Vermont legislative recap-2013

by George Twigg, Director of Public Affairs

The Vermont legislative session will soon come to a close and here at Efficiency Vermont, we’ve been watching the progress of several issues very closely that could impact our state’s energy sector and help make efficiency a reality for all Vermonters.

Although we’ve made serious strides on reducing Vermont’s electric usage, there is a need to devote more effort in reducing our use of heating fuels in homes and businesses. These efforts, also known as thermal efficiency or weatherization programs, must be ramped up in order to meet our state’s goal to make 25% of Vermont’s homes more energy efficient by 2020.

Why thermal efficiency?

Savings. The financial motivations to weatherize are clear – in 2010, we spent $600 million on fossil fuels to heat our buildings – that’s twice as much as 10 years ago. By investing in efficiency, we can cut these costs significantly: the typical Efficiency Vermont home improvement project reduces energy use by 30%.

Employment. By investing in weatherization, more money stays in the local economy and helps create jobs for Vermonters.

Comfort. Beyond the monetary incentives, homeowners who have already made thermal efficiency improvements have found that weatherization can make your home more comfortable by reducing drafts and distributing heat more evenly throughout the house.

Environment. Tightening up our homes and businesses is essential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve our state’s ambitious goal: To improve the energy efficiency of 25% of the state’s housing stock (approximately 80,000 housing units) by 2020.

Efficiency for everyone: efforts today and goals for tomorrow

Low and moderate income households feel the most pressure when energy prices rise. When we look across the nation, low income households spend twice as much of their income on heating than the average household. For the past 35 years, the Weatherization Assistance Program, funded by the US Department of Energy, has helped improve efficiency for more than 6.4 million low income households. Unfortunately, despite its massive benefits, Vermont’s share of federal funding for this program was reduced to zero in last year’s federal budget.

However, Vermont has continued to provide state funding to support its five weatherization service providers; but these efforts haven’t had the capacity to meet the growing needs of low income Vermont families.

Investments in thermal efficiency would help to ensure that all Vermonters can benefit from energy efficiency. Unfortunately, the Legislature appears unlikely to provide any new funding for these efforts this year.

In other news…

Although it appears that no significant new public funding for thermal efficiency will come to pass this year, the Legislature is poised to take a number of more modest steps that will help us address our state’s energy goals:

  • Improvements to energy code enforcement that would help ensure that construction of new homes and businesses is done in a manner that allows for greater efficiency and tighter homes from the start.
  • New finance tools that would provide options to help Vermont businesses and homeowners overcome upfront cost barriers that prevent them from investing in efficiency.
  • Improved coordination between the Weatherization Assistance Program and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program that would help make sure that the homes using the most energy are the ones that get weatherized first, allowing limited heating assistance funds to stretch further.

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