Solar installation in Killington in 2017. Courtesy photo.
by Timothy McQuiston, Vermont Business Magazine The Vermont Climate Action report was published online July 31. It sets forth many goals on how to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and deal with the consequences of climate change. It also contains discouraging news about the rise of GHG emissions in Vermont, which will make achieving ambitious goals even more challenging and perhaps unlikely.
Climate Action Commission Delivers Final Recommendations to Governor
MONTPELIER - The Vermont Climate Action Commission will deliver a final report containing 53 recommendations (SEE MAIN STORY) to the Governor for his consideration August 20 (it was supposed to be July 31, but the meeting was not properly warned so had to be delayed; however, the final report was published online July 31). The commission brought together 21 business, civic, nonprofit, and state agency leaders with the goal of developing concrete recommendations to reduce Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions and spur economic growth.
The Commission’s recommendations cover five core areas that touch Vermonters’ everyday lives: homes and workplaces, getting around, communities and landscapes, carbon sequestration, and jobs and the economy. The report includes recommendations to advance low income weatherization, vehicle electrification, advanced wood heat, agricultural soil carbon storage, and Vermont climate businesses, among many other topic areas.
“I am deeply grateful to the Commission members for committing a significant amount of time, expertise, and resolve to help move Vermont forward to achieving our climate change goals by developing climate strategies that collectively provide solutions for all Vermonters to reduce their carbon impact,” said Peter Walke, Commission Chair and Deputy Secretary for the Agency of Natural Resources. “I also want to thank the hundreds of Vermonters who have engaged with the Commission over the past year.”
Governor Scott also invites the public to review and provide additional input on the report over the next two months. Information on how to comment can be found below. Following the informal public comment period, the Governor will review the public’s input alongside the report as he determines how to move forward.
For Vermonters who would like to provide their input for the Governor, the report and a web-based form to comment on the report can be found at the Commission’s website. Comments can also be emailed to ANR.VCAC@vermont.gov or mailed to the following address:
Agency of Natural Resources
Montpelier, VT 05620-3901
In July 2017 Governor Scott issued an executive order creating the Vermont Climate Action Commission. This follows on from several years of the state and environmental organizations developing strategies to both reduce GHG emissions (carbon), as well as deal with the inevitable repercussions of climate change in Vermont.
The commission’s draft report and amendments already had been made public. The electric grid and the effort made with the growth in distributed renewable generation by the local electric companies, in particular, was a highlight of the report.
However, renewable resource development is slowing as incentives have receded.
Transferring end-user energy from fossil fuels to electricity, especially in transportation, is a major emphasis of the report. Electric vehicles are encouraged for consumer and public transportation. Grants for electric public transportation buses and school buses are recommended.
However, commuter rail was downgraded in favor of buses for public transportation: “Commuter rail is not yet viable; increasing capacity of bus transit is more flexible and cost-effective.”
RELATED STORY: Rise in emissions threatens carbon goals
The wide-ranging recommendations (see below) include encouraging a shift in wood heating systems from cord wood or chips to wood pellets, because of greater economic opportunity as a manufacturing product.
There is also much discussion about electric vehicles and supporting the used EV car market. EV batteries have a limited life span and are expensive to replace, which has led to a weak market for used vehicles.
There was general agreement that vital Vermont industries, particularly related to tourism, could suffer greatly from climate change. Public health is harmed by the rise in tick population. Flooding threatens infrastructure.
But opportunities exist with new technologies to enhance, in particular, the renewable energy industry.
As for the personal effort in fighting climate change, not all the findings were encouraging.
For instance, while Vermonters overwhelmingly agree that there is a climate change problem, we’ve been actually losing ground.
From the Commission’s July 12 minutes: “In early July 2018, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources released its latest greenhouse gas inventory report. This analysis provided an update from the most recent 2013 report and showed that, in years 2014 and 2015, despite strong state goals and a focus on transforming our energy system – our electricity system in particular – Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions have increased dramatically. Since the last analysis, GHG’s have risen by 10 percent; cumulatively now up 16 percent from the statutory target of 1990 levels. The inventory highlights, in particular, that the unregulated fuel sectors – transportation and residential, commercial and industrial fuel use – are the two most GHG intensive sectors.”
