By John Dillon — A new report says Vermont’s greenhouse gas pollution is increasing and that aggressive action is needed to curb emissions from heating and transportation.
The report from the Montpelier-based Energy Action Network also says the state has an economic opportunity as it meets the challenge of cutting greenhouse gases.
Jared Duval is executive director EAN, a group of more than 200 non-profits, businesses and government agencies committing to cutting carbon pollution.
Duval said there’s definitely a good news/bad news aspect to its annual progress report on how Vermont is doing to meet goals to reduce greenhouse gases.
“There’s two big takeaways from this report. One is that we’re so far off the pace of what would be necessary to meet Vermont’s energy and climate commitment,” he said. “But the second really important piece of that is that there’s a major economic opportunity in meeting those commitments.”
About 19,000 Vermonters are employed in the clean energy sector, and the report predicts more jobs could be created with investments in areas like weatherization and new renewable projects, including advanced wood heating systems.
Vermont’s climate goals are ambitious: the state is supposed to get 90 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050. In the shorter term, Vermont has committed to targets under the Paris climate agreement to cut 25 percent of CO2 emissions below 2005 levels by 2026.
Duval said the state is doing well on the electricity side of the energy portfolio – with about 63 percent of the mix coming from renewable sources. But we’re lagging behind in curbing greenhouse gases from transportation and heating. He said greenhouse gas emissions have gone up 16 percent since 1990.
“And [emissions] have increased 10 percent in the last two years of data that were available, mostly because of increasing fossil fuel use in how we get around and how we heat our buildings,” he said.
The money spent on heating and driving goes out of state. Duval said investing money on weatherization or on incentives to get people to buy electric vehicles would keep more of that money in Vermont.
“So when we help folks get off of something that’s sending a lot of their energy dollars out of state and on to heating systems and transportation solutions that are keeping a lot more of that money local, supporting jobs for their neighbors and growing the state economy, that’s an economic development opportunity for Vermont for the 21st century,” he said.
Raising the money for these programs is always an issue. And a tax on carbon fuels seems off the table in Montpelier. Energy experts have also questioned whether a carbon tax would actually work to reduce emissions in a state where people still need to drive and heat their homes.
Richard Cowart is a former chairman of the Public Service Board and now works at the Regulatory Assistance Project, a Montpelier nonprofit that advises governments around the world.
Cowart told lawmakers recently that revenues from any carbon tax should be directed at programs that reduce carbon emissions. A tax alone won’t work, he said.
“You don’t need that in order to drive change. What you need is a well- designed program. And you need a modest revenue source to feed that program,” he said. “And we calculated two cents a gallon on gasoline would be enough to fund a market transformation program for electric vehicles in Vermont.”
Like Duval, Cowart advocates an aggressive weatherization effort that would have a double benefit of saving consumers’ money, and reducing CO2 pollution.