Annual Carbon Emissions Inventory Reveals Biggest Emitters in Vermont Are Driving and Heating with Fossil Fuels, while Electric Supply Gets Cleaner
Vermont Business Magazine A new state report from the Department of Environmental Conservation shows that Vermont has a tremendous advantage over every other state in the US in fighting climate change: the cleanest electricity supply in the country. This is the result of steady committed work over many years by Vermont’s utilities, Vermonters and state leaders, to decarbonize energy supplies with a diverse mix of local and regional resources, including solar, hydro, wind and biomass. A consistent and ongoing reduction of carbon emissions in Vermont’s electricity sector is an important foundation for rapid progress in reducing statewide emissions, and helping Vermont reach state energy goals.
The report, titled The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation’s 2021 Vermont Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory and Forecast, provides the state with information regarding overall greenhouse gas emission (GHG) emissions by sector from 1990-2017, with projections for 2018 and 2019. Though carbon emissions still are slightly higher than 1990 levels, the state has made important progress by decreasing carbon emissions by 13.1% since 2005, with the majority of those GHG emissions reduction is the result of cleaner electricity.
"In this inventory report GHG emissions totals in Vermont are 8.66 MMTCO2e, 0.3% above the 1990 baseline levels in 2017 and 13.1% below 2005 levels. Emissions declined 0.44 MMTCO2e from 2016 to 2017 with the majority of that decrease (0.32 MMTCO2e) coming from the electricity sector and 0.1 MMTCO2e coming from the transportation sector," the DEC report said. MMTCO2e refers to million metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent.
The report shows the largest sources of carbon emissions in Vermont are transportation and heating, which make up about 70% of all emissions.
Electricity accounted for just 5.7% of emissions as of 2017, according to the Inventory, and is projected to be as low as 1.5% of Vermont emissions as of 2019, continuing a decline since 2015.
In order for the state to meet the goal of sourcing 90% of our energy from renewables by 2050, the state must deploy innovative technologies that use electricity for transportation and heating. Electric utilities across Vermont are offering customers programs to do just that, including incentives to switch to electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.
The bottom line, the report states, is that emissions of greenhouse gases in Vermont declined from 9.10 MMTCO2e in 2016 to 8.67 MMTCO2e in 2017. This 0.44 MMTCO2e reduction was largely attributable to declining emissions in the transportation sector (0.1 MMTCO2e) and the electricity sector (0.32 MMTCO2e). While cautious about projections, the report estimates that 2018 would edge down to 8.64 (the 1990 level) and 2019 would decline further to 8.59 (SEE TABLE BELOW).
Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore told VBM that the effect of the pandemic on 2020 and 2021 is uncertain at this point. The Great Recession, for instance, saw a steep decline in GHG followed by a steep increase in the recovery from it.
Moore said while 2020/2021 emissions could fall, especially considering the Stay Home order from the early months of the pandemic, the overall impact is difficult to guess at. For instance, she said, people weren't driving as much, and air travel was way down, but consumers were ordering more from places like Amazon, so perhaps delivery emissions to some degree offset a decline in other transportation modes.
Emissions declined 0.87 MMTCO2e from 2015 to 2017. Approximately 57% of the observed reductions are due to declines seen in emissions from the electricity sector which, as of 2018, accounts for only a small fraction of emissions in the inventory. It should also be noted that the reductions from the electricity sector are linked to the RES and the purchases of additional RECs to meet RES targets. The other main factor contributing to the steep decrease in emissions from 2015 to 2017 is the RCI sector, which is potentially related to the annual variability due to heating demand fluctuations with ambient temperature changes rather than sustained reductions from mitigation measures.
“Washington Electric Co-op (WEC) has been a 100 renewable electric utility for over a decade. Despite that early achievement we recognize more must be done. There is no greater threat to our modern way of life than climate change,” said Patricia Richards, General Manager of Washington Electric Co-op. “We are working with our members to move away from fossil fuels and instead make use of more renewable electric power at WEC. We want to help convert from gasoline power cars to electric. This shift will make a word of difference to our planet and we hope everyone will convert to an EV at their next vehicle purchase. Even Ford has announced its F150 truck will be electric next year. Even our rural communities will have a suitable electric vehicle option. Early adopters and environmentally conscious people started the EV revolution and soon it will be mainstream!”
Figure 5: U.S. GHG percent contributions by sector. Data for the U.S. contributions by sector has been reallocated to match the Vermont sector categories in this report.
“Community-owned electric utilities in Vermont have been leaders in renewable energy for more than a century through their commitment to locally owned generation,” said VPPSA General Manager Ken Nolan. “Small, environmentally friendly hydroelectric facilities owned by Vermont municipalities generate enough electricity to power nearly 10,000 Vermont homes each year and allow VPPSA’s member municipalities to offer 94% carbon-free electricity at some of the lowest rates in the state. VPPSA is very cognizant that it requires balancing affordability, reliability, and environmental stewardship to make our communities thrive. We are proud to offer a range of ever-evolving programs and services, including a wide array of consumer rebates, that make it easy for Vermonters to further reduce carbon emissions.”