After some debate and the rejection of more aggressive recommendations, the Commission moved forward with this: “Based on this new information, the Commission urges that, unless there is significant progress in GHG reductions Vermont should institute additional wide scale measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions informed by the JFO study and other emergent information. Such measures can be used to advance economic activity to answer the climate challenge.”
The proposed wording that was rejected said: “Based on this new information, the Commission urges that, unless there is significant progress in GHG reductions over the next three years, by 2021, Vermont should institute a cap on greenhouse gas emissions with a gradual, staged reduction of emissions in future years. Such a cap can be used to generate revenue to advance economic activity to answer the climate challenge. In preparation toward that potential end, the Governor’s administration should begin an evaluation this year of existing structures and potential partnerships with other states and provinces.”
Because the ANR report came only at the beginning of July (http://dec.vermont.gov/sites/dec/files/aqc/climate-change/documents/_Ver...), commissioners (in a divided 7-11 vote) felt it was too late in the process to recommend a carbon cap and revenue plan. Co-Chair Peter Walke described the GHG report as “substantial changes” just a couple weeks from presenting the final report.
The revised language was approved 15-3. There are 21 commissioners.
The Joint Fiscal Office (JFO) is commissioning a study of potential decarbonization options due in January 2019.
The disappointing GHG numbers are blamed on relatively low fuel costs, but consumer behavior and a simple desire for larger vehicles is likely also a contributing factor.
ANR staff told the Commission “that the reported increase in emissions was driven by increases in the transportation and building thermal sectors. The decrease in oil price has likely contributed to changes in heating fuel use and vehicle purchase decisions.”
So, people are less concerned with how warm they keep their homes and are steering away from lower mileage vehicles.
The commission writes: “Reducing GHG emissions will require Vermont and Vermonters to reimagine their personal and business transportation needs and how to pay for the transportation system. Vermonters collectively spent over $1 billion on transportation energy in 2015. Driving on electricity could cut this cost by 65 percent to about $350 million, with more of the electricity dollars staying local to Vermont.
“These recommendations come as Vermont is considering how to allocate the funds associated with the settlement the federal government agree to with Volkswagen (VW) to mitigate the impact of its installation of software “defeat devices,” which allowed the subject vehicles to emit, in some cases, forty times the allowed emissions standard for nitrogen oxides. Vermont’s allocation of the federal trust is $18.7 million, with electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure eligible for 15 percent ($2.8 million) and the replacement or repowering of eligible heavy-duty equipment accounting for the remainder.”
The ANR report states: “Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions remain at levels well above its reduction goals established in state statute (10 V.S.A. § 578) and in the Comprehensive Energy Plan. Each successive year of increasing emissions levels makes achieving the state’s emission reduction goals significantly more difficult.”
While of the seven GHG producing sectors, only waste management (1.7 percent) showed a reduction, the overall increase trends with transportation most closely, which makes sense given that transportation represents the highest individual sector (43.3 percent) and its share of GHG emissions also is increasing.
The trend toward driving lower-mileage vehicles isn’t just a Vermont issue.
Looking at the national picture in this regard, Ford Motor Corporation plans to phase out nearly all its cars, including its small EVs, in favor of SUVs and trucks.
From the washingtonpost.com April 26, 2018: “After more than a century-long run, giant automakers like Ford can no longer escape the obvious: The demand for traditional cars is beginning to dry up, thanks to the evolving tastes of millennials and baby boomers, experts said.
“Ford announced plans late Wednesday to eliminate some of the company’s most well-known cars in North America, including the Fiesta subcompact, Fusion midsize sedan, Taurus large sedan and the C-Max van, according to Ford’s quarterly earnings statement. The decision followed years of declining car sales.
“Ford said eliminating most of the company’s cars except for two models will allow the company to focus on their “winning portfolio” in the United States, Canada and Mexico. The Detroit automaker plans to keep the Ford Mustang sports car and a new Focus crossover that the company plans to release next year.
