The Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier. Credit: Jonathanking / Wikimedia Commons

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A state report says “the evidence is clear and unrebutted” that more funding is needed to hit the state’s climate goals.

Vermont needs to expand funding and programs for energy efficiency, particularly in heating and transportation, if it wants to meet state climate goals.

That’s the conclusion of a recent report by the Vermont Public Utility Commission, which is expected to issue a follow-up report early next year.

Vermont lawmakers requested the reports last year, seeking recommendations to get the state on track to meet its ambitious environmental goals, including a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 75% by 2050 from 1990 levels.

Since adopting that goal in 2005, the state has reduced emissions 2%, but emissions are still up 13% compared to 1990, largely because of transportation and thermal fuels, which accounted for 80% of the increase.

One idea state lawmakers are already laying the ground for is expanding existing state efficiency programs to cover a broader range of services.

Vermont has three “energy efficiency utilities,” state-regulated entities charged with helping residents and businesses conserve energy through things like weatherization, smart thermostats and Energy Star-certified appliances. While these organizations currently focus on electricity and heating, they don’t yet cover transportation.

“What we really want to do is change the law so the regulatory spending structure allows [efficiency utility] spending across all three sectors” — electricity, heating and transportation, said Vermont state Sen. Chris Bray, who chairs the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy.

The committee passed a bill Jan. 31 that would allow utility efficiency programs to use a portion of customers’ electric efficiency charges to address thermal and transportation goals. The bill allows the commission to allot up to $2 million per utility for the new work.

It’s not certain yet how the programs would specifically address transportation, but one option suggested in the report is to work with manufacturers and dealers to get more electric vehicles on their lots and available to drivers.

The bill would affect Efficiency Vermont, which administers electric and thermal efficiency programs across the state, and the Burlington Electric Department, which just covers Burlington. The state’s third efficiency utility, Vermont Gas Systems, doesn’t administer programs using the electric efficiency funds and wouldn’t be affected by the bill.

To avoid roadblocks over budget disputes, Bray said his goal right now is to ensure the utilities can expand their programs to cover transportation using their existing budgets. “Once we’ve stood this up, then I’ll be happy to come in and have conversations next year and beyond about adequate funding,” he said.

The commission’s report doesn’t say how much money will be needed to achieve the goals, but it cites a previous report to lawmakers that estimated it to be in the range of $30 million to $60 million per year.

“New funding options should be sustainable, sufficient to meet Vermont’s goals yet affordable to Vermonters, equitable, administratively efficient, transparent, and should send price signals that support Vermont’s policy goals,” it says. 

The commission offered several revenue possibilities, including measures like increased fossil fuel taxes or efficiency charges for fuel suppliers. Commissioners will evaluate those options this year before making final recommendations next year.

The report also flagged problems with other environmental goals. A state program has weatherized more than 27,000 homes since 2008, but that’s far short of a goal of 80,000 homes by 2020. A 2025 goal of using 25% renewable energy across transportation, thermal and electric sectors is within reach but “there is substantial work to be done in both the transportation and building sectors.”

David Thill

David is a New York-based journalist who has written on health, science and the environment for various outlets, including World Wildlife Fund and the Chicago newspaper Windy City Times. He has reported on topics including the city’s opioid epidemic, bird research at the Field Museum, and LGBT youth in foster care. He covers northern New England for the Energy News Network.