Friday, July 15, 2011

Vermont Energy Plan Comments

My comments for consideration in the Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan are based my experience as an energy and environmental conservation activist for over 35 years, as well as my recent experience as a renewable energy professional in Vermont.

Karen Lee
P.O. Box 974
Arlington, VT 05250


I strongly recommend that we reprioritize our goals and strategies toward energy efficiency and energy production. Following is a list of topics, organized according in a logical, cost-effective order:

Top Priority. Efficiency and Conservation

The cost of space heating, operating inefficient appliances, and powering buildings is too expensive, environmentally and economically, to waste energy. (That’s just crazy!) We should spend most of our public resources in making certain that ALL buildings and operations in Vermont are as energy efficient as is reasonably possible.

Until we stop heating the outdoor environment
and stop wasting electrical power, our efforts to increase
our usage of renewable energy sources are counterintuitive.

Energy audits on all buildings and major appliances should be mandatory, not optional. Building owners should be required to install adequate insulation, upgrade outdated inefficient appliances, and other energy efficient retrofits. Low-cost financing should be available to all Vermonters, regardless of income and creditworthiness. (All buildings should be more energy efficient!) Monthly payments for efficiency financing should be collected by local utility companies as part of regular utility billing. When structured properly, the net monthly utility expense for consumers, given energy savings from efficiency, would be less than consumers are paying now. Efficiency financing could be funded privately by banks, credit unions, or other institutional investors. (Banks would appreciate the income stream.) An independent loan servicing company could serve as a conduit between utility companies and banks.

A reasonable household, per capita, electrical usage should be determined. Each household should pay electric fees to utility companies based on a sliding scale of increased rates for increased power usage, thereby encouraging consumers to use less electricity or to install on-site renewable energy systems, such as photovoltaic or wind systems.

Second Priority: Efficient thermal production for heating buildings

Other than transportation, Vermonters consume more energy for heating buildings than for any other purpose. Strong financial incentives should be provided to encourage property owners to retrofit their heating systems to carbon-neutral, sustainable-fuel based systems, including, but not limited to:

Highly efficient biomass burners
(Biomass fuel to be sustainably and regionally harvested using ecologically responsible practices)

Geothermal heat pumps

Solar space heating
(Viable when used in conjunction with biomass and/or geothermal systems)

An incentive program to develop a method for energy-efficient air-conditioning should be developed.

Third Priority: Thermal production for heating water

After efficiency upgrades, solar hot water technology is the lowest-hanging fruit in this discussion. Solar hot water systems work extremely well, even in Vermont! A large portion of Vermont’s fossil fuel consumption is spent toward heating water, but the sun shines for free! When designed properly, solar hot water systems will contribute more than 65% of the thermal energy necessary to meet the needs for domestic hot water.

Every homeowner, every dairy, every cheesemaker,
every restaurant, every hotel and inn, every laundromat,
and every other business that uses hot water
should have a solar hot water system in Vermont!

It is ridiculous that we are not better at educating the public about the benefits of solar hot water systems. Although modest state incentive programs are in place for solar hot water, the number of systems that have been installed is a drop in the bucket! Public officials should spend more time educating consumers about solar hot water and low-cost financing should be available to all property owners, regardless of income and credit-worthiness. We need to make better efforts toward the proliferation of solar hot water systems across the state. It is WRONG to spend more public time and to invest more public resources on production and installation of renewable energy technologies that are less efficient than solar hot water.

ALL energy experts agree that

Why are more public discussions and many more tax dollars spent on incentives for other technologies? We need to do a better job of spending our resources on the most cost-effective energy efficient measures possible. Solar hot water may not be as sexy as other technologies (such as photovoltaic technology) but solar hot water gives us a FAR better bang for our buck.

Fourth Priority: Generation of Electricity

AFTER aggressive state programs are instituted to assure that the top three energy priorities are met, public resources should be spent toward the generation of electricity from renewable energy resource technologies, including, but not limited to:

Solar power
Wind power
Micro-hydro power

I support individual or small, local renewable energy electrical generation, rather than regional solar and wind farms due to efficiency and public acceptance.


The following topics for consideration during the evaluation and institutional of energy programs and policies should be (listed in order of importance):

Carbon emission reduction
Our first energy goal should be to lessen Vermont’s impact on global climate change by reducing carbon emissions.

Sustainable fuel source
All fuel sources should be harvested sustainably.

Environmental impact
Negative impacts on air quality, water quality, erosion, and other environmental considerations should be avoided.

Ecological impact
Negative impacts on the natural ecology should be avoided. For example, timber harvests should be conducted seasonally to reduce mortality of nesting species. Hydro facilities should not negatively impact local watersheds.

Local harvest
We should use regional resources for renewable energy materials. (No biomass from the Pacific Northwest or photovoltaics made in China.)

Economic cost
We should assure that renewable energy systems are incentivized based on cost-effectiveness.

Local jobs created
Vermont-based renewable energy companies that employ Vermonters should be given highest consideration for development and installation of efficiency upgrades and renewable energy systems.


A smart energy policy will strengthen our Vermont economy. By encouraging locally conserved, locally generated, locally made, and locally harvested renewable energy, Vermont will set an example for other states to follow. We can establish a non-carbon based, energy-independent, healthy economy.

We have the technology, the resources, the demand, and the know-how to achieve our energy goals. All we need is the political will.

1 comment:

  1. It's very important, especially now, to make sure your home is as energy efficient as possible. Energy costs keep rising, and much of our energy is obtained by burning fossil fuels, which add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Our excessive use of fossil energy over the past hundred years is what is causing climate change, a problem that threatens the very existence of civilization. So everything people can do to make their homes more energy efficient, or to replace old, oversized, leaky, poorly designed homes with newer, smaller, better sealed and insulated, well designed homes, will help prevent catastrophic climate change.

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