“The changes will also allow the company to devote more resources to SUVs and trucks, vehicles that have surged in popularity as consumers continue to lose interest in passenger cars, which no longer have a monopoly on good gas mileage. Ford also plans to bring 16 battery-electric vehicles to market by 2022.”
While the larger vehicles have become more efficient and are converting more toward hybrids and perhaps even full-EVs, they’re still not yet as efficient as smaller vehicles.
Sweltering through this Vermont summer, the environmental problem might seem obvious. As described by the commission’s Website (climatechange.vermont.gov):
- Total annual rainfall in Vermont has increased over the last fifty years, and storms have increased in intensity, causing costly flood damage in many communities. Scientists expect these trends to continue.
- Our winters are getting warmer and shorter, threatening winter sports and tourism, and making Vermont more habitable to ticks that carry Lyme disease. Summer days are getting hotter.
State government is advocating many of the same economic and personal behavior changes many environmental organizations are advocating: Electric vehicles and hybrids; public transportation; weatherization; renewable energy; composting and recycling; establishing and maintaining healthy forests, wetlands and floodplains; and preparing for the infrastructure and health risks associated with climate change.
Such changes, they say, will necessarily create new economic opportunities, some of which can be seen in the renewable energy industry.
Opportunities exist to:
- Save households thousands of dollars each year in energy costs, and create new jobs.
- Use cleaner, home-grown energy to heat homes and power cars, keeping more of the $2.3 billion we spend to import oil in our local economy.
- Build a more reliable electric grid resilient to extreme weather.
- Provide safer, easier transportation options.
- Protect our buildings, roads, bridges, and farms from floods.
- Reduce air pollution and improve respiratory health.
- Protect the health and enjoyment of our lakes, ponds, and forests.
With a deadline bearing down, the Commission presented the following recommendations and proposed amendments ahead of the final report:
Report Recommendations Review
Co-chair Walke requested that any non-substantive changes and edits (e.g. typographical and grammatical errors) that commissioners have identified be e-mailed to him. Meeting discussion will be focused on substantive changes.
- • Reference to the “threat to world civilization” should be edited to make more local.
- • Add a section to describe the Vermont business-as-usual case.
- • Include citations to sources of data and metrics and provide rationale for estimates if not from another source.
- • Include acknowledgement of the report recommendation limitations and that additional work and actions are required (Commissioner Miller will draft text).
- • Infographic key reference to “feasibility” should be changed to “ease”.
- • Replace “infographic” with a more descriptive term.
Co-chair Walke noted that the recommendations are not presented in order of priority.
After review of the first recommendation, the commission agreed to review the recommendations by topic instead of one-by-one. Comments on the recommendations follow, organized by topic. Comments on the recommendations are in italics. The commission agreed to have the co-chairs make the proposed changes to the recommendations.
Homes and Workplaces
1. Double Low-Income Weatherization through the State Weatherization Assistance Program
This is the first recommendation in the list but has a low GHG impact estimate. As stated above a sub-group will be reviewing the impact estimates for all recommendations and revising as appropriate.
2. Accelerate the Adoption of Advanced Wood Heat
Remove wood-to-energy reference in the background section, as this recommendation is specific to wood for thermal energy.
3. Encourage Cost-Effective Investment and Customer Use of Buildings
Add Building Electrification to title
4. Adopt and Implement a Roadmap for All New Buildings to be Net Zero by 2030
5. Increase Building Energy Labeling
6. Increase Low-to-Moderate Income Homes Weatherized through EEU Programs
7. Expand Vermont’s State Energy Management Program to serve MUSH
With the proposed changes, these recommendations were approved unanimously.
Getting Around (Transportation)
Governor Scott last October at an electric vehicle promotional event at the Burlington Electric Department. VBM photo.
8. Provide a State-funded or State-facilitated EV purchase incentive that applies to new and used EVs
Add explicit reference to new and used EVs in action step.
As discussed earlier, add use of VW settlement funds for EV incentives to recommendation.
