Towards affordable, clean heat and more: a 2014 Vermont legislative summary

by George Twigg, Director of Public Affairs

Among the energy-related issues debated at the Vermont Legislature this year, one was of particular interest to Efficiency Vermont: are there cases where we want to be using more electricity, not less?

The traditional role of Efficiency Vermont is to help families and businesses reduce their energy use, especially their use of electricity. This provides benefits not only to individual customers, but to the state as a whole.

But in some instances, there is a strong economic and environmental case to be made for using more electricity, not less. Take the case of a modern air source heat pump. This efficient technology can help to heat a home at one-half to one-third the cost of heating systems that use propane or heating oil, while also providing significant greenhouse gas benefits. Seems like the sort of thing Efficiency Vermont should be supporting, right?

Here’s the catch: by law, most of Efficiency Vermont’s resources can only be used to reduce the use of electricity. This has limited our ability to actively promote the use of heat pump technology, even though the economic and environmental benefits are significant.

So this year, Efficiency Vermont started working with legislators to address this issue. The result was legislation that as of this writing is only awaiting final approval by the Governor, who we expect, will sign it into law soon. The new law will make it easier for Efficiency Vermont to support heat pump technology, as long as the Public Service Board determines that a number of conditions are met.

The Public Service Board will need a bit of time to go through its review process, so we won’t be introducing a new heat pump program immediately. If you have any questions about a Heat Pump for your home or small business, contact Efficiency Vermont Customer Support at 1 (888) 921-5990 or learn more about whether a heat pump is right for your home or business.

High energy costs: a health and safety issue for low income Vermonters

One other topic from the recently-concluded legislative session worthy of mention is funding for Vermont’s low-income Weatherization Assistance Program. This service is operated by the five regional community action programs. It provides free home weatherization services to families that are at or below 80% of Vermont’s area median income level (between $53,000 and $62,000 per year for a family of four, depending on which county you live in).

This service, along with the Low-Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helps reduce the energy burden for the most vulnerable Vermonters. According to one national study, 24% of LIHEAP recipients went without food to pay their energy bills; 37% went without medical or dental care. High energy costs for these Vermonters represent not only an energy crisis, but a health and safety crisis as well.

Vermont has a long history of supporting low-income Weatherization, going back to creation of the Weatherization Trust Fund in 1990. This fund combines state and federal resources to assist as many vulnerable Vermonters as possible – they have served over 22,000 homes to date.

Due to declining federal allocations and the expiration of some one-time funding sources, the Weatherization program faced a funding shortfall this year. They sought help from the Vermont Legislature to fill the gap, but were not successful. This was a disappointing outcome, but the Weatherization program providers made real progress in educating legislators on the value and importance of their work, so hopefully next year will bring a better result.

What do you think state lawmakers and the Governor should be doing to help us reduce our energy use, save money, and help the environment?

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