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Vermont’s new energy plan

Observer file photo THe state hopes to increase its solar energy net metering program through methods like the above solar panels in Williston.
Observer file photo
THe state hopes to increase its solar energy net metering program through methods like the above solar panels in Williston.

By Brian Forrest

Special to the Observer

Five years ago, the governor and the legislature joined scientists and the rest of the world and decided that global warming is happening and that it is man-made. This fact, and two hurricanes within two years, left them no choice but to tackle this issue head-on: reduce our carbon dioxide emissions and prepare Vermont for the events and opportunities in the new economy generated by climate change. 2050 is the date that COP21, the climate summit last year in Paris, selected as a target to accomplish reversing climate change.

To this end, the Vermont Public Service Board created the 2016 Comprehensive Energy Plan  to get us off our reliance upon fossil fuels and to replace them with clean, renewable energy sources like wind, solar, hydro and biomass. The Public Service Board put out goals: reduce total energy consumption by 33 percent; switch our energy to 90 percent renewables and 75 percent electrical renewables by 2032.

reducing total energy

The state has identified ways to reduce total energy use without compromising energy service. Those ways include:

Improvements in building shells

Electrical efficiency

Conservation

switching to renewable sources

Strategies for switching to renewable sources include:

Replacing 30 percent of fossil fuel use with wood and biofuels

Increasing the permitting of wind turbines

Increasing the solar energy net metering program

Transportation

Transportation and buildings are the largest users of energy in Vermont, using 46 percent and 24 percent respectively.

Strategies to reduce fossil fuel use in transportation include:

Increasing vehicle gas mileage

Increasing use of electric powered vehicles

Reducing miles driven through compact land use

Increasing ride sharing and mass transit

Buildings

Strategies to replace fossil fuels in buildings include:

Weatherization programs

Replacing fossils with wood and biofuels

The use of heat pumps powered by electricity

Other strategies

Other strategies to meet these goals include:

Market-based policies such as cap-and-trade systems, divestment of carbon-based investments, and a carbon tax.

Information and access policies to fill the need when market-based policies don’t accomplish our goals

Strategic investment to spur on needed technologies

Codes and standards to ensure that future developments are “net zero” (buildings using no more energy than they produce)

going forward

The CEP is designed to put Vermont in the forefront of the new economy, one that provides affordable and stable jobs in a state that is healthy, environmentally sound and equitable to all Vermonters. To this end, the state has already passed Act 56, establishing a Renewable Energy Standard that: raises the renewable requirement for electric utilities from 45 percent of utilities sales today to 75 percent in 2035; expands net metering to 15 percent of peak load (this allows small power producers like homeowners to sell power to the grid, running their meters backward); and expands the “Standard Offer” program, which sets the price for small renewable energy projects based on the cost of the project plus a reasonable rate of return.

This is a huge shift in our way of life and a large commitment of resources to accomplish these goals, but we are well on our way. Green Mountain Power is confident that its grid will sustain the diverse infusion of electricity from small power producers and actually be more resilient from it, while new developments in energy efficiency and technology will lower electric usage. Renewable energy is growing in the state, with more than 250 megawatts added in the last five years. There are 118 electric vehicle charging stations, and more than one in 100 vehicles purchased in Vermont are electric.

How we respond to climate change will determine whether we pass on to our children a planet as wonderful as the one we grew up on. It all depends upon what we are willing to do individually and together to ensure that future.

Sustainable Williston (www.SustainableWilliston.org) works on issues like clean energy, water quality, and planting trees, and would like to thank Marie-Claude Beaudette for founding and leading the Birth Tree Program, which offers free trees and a town celebration to Williston families with newborn or newly-adopted children. Beaudette recently moved out of the area, and Sustainable Williston is looking for a new volunteer coordinator for the program. Training, resources, and support for this rewarding work are provided.