Keeping Vermont’s Efficiency Standards High

by Lara Bonn, Efficient Products Strategic Planning Manager

During the first five months of each year, Vermont legislators meet in Montpelier to introduce, debate and establish laws that govern our state.  The work that goes on in our capital is fast-paced, complex, and impactful. Efficiency Vermont is one of the many organizations throughout the state that gets engaged in the legislative process, providing information and testimony on issues that relate to their expertise, to help inform the discussion. This year, I had the opportunity to provide one such testimony in an effort to share with our legislators the importance of something I’m particularly passionate about – energy efficiency standards.

I began working for Efficiency Vermont in 2010. Since then I’ve been inspired by the innovative, trend-setting work that we’re able to do in support of a clean energy future. As a member of the Efficient Products team at Efficiency Vermont, I have been involved in the program that delivers the highest percentage of electric energy savings. Efficient lighting, appliances, and equipment accounted for nearly 40% of the electric savings that Efficiency Vermont reported in 2016. It’s a market that has created many positive impacts for our state, and it is crucial that we continue to demonstrate the power of these savings.   

Setting the trend for efficiency

Efficiency Vermont was founded in 2000 on the idea that the state’s various efficiency programs would be more effective if they were delivered uniformly, across Vermont. By creating the nation’s first energy efficiency utility, Vermont was one of the first states to identify energy efficiency as a major tool for achieving both energy independence and major cost savings.

The rest of the country soon followed. In the years since Efficiency Vermont began operating, dozens of states have created energy efficiency programs. Saving energy through efficiency is no longer seen as just a personal virtue; it is a driver of economic growth, employing more people in the United States than the solar and coal industries combined. Energy efficiency has become a core tool for achieving American energy independence.

The federal government has also recognized the importance of efficiency to our energy future. Since the 1970s, efficiency standards for appliances have received bipartisan support in Washington, and have been progressively strengthened over time. 

Standards at stake

Today, energy efficiency programs are facing an existential threat. The Trump administration has announced a proposal to cut back essential funding for energy efficiency that has long enjoyed bipartisan, and corporate support. They are also calling “lights out” to the highly successful ENERGY STAR program, a program that is saving millions of dollars for American consumers.

As the federal government retreats from energy efficiency standards, states can step up to continue gaining ground and reaping benefits. Efficiency is an essential component of the clean energy industry. The number of jobs created, dollars saved, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions avoided with efficiency are too big to ignore. As of December 2016, there were 1.9 million energy efficiency jobs in the U.S. and over 8,500 in Vermont. Efficiency Vermont’s work in 2016 resulted in over $18.9 million in yearly energy costs saved by Vermonters and nearly 900,000 tons of avoided pollutants. 

Vermont steps up for efficiency

This year efficiency standards became a focal point of the legislative session. I was proud to represent Efficiency Vermont in support of H. 411, a bill passed this year by the Vermont legislature and signed into law by Governor Scott that reaffirms Vermont’s commitment to efficiency. The premise of the bill is straightforward: If the federal government weakens or eliminates efficiency standards, Vermont will maintain those standards. That means product manufacturers would still be required to maintain the previous standards in order to sell their products in Vermont. With this new law, Vermont is doubling down on its commitment to efficiency.

During the legislative debate over H. 411, legitimate concerns were raised about the impact of this bill on Vermont consumers. The key question legislators faced was if manufacturers were held to a higher standard in Vermont, wouldn’t that mean fewer product choices on the market? The answer is that it’s highly unlikely.

According to the Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP), today’s standards save the average Vermont household about $555 per year and save Vermont businesses a total of about $47 million annually. Take lighting, for example. Efficiency Vermont’s statewide lighting program offers promotion agreements – rebates and other incentives – with more than 25 different lighting manufacturers in Vermont. If the federal government scales back lighting efficiency standards, it is highly unlikely that Vermonters will have fewer LED market choices. Perhaps some manufacturers will weaken standards, but others will see a market opportunity. Every year since 2008, the LED market has grown more rapidly than even the Department of Energy’s projections.

H.411 is smart policy, pro-consumer, and good for the planet. Perhaps most important, it sends a powerful message to other states that we can lead at a time when the federal government is retreating from its commitments. For decades, Vermont has led the nation toward a more energy efficient future. Seventeen years after the creation of Efficiency Vermont, our state is asserting that leadership yet again and showing the way for the rest of the country.

Just as we can lead at the state level, we can also lead as individuals by knowing our options and choosing the most efficient products. Efficiency Vermont is here as a resource to help you do just that. Call us at (888) 921-5990.

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