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Helping Vermonters build resilience now and in the future

3 min read
Rebecca Foster | Director of Efficiency Vermont
December 4, 2020

We recently finalized our next three-year plan for how we will deliver affordable energy savings to Vermonters. How we can help Vermonters looks different going into 2021 than it did on the eve of 2020. We know many are feeling uncertainty about the future, as we work towards recovery from the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. Energy is only one part of the burden facing us all this winter. But we want to ensure Efficiency Vermont can best serve Vermonters right now.

As we were preparing the plan, three themes emerged that will guide our work together: adaptability, resilience, and accessibility.

Adaptability is critical in a rapidly changing world. Efficiency Vermont is committed to meeting the needs of residents and businesses through this recovery and into the future. In 2020, we changed our programs to give more support to low- and moderate-income families, small businesses, farms, and nonprofit organizations. These programs helped Vermonters who were hardest hit by the economic shutdown invest in themselves. We helped reduce the upfront cost of energy efficiency solutions that will lower energy costs far into the future.

We also responded to the need for a statewide entity to manage a new grant program to help schools invest in indoor air quality in response to COVID-19. These grants paid for improving their heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems to help keep students and staff safe.

In 2021, we will continue adapting to serve others’ needs. As our Energy Burden report showed, Vermonters face high costs from transportation and heating bills. This summer, the Vermont Legislature passed the Energy Efficiency Modernization Act. This bill allows Efficiency Vermont to start to help families and businesses save money in these areas, in partnership with the state’s utilities. In response to this Act, we are planning to roll out new programs in 2021 that help lower costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

Efficiency investments have helped make it easier for all of us to weather downturns and be more resilient. We have partnered with residents and businesses on efficiency investments since 2000. Energy efficiency will save Vermonters over $2.6 billion over the lifetime of those investments. Despite the economic downturn, energy efficiency still supports thousands of good paying jobs in Vermont. In 2021, we will continue working to help our state lower energy costs and strengthen its resilience.

We have done more in recent years to make our offers more accessible to low- and moderate-income families. But we know we must ensure all Vermonters can experience the benefits of energy efficiency. In 2021, we want to ensure our offerings are accessible to all Vermonters, no matter their race, income level, or geographic location. This will start with a diversity, equity, and inclusion analysis of our program participation so far, to understand how we can improve accessibility.

We are also committed to providing these services at the lowest possible cost. To reduce financial burden on Vermonters, we proposed, and our regulators approved, a budget that will be $7 million lower in 2021 than in 2020.

This meant that after looking for other ways to cut costs, we made the difficult decision to reduce our workforce this fall. As with so many Vermont businesses, the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have hit hard. But this decision was the right one. It enabled us to avoid any increase to the Energy Efficiency Charge that all Vermonters will pay in 2021.

We know many of Vermont’s residents and businesses have faced tough decisions in the last year. And we know that 2021 will ask for more resilience from all of us. But I am hopeful as I look to the future. I’m hopeful because I see us working together to reach out to Vermonters, to support our local economy, and strengthen our state. There is no doubt in my mind that we will come through this stronger as a community, and more resilient than ever.