A recent opinion piece in The Bridge by anti-renewable energy crusader Annette Smith asks, “Is Electrifying Everything a Climate Solution?” For those of us concerned about the changing climate’s increasing number of floods, wildfires, hurricanes, and record-breaking temperatures the answer is YES!
While reductions in overall energy use are key to solving the climate crisis, continued energy use for transportation and heating and cooling our homes is inevitable. Energy use for heating and cooling our homes and transportation use currently account for almost 75 percent of Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions because they are largely dependent on fossil fuels. Helping Vermonters replace the polluting fossil-fuel technology they already use with more efficient technologies powered by homegrown renewable energy is a critical climate solution and a major challenge requiring sustained focus.
Ms. Smith states that “The assumption is that building more renewables and transitioning to electricity as the primary energy source will result in emissions reductions.” This isn’t just an assumption, the connection between the transition to clean, renewable energy and lower emissions is backed up by reams of data gathered over decades.
The Energy Action Network, widely regarded as the leading analyst of emissions and energy data in Vermont, notes that if we can reach the goal of 120,000 electric vehicles replacing fossil-fuel vehicles in Vermont over this decade, we would avoid burning over 650 million gallons of gasoline over the average 12-year lifespan of a car.
Switching from fossil fuels to electricity doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in consumption when you account for Vermont’s impressive track record on investing in energy efficiency. For example, after significant investments in efficiency beginning in 1990, the City of Burlington, despite a growing population, now uses 6 percent less electricity today than in 1989 while also saving its customers about $12 million a year on their electric bills.
Ms. Smith also fails to provide critical details and perspective when discussing a proposed solar project in Bennington County. If a landowner wants to put solar panels on their property and it complies with the town’s zoning plan and studies by Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources say flooding shouldn’t stop the project, what exactly is the problem? Vermont has a thorough permit review process for solar projects and the project in question has agreed to comply with the requirements laid out by the Vermont River Program.
Turns out the neighbors are really just upset at the prospect of looking at solar panels out their window and are using the boogieman of possible flooding to try to stop them from being built. This is something we as Vermonters are going to have to come to grips with as our planet continues to heat up and the resulting climate change causes costly destruction. We cannot continue business as usual by relying on imported fossil fuels and must accept the responsibility that using energy comes at a cost and that cost includes dedicating some of Vermont’s landscape to the production of the energy we use. It’s as simple as that.
Peter Sterling is the Executive Director of Renewable Energy Vermont, made up of businesses and others who believe that Vermont’s energy use must be from 100 percent clean and renewable sources.