completing his thesis at The New Alchemy Institute on Cape Cod, Tad remained in New England, moving from the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts to Vermont around 2005 –Tad points out that he’s “moving up the watershed” and jokes that the Connecticut River Valley is his bioregion–and continuing northward.
Though Tad is new to the inner workings of the City of Lebanon, he doesn’t let that stop him from hitting the ground running. After hearing about the new position, he did some research and was thoroughly impressed. “I wanted to be a part of a city that is at the forefront of transitioning to renewable energy,” he recalls. With fifteen years of municipal energy improvement work behind him, Tad felt he was qualified to take on the task, and the Interim City Manager agreed.
Tad is working on numerous projects. Inspired by the recent Weatherize Lebanon initiative, Tad is scheduling investment-grade energy audits on a number of city buildings, including the police station, Lebanon Library, the water treatment plant, and City Hall. Enthusiastic community volunteers are accompanying him during some of these audits, learning about the audit process and the potential for improvements to our city’s buildings. He is also working with the City Planning Office and Lebanon Energy Advisory Committee (LEAC) to replace Lebanon’s streetlights with LED lights, saving energy and money for the city. Barbara Hirai, a dedicated resident and former Chair of LEAC, had catalogued the streetlights manually a few years ago, laying the groundwork for this initiative that, Tad hopes, will ultimately result in solar-powered streetlights that would further reduce the city’s electric bill. He is working with the Public Works Department on the project at the landfill that intends to harness the methane gas (which is currently being captured and flared to reduce its effects on the environment) and generate both electricity and heat for the city and for other businesses. And he is following the Liberty Utilities program that hopes to offer reduced rates on Tesla home battery backup systems to some West Lebanon residents in exchange for allowing the utility to use those batteries during the brief periods of peak energy usage each month to lower transmission charges.
One of Tad’s most exciting projects in Lebanon is the municipal aggregation project. Proposed and started by City Councilor Clifton Below with LEAC, this project will allow the city to act as an electricity supplier, providing electricity to businesses and residents under a model that most effectively fits its unique needs. Tad explains that this project requires substantial collaboration with Liberty Utilities, the city’s current electric utility, while moving energy supply and billing oversight to the city. This project will allow the city to pilot a real-time pricing model, meaning that residents will be charged for the electricity they use at the rate it actually costs the utility at the time of transmission. “For the flat rate system that’s in use now,” Tad explains, “the utility adjusts the rate up to account for fluctuations. When demand is high, the electricity costs more; when demand is low, the price drops, and it could even drop below zero.” What this means is that, for some customers who charge their electric vehicles or wash their laundry (or charge backup batteries) in the middle of the night, “they could actually get paid to use electricity then, instead of during the day.”
Tad is thrilled about the municipal aggregation project, but he understands the scope of work that would be involved as the point person and he’s grateful for the opportunity this will provide the city. “Greenfield, MA did it a few years ago, and they saved money from day one.” He shares that Greenfield decreased its cost per kilowatt-hour by more than 40%. “And now they’re fully renewable,” he adds: they recently chose Public Power LLC to provide 100% green power through the program. Tad hopes and expects that, after launching the program, Lebanon can do the same – City Manager Shaun Mulholland, a staunch proponent of Tad’s work, has already asked Tad to put together a proposal for a large-scale solar energy project that spans multiple City-owned locations, which Tad plans to do in conjunction with the municipal aggregation project in order to be able to offer this green energy to residents and businesses in the City.
Not surprisingly, Tad delights in living his life just as sustainably as he advocates for municipalities and others through his work. Tad became conscious of his mission that had been forming unconsciously since high school: to build an ecological culture and society that is in harmony with the natural world. This mission informs his personal and professional decisions throughout his life: his car, which runs on recycled restaurant vegetable oil (he designed the system himself and worked with his mechanics to make it happen), is particularly important to him as he commutes from Brattleboro (for now; he hopes to move up to Lebanon in the future). When his veggie-oil kit died on his first trip to work, he started researching carpool and vanpool options from Brattleboro with other Upper Valley-bound commuters and Vital Communities. He has since been promoting these in hopes that others will join or start rideshare programs and that employers will support them with dedicated parking and other perks. He has convinced his landlord to convert an old oil boiler system to run on biodiesel, and he promotes sustainable initiatives with friends and colleagues whenever he sees the opportunity (he has, on numerous occasions, interrupted his thought process to recommend Tony Seba’s YouTube video on ‘clean disruption’ of conventional energy and transport”).
Tad’s interests within his life mission seem endless: he designs natural playgrounds to connect children with the natural world, emphasizing growth and change; he is a mycology hobbyist who grows and forages for mushrooms; he helps people to undertake major energy retrofits through his company, Home Energy Advocates; and he is a permaculture instructor who also works in sustainable/regenerative agriculture. Through all of these endeavors runs the common thread of his mission, and in all of them he applies his engineering background to see the problems and find solutions. If he can apply just some of his skills and experience to the projects in Lebanon–and he certainly intends to apply more than that–then Lebanon will be better for it.