Vermont legislative preview

by George Twigg, Director of Public Affairs

As the start of Vermont’s 2013 legislative session draws closer, Efficiency Vermont is tracking several issues that could impact our state’s energy sector. Today I’d like to focus on a topic that is likely to generate a lot of discussion in Montpelier over the coming months. 

In earlier blog posts, we have talked about the substantial impact of energy efficiency on Vermont’s electric usage over the last decade (and, as impressive as that data is, it is important to keep in mind that there is still tremendous potential for additional electric efficiency in Vermont, especially as we consider what our total energy usage footprint is likely to look like in the future. We’ll talk more about that in the coming weeks). 

In recognition of the progress that has been made, and of the need to devote more effort to reducing our use of heating fuels in our homes and businesses (sometimes referred to as “thermal efficiency” or “weatherization”), the State expanded Efficiency Vermont’s scope in 2008 to encompass thermal as well as electric efficiency. At the same time, the Legislature set an ambitious goal: to improve the efficiency of 25% of the state’s housing stock (or approximately 80,000 homes) by 25% by the year 2020. 

Where we’ve been 

In our work to help homes and businesses reduce their heating costs, a major focus of Efficiency Vermont has been to ensure that there is a strong network of private contractors who are qualified to perform building efficiency upgrades.

" A report set to hit lawmakers' desks in January will promise $1.5 billion in avoided heating costs if Vermont can weatherize 80,000 homes by 2020."
Times Argus, 12/9/2012

Great strides have been made in this area: in 2005 there were only 3 BPI-certified contractors in the entire state; today, there are almost 80 contracting companies. There is also more interest from homeowners: in 2005 there were 7 Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® projects completed in Vermont; in 2011, there were 799; and in 2012 we are on track to exceed that number substantially. In addition to programs offered by Efficiency Vermont, our state’s five weatherization agencies and Vermont Gas Systems also support home energy improvements in the parts of the state they serve. These programs have also seen an increasing demand in recent years –one weatherization program currently has an 18-month waiting list.

Where we’re going

With only eight years left to meet our 2020 goal, however, there is still a long way to go. At our current pace we will fall well short of the state’s goal. That is why we are encouraged to see that thermal efficiency is back on the priority list for the upcoming legislative session. While a lot of progress has been made, and we are poised to go much further, there is a lot of work to be done.

"… thermal efficiency is about the biggest bang we can get for our buck, and the biggest long-term help we can give to Vermonters of all walks of life."
 Rep. Tony Klein, in Times Argus, 12/9/2012

The financial stakes are huge: in 2010 alone we spent $600 million on fossil fuels to heat our buildings – that amount has doubled since 2000, and it exceeds the revenue of the state’s entire agricultural sector. We can slash this spending by investing in efficiency: the typical Efficiency Vermont home improvement project reduces energy use by 30%. As the effort to capture these savings progresses, Efficiency Vermont is looking forward to working with all the stakeholders in helping build an innovative and effective approach to meeting our state’s energy efficiency goals. If Vermont wants to continue its leadership role on energy efficiency – and help ensure greater energy independence for our homes and businesses – we can’t afford to wait.

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