“Burlington Electric is proud that Burlington in 2014 became the first city in the nation to source 100 percent of our power from renewable generation, and since then, we have focused on helping achieve our community’s even more ambitious goal of becoming a Net Zero Energy city,” said Darren Springer, General Manager of Burlington Electric Department. “Through our Green Stimulus programs, we’ve seen significant increases in customers switching to electric vehicles, cold-climate heat pumps, and other clean electric technologies. This new state emissions inventory report confirms that we are on the right track in targeting emissions reductions from the two largest sources – transportation and thermal.”
“Every day we hear from VEC members who are delighted with their heat pump, electric vehicle, or even their electric lawn mower,” said Rebecca Towne, VEC’s chief executive officer. “They’re happy because they’ve simplified their lives and reduced their carbon footprint because of Vermont’s low-emission electricity. As VEC’s power supply moves to 100% carbon-free by 2023, we look forward to supporting even more members who want to take these kinds of steps.”
“Vermonters are counting on us to get to fully renewable while keeping energy affordable and making the grid more resilient to storms,” said Mari McClure, GMP president and CEO “Vermont already leads the nation and I’m incredibly proud to be working with utilities and policy makers to empower customers to reduce their carbon emissions and costs through our innovative programs. Today, GMP’s energy supply is 95 percent carbon free, and 64 percent renewable, and we will achieve 100 percent renewable by 2030. I know we all share a sense of urgency around this work and together, we will get there.”
According to the report, "emissions in future years are very difficult to predict, and even forecasting the directionality of emissions levels by sector is problematic. Estimating GHG emissions in future years has many layers of complexity. These include factors and assumptions related to policies, changing technologies, the economy, and behavioral changes, which are all difficult, if not impossible, to accurately predict. All of these complicating factors have now been exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic and the associated economic and social implications."
The transportation and mobile sources sector remains the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont and was responsible for 3.39 MMTCO2e, or 39.1 percent of the total emissions for the state in 2017 (Figure 7).
Emissions from onroad gasoline and diesel vehicles, aviation gasoline and jet fuel, and other non-road sources are the main contributors to emissions in this sector. The emissions totals shown in this inventory are lower than those shown in the previous inventory report due to an update in the calculation methodology, which is described in detail below.
Motor gasoline (including onroad and nonroad use of gasoline) accounts for approximately 75% of CO2 emissions from the sector and distillate fuel (diesel) accounts for just over 21% as shown in Table 3.
Residential/Commercial/Industrial (RCI) Fuel Use
The Residential/Commercial and Industrial Fuel Use sector includes greenhouse gas emissions mainly from building energy use. Emissions in this sector are mostly from fuel oil, propane, and natural gas used for heating buildings, heating water, and cooking.
The RCI sector contributed 2.69 MMTCO2e in 2017, which was unchanged from the previous year (Figure 11), and which made up 31% of total statewide GHG emissions. Greenhouse gases accounted for in this sector include CO2, CH4, and N2O. Carbon dioxide from wood combustion is considered to be of biogenic origin and is not included in the totals shown in this sector.
The residential piece of the RCI sector is the largest contributor at roughly 55% of the sector total (Table 6). Distillate fuel oil and propane use in the residential sector account for approximately 44% of GHG emissions from the entire RCI sector (Table 7), and about 80% of the residential total. Methane and nitrous oxide from wood combustion are included in the totals for each subsector and emissions estimates are informed by data from Vermont Residential Fuel Assessment reports and by point source registration data submitted annually to the ANR Air Quality and Climate Division.
The agriculture sector accounts for emissions of CH4 and N2O from agricultural practices in the state, including animals and crop production. Carbon dioxide in this sector is almost exclusively biogenic, and so not included in the sector totals, with the exception of CO2 associated with liming and urea fertilization. Greenhouse gas emissions for the sector were 1.37 MMTCO2e in 2017, which was down from 2016 (Figure 12) and was 15.8% of the total statewide emissions.
The subsectors of the agriculture sector include enteric fermentation, manure management, agricultural soils, rice cultivation, liming of soils, urea fertilization, and agricultural residue burning, although not all have associated values or emissions within Vermont.
The majority of the greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture sector are from three of the subsectors listed above, with enteric fermentation (CH4 produced as a part of the digestive process of ruminant animals) making up the largest portion at 0.64 MMTCO2e, or 47% of the sector total (Table 8). Manure Management and Agricultural Soils make up the majority of the remainder at 0.35 and 0.33 MMTCO2e, respectively. Greenhouse gas emissions estimates from manure management consist of both CH4 and N2O from the storage of animal waste in different management systems. Emissions of N2O from agricultural soils occur naturally, but several agricultural activities increase the amount of available nitrogen in the soils leading to increases in emissions of N2O. These activities include the application of fertilizers, animal production, the incorporation of crop residues, and the cultivation of nitrogen-fixing crops and highly organic soils (histosols).
Vermonters can learn more about the programs and incentives designed to help reduce carbon emissions and costs through electrification - including incentives for electric vehicles, heat pumps and more – on their utility’s website.
Burlington Electric Department: www.burlingtonelectric.com/rebates
Green Mountain Power: https://greenmountainpower.com/rebates-programs/
Vermont Electric Co-op: https://vermontelectric.coop/energy-transformation-programs
Washington Electric Co-op: https://www.washingtonelectric.coop/energy-coach-home/
Source: COLCHESTER, Vt. – GMP 5.20.2021