A report issued this week by the Energy Action Network sheds light on how well we are doing as a state on our energy and emissions commitments.
The 36-page progress report points to one key point: Business as usual is not going to get us to the goal of 90-percent renewable energy by 2050, as outlined in the state’s 2016 Comprehensive Energy Plan.
We must take bigger, bolder steps.
The report suggests two stories about Vermont: a renewable-energy leader and a climate laggard.
Bending the curve will require state action far beyond what is already occurring, with major benefits awaiting Vermonters and the state economy.
The Energy Action Network is a Montpelier-based nonprofit that works with state and federal partners to compile the comprehensive total energy and emissions progress report for Vermont each year. Its 200-plus members and partners are a representation of Vermont: businesses, utilities, fuel dealers, educators, credit unions, nonprofits, low-income advocates, as well as local, state and federal partners.
It is one of the largest groups of stakeholders in the state committed to holding the state accountable in its energy goals.
Jared Duval, EAN’s executive director, noted this week: “This progress report makes clear that living up to these commitments will require bold and comprehensive action, especially from state policymakers, and that there is a big return on investment to be had for Vermonters and our state economy by doing so.”
According to the report, Vermont’s total energy use — across transportation, thermal, and electric use — stands at 19-percent renewable as of 2018. Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan established 25-percent renewable as the first milestone for the state’s total energy use by 2025.
Meanwhile, greenhouse-gas emissions have been on the rise: climate pollution from Vermont is 16 percent higher than it was in 1990, primarily due to increased use of fossil fuels for how we get around and heat our homes and buildings, according to the report. The Paris Climate Agreement as committed to by Gov. Phil Scott requires a 26-percent to 28-percent reduction in emissions below 2005 levels. Vermont is only 2 percent below 2005 levels as of the latest data, in 2015.
Clearly, there is more work to be done.
The report sets a course: To meet state commitments within the next six years, emissions need to be significantly reduced and investments prioritized within the transportation and thermal-energy sectors, which together make up 86 percent of Vermont’s energy use and 71 percent of our emissions, according to the latest data.
Options like electric vehicles, advanced wood heat (pellet stoves and boilers) and heat pumps are critical to meeting the goals, and also offer the additional benefits of protecting Vermonters from high and volatile fossil-fuel prices and keeping more energy dollars local, strengthening the state economy, the report states.
It also makes clear that Vermont has an opportunity to lead the nation in demonstrating how reducing emissions can benefit people in a rural, middle-income state. It cites Vermont’s almost 19,000 clean-energy jobs today, the highest share, or 6 percent, of employment in clean energy of any state in the country.
Meanwhile, roughly 78 cents of every dollar spent on fossil fuels drains out of Vermont, the data shows. Efficient and renewable options like weatherization, sustainable wood heat, cold-climate heat pumps, and electric vehicles not only provide Vermonters lower and more predictable fuel costs, they also keep up to three times or more of our energy dollars here in state, benefiting our neighbors.
The report highlights California, Quebec and British Columbia as examples Vermont can look to for how to successfully reduce emissions while improving the economy.
The stakeholders aptly noted that it remains important we continue to connect the state’s energy story to our state’s economic story, whether that is in jobs created, or developing creative ways to move us closer to our energy goals.
Vermont’s commitment to making a difference in this area has always been commendable. And while progress is being made, we must further change attitudes and behaviors to answer the calls for change. The status quo will not stand.