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Steve Comeau: We need a positive energy transition for Vermont

By Commentary,


This commentary is by Steve Comeau of South Burlingtin, a retired business intelligence developer.

Vermont is ramping up policies designed to implement an energy transition to electrify our homes, businesses,and transportation.

The premise is that, by replacing fossil fuel-powered cars and heating systems with more efficient electric alternatives, such as plug-in electric cars and heat pumps, carbon emissions can be dramatically reduced and put Vermont on a path to Net Zero by 2050.

Importantly, success requires that our regional electricity grid is decarbonized over the same time period.

Unfortunately, Vermont’s current approach to energy transition is cumbersome and heavy-handed. Many of the proposed climate action solutions involve complex regulations and a punitive approach with mandates designed to achieve strict CO2 emission reductions.

The Clean Heat Standard (H.715) that was vetoed by Gov. Scott last year is a good example. The bill would have set up a complex system of “obligated parties,” “eligible clean heat measures,” and “clean heat credit," which “means a tradeable, non-tangible commodity that represents the amount of greenhouse gas reduction caused by a clean heat measure.”

The Public Utility Commission would adopt rules and issue orders to implement the Clean Heat Standard. This approach is a setup for progress-sapping conflict, which would surely slow our success.

We can achieve substantial carbon reductions with a positive approach that uses incentives, education and state policies that will facilitate rather than mandate electrification. Building a strategy of shared goals, group buy-in, and positive incentives would have a much greater chance for success.

As an example of a positive approach to the energy transition, the state of Maine has a program called "Maine Won't Wait" that focuses on achievable short-term goals that are easy to understand, along with positive messaging and education. The style of its approach is informative and inspirational.

Maine’s approach to the energy transition so far has been successful and is worth emulating here in Vermont. Checkout the amazing Maine Won’t Wait website to see for yourself.

Maine Won’t Wait has clear and achievable goals. The program goals communicate progress in simple language. Progress is charted and the data is up-to-date and available for everyone to see.

With a goal of installing 100,000 new heat pumps from 2019 to 2025, there have already been more than 82,000 new heat pumps installed in Maine, as shown in these Building Data charts . On many metrics, they are well on their way to achieve that goal and each year the number of installs increases. This is a collaborative approach, and it works!

The energy transition won’t be perfect, since electrification can’t happen anytime soon for many people. There are many barriers. Among them are the high cost of new heating systems and electric cars; houses with inadequate electricity capacity; and workforce development for installing equipment.

The path to electrification needs a plan that understands that people’s circumstances and needs are different and should be respected. Freedom and personal choice must be integral to the energy transition.

Coercive regulations as a response to climate action are not good public policy, as these regulations will face severe pushback and rejection. This is especially true if the regulations unreasonably restrict personal freedom or place hardship on people, without convincing people of the great need to change and providing economic and logistic support.

There is a better way than coercion and excessively complicated rules. A lot is at stake and it is critically important that we get it right.

It won’t be right if the energy transition is imposed by the wealthy and privileged on everyone else. It won’t be right if Vermont evolves into an economic-oppressive state.

Vermont can do better by having an achievable climate action plan with clear and easy-to-understand short-term goals, and with energy transition policies designed to help Vermonters and not hurt them. We need a positive energy transition for Vermont.

Read the story on VTDigger here: Steve Comeau: We need a positive energy transition for Vermont .

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