Mapping total energy burden in Vermont

The primary components of total household energy use are thermal energy (heating), electricity, and transportation energy. Taken together, these “total energy” costs present a sizable financial burden to households in Vermont. The cold winter weather and the rural character of the state contribute significantly to this expense. High total energy costs are driven, in part, by building inefficiencies, automobile-dependent development patterns, and vehicle inefficiencies. In Vermont and nationwide, total energy costs can be especially burdensome for low-income households.

Efficiency Vermont commissioned this study to examine patterns in energy expenditures in Vermont communities and to understand how much Vermont residents pay for thermal energy, electricity, and transportation energy. We examined spatial patterns of energy expenditures, considering spending on thermal energy, electricity, and transportation energy (vehicle fuels). We also examined total energy expenditures: the sum of household spending on these three categories of energy use. We looked at energy spending in two ways:

  • Expenditures (average dollars spent each year)
  • Burden (spending as a percent of income for a Census block group)

Using spatial analysis, we identified eight Vermont Census block groups with acutely high energy burdens. Each has an exceptionally high burden for at least one energy use type (thermal energy, electricity or transportation energy); a few have a high burden for multiple categories. Regardless of the energy use category that accounts for driving up energy burdens in these highly burdened block groups, these areas are potential starting points for targeted efficiency. That is, these communities are where some form of energy relief may be most needed and make the most difference.

Transportation costs, for which there are few assistance programs, constituted the largest portion of energy spending, especially in rural areas. Because transportation efficiency measures are not covered in the state’s energy efficiency programs, Vermonters have little assistance in reducing their transportation energy costs. Thermal energy and electricity costs were also notable, particularly in parts of St. Albans and Rutland, where combined average electricity and thermal burdens are estimated to be over 12 percent of median income. These results suggest that a substantial number of Vermont households live in fuel poverty or are in danger of falling into such poverty.

Total energy burden is a powerful metric that can guide planning and implementation of energy efficiency and energy assistance programs, ensuring that we prioritize our most vulnerable communities. Long-term, comprehensive programming to reduce total energy cost and burden could provide relief for Vermont households. Given the state’s lengthy experience with comprehensive energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, a carefully considered, targeted program for transportation efficiency will strengthen Vermont’s ability to achieve an energy-secure future for all—and will help the state achieve its energy goals, described in its Comprehensive Energy Plan.

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