9. Strengthen the used EV market
10. Make special EV pricing purchase and lease deals more visible and available to the public
11. Use VW Settlement funds for jumpstart a transition from diesel to electric transit and school buses
12. Investigate and utilize grant funding and finance strategies to help overcome the high upfront cost of electric transit buses
13. Implement recommendations in VTrans corridor study to provide DCFC within 30 miles of all Vermonters
14. Develop and execute strategy for deployment of VW Settlement funds for EV charging
15. Conduct research/analysis needed to support the PUC workshop on issues relating to the charging of plug-in EVs required by Vermont Act 158 of 2018
16. Leverage and enhance Drive Electric Vermont to maximize the impact of education and outreach campaigns and stakeholder engagement to build awareness and encourage purchase consideration for EVs
17. Implement “ride and drive” events to give Vermonters a chance to test drive or experience EVs
18. Work collaboratively with auto dealers on developing and deploying strategies to effectively engage customers who are interested in purchasing an EV
19. Make EVs available through traditional car rental, car share or ride-hailing service to provide drivers ready access to an EV with no ownership or lease commitment
20. Increase use of public transit with more public transit infrastructure, trip planning tools, and enhanced service with more efficient vehicles and routes
21. Increase efficiency of school transportation and promote active transportation to school
22. Increase programs and public infrastructure to support walking and biking in Vermont
23. Explore the viability of commuter rail service in Vermont
Staff noted that previous studies and commuter rail pilot projects indicate that commuter rail is not yet viable; increasing capacity of bus transit is more flexible and cost-effective. Commissioners noted that the action step associated with this recommendation was on the topic of development around the state’s train stations. After discussion, the commission agreed to move this recommendation to the action step section of Recommendation 24.
24. Implement programs and policies to increase multi-modal transportation
25. Improve infrastructure to support safe and efficient multi-modal travel
With the proposed changes, these recommendations were approved unanimously.
In regard to these and other recommendations that call for increased use of electricity, the co-chairs will draft text in the introduction or elsewhere to acknowledge that additional electricity generation is assumed to come from renewable sources.
Communities and Landscapes
26. Measure and Report Statewide Development Indicators
To reflect the need to continually update this data set, amend title to “Measure, Report and Maintain Statewide Development Indicators.”
Commissioners noted that there is no action step in this recommendation for reporting or data analysis.
27. Develop Smart Growth Impact Metrics
28. Expand Interagency and Intergovernmental Support to Communities to implement Smart Growth Principles
In title, change “Expand Interagency…” to “Provide Interagency…”
In action step 5 (Conduct Smart Growth audits) provide more information about the proposed step (e.g. “provide for 3rd party review of municipality development and land use practices and policies”).
29. Leverage Health Care Partnerships
30. Align Smart Growth Policies for an Evolving Transportation System
31. Targeted Land Conservation
32. Maintain Large Forested Blocks by Implementing Act 171 Intergenerational Transfer Report Recommendations
33. Expand Natural Resource Planning and Bylaws that Address Forest Blocks, Habitat Connectivity and River Corridors
34. Align Regulation with Location-based Impacts
With proposed changes, these recommendations were approved unanimously.
Sequestering Carbon on Vermont’s Farms and Forests
35. Document goals and mitigation contributions from agricultural sequestration and create a best practice guide for farmers
Incorporate a recognition of net emissions from agricultural sector.
36. Investigate opportunities for the sale of carbon offsets and other mechanisms that leverage private finance
37. Develop an accurate baseline of carbon sequestration on agricultural soils
38. Design and implement a way to track the sequestration benefits of water quality practices that are being tracked through ANR’s reporting to EPA. Determine levels of adoption and the additional, voluntary practices.
39. Develop and use consistent messaging to farmers about the carbon-capturing co-benefits of the water quality improvements, including the cost benefit to the farmer
40. Use the new “BMP Challenge” program as an opportunity to evaluate incorporating sequestration into water quality projects prioritization and tracking.
41. SoV should expand urban forestry initiatives
42. Continue funding the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board for conservation easement purchases on forestland; prioritize projects that emphasize aggregation to maximize conservation and set the state for carbon offset projects.
