Kathryn Threkeld – Link to the Original Article
Energy Action Network’s recent report states that Vermont will fall short of its renewable energy targets if we continue with the status quo, but that opportunities to grow the state’s economy are waiting in the challenges of meeting those targets. If “business as usual” prevails, the organization’s projections show the state meeting less than 40 percent of its energy needs with renewables by 2050. EAN, comprised of a staff of three, considers itself the “backbone” of a large network of businesses, nonprofits and state agencies dedicated to fulfilling the commitments laid out in the Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan, Renewable Energy Standard, and the Paris Climate Accord (as well as statutory predecessors to those). Fundamentally, these are to meet 90 percent of the state’s energy needs with renewables by 2050, hitting 25 percent by 2025, and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“There have been longstanding bipartisan goals and commitments on climate and energy in this state,” said EAN Executive Director Jared Duval. “Our role is to bring people together, track the progress we are making toward those goals and share that information and analysis that our very diverse network can have trust in.”
A key part of that role is objectively watching three energy sectors — electric power, transportation and thermal (mostly heating) — where the state can improve reliance on renewables and decrease emissions with technology that already exists. EAN does not take policy positions in an effort to remain neutral in their aggregation and analysis of officially sourced data for their members.
“So often our energy conversations are equating energy and electricity and we’ve got to step back and look at our total energy picture,” said Duval. “Yes, we need to look at what’s happening in the electric sector, but also what’s happening in the transportation sector, what’s happening in the thermal sector. There has been some significant progress, overall. We’ve gone from about 12 percent renewable in 2010 to 20 percent as of last year, but all of that progress is thanks to increasing the renewability of the electric sector. We’ve been kind of flat in terms of progress being made in the thermal and transportation sectors.”
So, what does progress look like in those sectors and where does the local economy come in? Transportation and thermal, primarily heating, are two high-impact drivers toward the first milestone of 25 percent renewable energy in 2025. The report stresses the need to “bend the curve” in the next seven years in order for the state to meet the 2025 benchmark, identifying 10 pathways, which together will get Vermont on its way to achieving those goals. In the transportation sector, adding 60,000 electric vehicles (the current count is 2,300), increasing fleet fuel efficiency by 5 percent (from the present average of 22.2 mpg) and doubling ride-share van pools (currently 18 percent of commuters participate), is what’s needed.
According to the report, Vermont has more electric vehicle charging stations per capita than any other state (including California — 60 percent more than the Golden State) with more than 165 public stations and more coming online.
EAN Network Director Sarah Wolfe said the time is ripe for Vermont to welcome more electric vehicles into the state. “Nearly every automaker out there is announcing multiple new electric models. Several have already announced that by 2020 or 2025 they will only be selling electric models, and with makers like Subaru and Ford coming out with electric models, that becomes the game changer for Vermont,” she said. “You can get your all-wheel-drive electric. It feels like we are in that period of growth. Right now it’s the early adopters, but that’s changing rapidly. The more tech is coming out the more Vermont needs to focus on being ready to get those vehicles in state.”
In the thermal sector, EAN’s report calls for increased energy efficiency weatherization, specifically completing 60,000 more building retrofits (currently at 23,397), adding 25,000 more advanced wood heat systems (including efficient pellet stoves, boilers and institutional wood chip systems), and heating 60,000 more buildings with cold climate heat pumps (current count is 10,500).
Duval’s previous work as economic development director for the state’s Agency of Commerce and Community Development, providing business support to working lands and green economy businesses throughout Vermont, has given him particular insight into the state’s need for a low-grade wood demand. He’s not alone in feeling this is a moment to seize upon for the state’s economy.
“Depending on the price of fuel, roughly 78 to 80 cents of every dollar we spend on fossil fuels leaves the state, because it’s all imported. I think there’s multiple benefits from wood pellet heating in that you reduce emissions, displace fossil fuels for renewable energy, but you also keep forests forested. Our forest economy suffered with the decline in pulp and paper mills. Much of the forest in Vermont is privately owned, and without a market for healthy, sustainable harvests of low-grade wood, the risks are sell-offs and forest fragmentation, which has been a concern in the state for some time,” he said.
Wolfe agreed, saying a recent estimate suggested every dollar spent in Vermont on renewables instead of fossil fuels brings in an additional 50 cents to the state. “Perhaps one of the simplest ways to look at it is in terms of the benefits to Vermonters,” she said. “Renewable heat options are the most consistent, the most predictable, the most stable when it comes to price. That’s important when it comes to heating and planning budgets.”
They also point to the fact that the Vermont clean energy sector has been the fastest growing job sector in the state with a total of 19,080 jobs in 2017, up 29 percent since 2013. A July 2017 report by the Biomass Energy Resource Center at the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation emphasized the role of the advanced wood heating sector in the advancement of our renewable energy goals. That report states that while currently in the early stages of market development, advanced wood heat was already contributing to Vermont’s economy through jobs and sales revenue from installers, producers and distributors around the state.
The final pathways EAN identified are: An additional 260 megawatts of solar (currently 299 megawatts), 115 more megawatts of wind power (currently 241 megawatts), adding another 50 biodigesters to the current 18, and increasing best management practices for agricultural soils in the state. EAN’s biggest takeaway is that there isn’t a single solution.
“The consistent phrase that we’ve been using is that to meet our state commitments there is no silver bullet. It’s going to take silver buckshot,” said Duval. “It’s going to take effective policy, carefully crafted regulation, public education and awareness, more capital mobilization and increasing technology.”
“We need all of these things,” added Wolfe. “If for some reason Vermont can’t reach 60,000 electric vehicles, we’ll need to increase advanced wood heat or something else in comparison. Ours is just one scenario to meet these goals, but we need all of these at these numbers. It speaks to the buckshot approach, not only in terms of strategies for any one sector, but also for strategies across the sectors.”