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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Vermont’s Total Energy Study:

A Roadmap to a Clean Energy Future

By Johanna Miller

Vermont has established clean energy and climate goals that anticipate the inevitable shift away from fossil fuels and the imperative to confront climate change, including a 20-year Comprehensive Energy Plan that set a goal of meeting 90 percent of Vermont’s energy needs by 2050 with renewable supplies.

But Vermont has a long road ahead to reach its goals. Only about 16 percent of the state’s energy portfolio today is renewable. How to make the transition to a clean, renewable energy future is not yet clear.

The state’s “Total Energy Study” being crafted at the Public Service Department aims to provide the necessary roadmap. The study is considering all our energy needs — heating, transportation and electric power — and is intended to serve as a “how-to” blueprint, pointing us in the best direction for meeting our energy and climate goals.

In December, the PSD released an interim report outlining five potential policy pathways and a mix of energy technologies and approaches that Vermont might embrace.

The policy pathways under consideration include requiring providers of energy to meet a fraction of their sales with renewable energy or efficiency, as well as a nearly revenue- neutral carbon tax shift.

The report also analyzes the potential mix of technologies and approaches that could work best. Should Vermont focus on more local, diversified, distributed generation, or solutions with greater economies of scale? Should biomass and biofuels play a dominant role in our energy supply or will electrification play a far bigger role in meeting energy needs across sectors? What kinds of land-use strategies will be required to foster compact, walkable communities?

These are big questions with no concrete answers yet — or probably anytime soon.

“It’s a process intended to help set us on a path,” explains Asa Hopkins, the director of energy policy and planning at the Public Service Department. “We know that the first thing we have to do is drive demand down as much as possible. From there, we can ask how to meet the remaining demand in the right way. “

“Vermont, the United States and the world have to realize a new energy future based on clean, affordable and secure forms of energy,” said Andrea Colnes, executive director of the Energy Action Network.

“The Total Energy Study provides two important opportunities,” noted Colnes. “One is to think about energy from an integrated perspective versus a ‘siloed,’ piecemeal approach. The other is that it gives Vermonters a valuable platform to work together to craft a sustainable energy future instead of having it come at us in an unplanned, divisive way.”

The five potential policy pathways and technologies outlined in the interim report will be whittled even further, based on public comment and further Department review, to three policy priorities which will undergo a quantitative analysis. Those findings will be released in a final draft of the Total Energy Study, expected this summer. From there, its anticipated and hoped the study’s results will inform the next Comprehensive Energy Plan and needed policy making.

“The era of cheap, easy energy is over. The conventional fossil fuels upon which we’ve built the world’s economies are harder to reach, increasingly expensive and wreaking havoc on our planet,” said Vermont Natural Resources Executive Director Brian Shupe. “Broad-based solutions like those the total energy study is exploring are necessary for planetary and economic stability. This process is really important.”

Johanna Miller is energy program director at the Vermont Natural Resources Council — jmiller@vnrc.org.

Check out the PSD’s report — Total Energy Study

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