Vermont’s Renewable Energy Use Increases, But Not Enough Says Report

by Phil Dodd

As of 2017, Vermont’s energy use was 20 percent renewable, up from 12 percent renewable in 2010, according to the 2017 Annual Report by the Energy Action Network (EAN). That’s a 66-percent increase in seven years, but the annual report says that this pace of increase is not fast enough to reach the state’s ambitious energy goals.

“It is clear that our current trajectory will not get us to 90 percent renewable by 2050, and it may not even get us to the first milestone of 25 percent renewable by 2025,” said Jared Duval, Executive Director of Energy Action Network.

Most of Vermont’s progress to its current 20-percent-renewable status has come from the increasing renewability of its electric generation sector. The state’s electrical generation is now 43 percent renewable, the report says. However, electricity only makes up 27 percent of Vermont’s total energy use, and the rate of solar growth is slowing and new wind generation has all but stopped, it says.

The transportation and thermal sectors, which use far more energy and consume vast amounts of fossil fuels, lag far behind in their renewability (thermal refers primarily to the heating and cooling of buildings, but also to industrial processes).

Vermont does lead the nation in the share of building heating needs met with wood, at 21 percent. But the state has the second highest fuel oil consumption per capita in the nation, the report says. And Vermont’s transportation sector is the least renewable of all energy sectors in the state at 5.2 percent, most of which is corn-derived ethanol.

“Unless we take new and significant action to make our transportation and heating energy use more renewable, there is a limit to how much more progress we can make toward our 90-percent-by-2050 commitments,” Duval said.

While renewable energy use has been increasing in recent years, if not fast enough to meet the 90-percent goal, Vermont has been moving in the wrong direction when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Vermont’s emissions have increased 4 percent since 1990 according to the EAN report. Emissions declined in the period from 2004 to 2011 but have been rising since 2011.

According to the report, Gov. Phil Scott in 2017 re-committed to Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan of 90 percent renewable energy by 2050 across all energy uses. Scott also committed Vermont to the Paris Agreement, which means reducing greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, the report says.

The transportation, thermal, and electrical generation sectors account for 80 percent of Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions, the report says. The next biggest sector is agriculture, which accounts for 12 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

The report says that to meet Vermont’s energy and climate goals for 2025 would require major changes such as these in the next few years:

• replacing 60,000 fossil-fueled vehicles with electric vehicles (Vermont had 2,300 electric vehicles in 2017)

• installing 25,000 advanced wood heat systems (either efficient boilers or stoves)

• installing 60,000 cold-climate heat pumps, displacing fossil fuel heating

The Energy Action Council, formed in 2009, is a diverse network of 400 business, utility, non-profit, and public sector stakeholders with a shared mission of ending Vermont’s dependence on fossil fuels and moving to an efficient and renewable energy future. Montpelier is one of three cities in Vermont that belong to the council. Both council executive director Duval and council chair Leigh Seddon are residents of Montpelier.

The full report can be found online at eanvt.org/2017AnnualReport.

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