by Darren Springer, Burlington Electric Department General Manager
Burlington was the first city in the nation to source 100 percent of our electricity from renewable generation. Now we are working to achieve another even more significant first - Burlington has embarked on a journey to become a Net Zero Energy city by 2030. This is one of the most ambitious climate goals in the nation, and was announced by Mayor Miro Weinberger, and adopted by Burlington Electric Department (BED) in its Strategic Direction. To achieve Net Zero Energy we need to reduce and eventually eliminate fossil fuel use in the heating and ground transportation sectors, the two largest greenhouse gas emissions contributors in Burlington and in the state of Vermont. Since the goal was first set several years ago, BED has worked to roll out new programs aimed at incentivizing electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs), electric bikes, electric buses, and even electric lawn mowers.
In 2018, BED issued a competitive request for proposal and selected Synapse Energy Economics, and its partner Resource Systems Group, to produce a Net Zero Energy Roadmap. The Roadmap outlines how Burlington can continue to be a pioneer in the fight against climate change, and offers significant value for other communities as a model for the type of effort necessary to reduce fossil fuel use and emissions in a manner commensurate with the scope of the challenge.
Several key Roadmap takeaways include:
- Transportation is the largest source of fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions, and unique strategies are necessary to tackle different segments of the sector – our community will have different tools to help make travel greener for residents (such as EV rebates) than we have for commuters and visitors to the City (such as investments in charging infrastructure and transit);
- Reducing fossil fuel use in buildings will require multiple efforts – these include weatherization, building electrification through heat pumps and other technologies, and some additional renewable fuel sources, including district energy;
- Net Zero Energy by 2030 will require technology transition earlier than expected – certain fossil fuel appliances and vehicles purchased today may not be at the end of their useful life by 2030, requiring unique incentive programs to persuade customers to make a switch early; and
- State and Federal policies will have a significant impact – in particular, whether federal vehicle efficiency standards and electric vehicle tax credits continue, and whether the state prices carbon either on its own or in conjunction with other states in our region.
The good news economically when we look at the Net Zero Energy Roadmap is that some of our key technology solutions may be deployed at a net savings for our community. For example, our 100 percent renewable electricity in Burlington is a cleaner and cheaper transportation fuel than gasoline. As more drivers switch from filling up the gas tank to charging up with renewable electricity, we can save money in our community. In addition, we know that investing in electric technologies is good for the local economy. Only about 20 cents of every dollar spent on fossil fuels stays in the Vermont economy. When you buy electricity from BED, we estimate that more than 50 cents of every dollar stays in the Vermont economy, and more than 75 cents of every dollar stays in the regional economy. This means that driving electric, heating with efficient electric technologies, biking electric, and even mowing electric not only are good for the environment, but also are great opportunities to buy local.
As the BED team works to engage with our community to review and prioritize Roadmap recommendations, we’re also responding to the Roadmap’s clarion call with our most comprehensive and sweeping set of actions to-date to make progress toward Net Zero Energy.
These actions include major new initiatives to electrify transportation. BED will help more of our customers access the benefits of driving electric through a new $800 rebate on pre-owned EVs and PHEVs. BED is expanding the availability of our new vehicle EV and PHEV incentives to two per household and two per commercial customer, with more available for fleets. BED is going to install more than 20 new EV charging stations throughout our community, including at multi-family buildings. BED also is installing a new charging station for CarShare Vermont, so more community members can try driving an EV. We also will provide new opportunities for customers to benefit from our residential EV rate, by lending a Wi-Fi enabled smart charging cord to our customers so they can charge off-peak for the equivalent of 60 cents per gallon.
These actions also include significant building electrification and efficiency initiatives, such as new BED incentives for cold-climate heat pumps and efficient heat pump water heaters, with bonus incentives for low- and moderate-income customers. BED now also offers commercial customers incentives for variable refrigerant flow heat pumps and ground source heat pumps. In addition to incentives, we need policy changes, and the City, through the Mayor’s Housing Summit initiatives, is pursuing broader energy efficiency and weatherization standards for rental housing.
To read the Roadmap and learn more about these and other exciting programs and incentives launched as part of the Roadmap rollout, please visit burlingtonelectric.com/NZE.
The Net Zero Energy Roadmap provides a vision for a Burlington with lower greenhouse gas emissions, more renewable energy use, a strong local economy, and an energy system that is resilient in the face of the climate change emergency. While the road to Net Zero Energy will be challenging, moving forward toward this bold goal is necessary. The Burlington Electric Department stands ready to work with our community to help make this vision a reality.