43. Re-assess funding needed to continue agricultural practices, especially after 2019, for continued water quality improvements that also sequester carbon and lessen or avoid flood damage.
Change title from “Re-assess funding…” to “Assure funding…”.
44. Incorporate land transfer and changes in parcel sizes and boundaries into ANR’s environmental mapping tool.
Commissioners noted this recommendation overlaps with Smart Growth recommendations.
Motion approved to delete this recommendation
With the proposed changes, these recommendations were approved unanimously.
Jobs and the Economy
45. Restructure Regulated Electricity Rate Design
Revise recommendation title to “Create an Environment for Grid Innovation”
Revise action step 3 to “Initiate rate design reforms”
46. Provide Access to Smart Meter Data for Clean Grid Modernization Companies.
Revise title to “Provide Cost-Effective Access to Smart Meter Data for Clean Grid Modernization Companies”.
47. Determining the Value of Grid Modernization
Change action step 1 to “Conduct an analysis to assign a value to grid modernization in Vermont”. Delete action step 2.
In last sentence in background, change “public dollar” to “state”.
Commissioners noted that the preferred funding source for the recommended analysis is the general fund.
48. Establish a $1 Million Innovation Fund
Delete existing action step 2 – typographical error.
Co-chairs to re-draft this recommendation to focus on establishment of this fund, including support for an appropriation and definition of the fund specifics. If established, the executive branch would be tasked with implementation.
49. Create a Small Business Innovation Research Grant Matching Program
50. Enhance the Vermont Employment Growth Incentive for Clean Grid Modernization Businesses
Edit action step 1 to make explicit what two changes are proposed
51. Create a Fully Refundable research and Development Tax Credit
52. Create a new Student Loan Repayment Program
53. Support for Free Legal Services to New Climate Economy Entrepreneurs
Existing action steps are incorrect and will be corrected
Expanding AWH Production Facilities Introduction
Add text to note that currently most cordwood/chipwood is produced locally; the greatest opportunity for economic growth is with wood pellet manufacturing.
54. Reduce Electric Costs for Wood Pellet Manufacturers
Delete action step 2; typographical error.
55. Streamline the Permitting Process for Wood Pellet Production Plants
Co-chair Costello reported on the subgroup discussion regarding grid modernization, and offered three proposals to clarify that actions apply to innovation in grid modernization, distributed generation, and energy storage:
48 – add to eligible expenses “in innovative businesses in clean energy, grid modernization, distributed generation and storage.”
49 – add in background section, SBIR awards “or research and development in distributed generation and storage businesses.”
50 – In title, add “Distributed Generation and Energy Storage” to list of businesses
51 - In background, add “...distributed generation and energy storage…” to list of businesses.
Motion to amend as above approved.
With proposed changes, these recommendations were approved unanimously with one abstention.
Peter Walke, Commission Chair, Deputy Secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources
Paul Costello, Commission Co-Chair, Vermont Council on Rural Development,
Michael Schirling, Secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development
June Tierney, Commissioner of the Department of Public Service
Michele Boomhower, designee of the Secretary of the Agency of Transportation
Marie Audet, Audet’s Blue Spruce Farm
Linda McGinnis, Energy Action Network
Joe Fusco, Casella Waste Systems
Bob Stevens, Stevens and Associates
Kristin Carlson, Green Mountain Power
Mary Sprayregen, Vermont Energy Investment Corporation
Johanna Miller, Vermont Natural Resources Council
Matt Cota, Vermont Fuel Dealers Association
Liz Gamache, Mayor of St. Albans
Adam Knudsen, Dynapower
Bill Laberge, Grassroots Solar
Bethany Fleishman, Vital Communities/Upper Valley Transportation Management Association
Tom Donahue, BROC Community Action in Southwestern Vermont
Stuart Hart, Co-Director, Sustainable Innovation MBA program, UVM Grossman School of Business
Harrison Bushnell, 2018 U-32 High School Graduate
Robert Turner, Consulting Forester.