Quiet and Hardworking: Energy Efficiency

Apr 8, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

We all know them. Every family and office has at least one. That quiet and hardworking member of the team that day in and day out gets the job done.

No fanfare needed. Just consistently delivering results.

In the world of energy, that quiet and hardworking team member is energy efficiency. Every day, it cuts costs and cuts pollution, both for electricity and for heating. In doing so, it makes us better prepared for the future when climate change demands that we move away from fossil fuels and rely on cleaner and lower cost electricity.

At about half the cost of generating electricity, energy efficiency remains the lowest cost electric power resource. If we didn’t cut electric energy use with energy efficiency we would pay twice as much to buy that power from a power plant.

For more than a decade, Vermont has been a leader in relying on cleaner and low cost energy efficiency. In practical terms, our efficiency investments have avoided building new, expensive and polluting power plants, and has reduced the fossil fuels needed to heat our homes. Our reliance on efficiency also frees up energy for new uses such as heat pumps and transportation.

Energy efficiency is simply part of any sensible long-term energy strategy.

Here are some numbers:

In the past 13 years, electric efficiency in Vermont has produced savings of over 12.7 million megawatt hours. That is equal to the power needed to supply every home in Vermont for five years.

For 2014, energy efficiency met 13.3 percent of Vermont’s electric supply needs, an increase over 2013.

At the same time, electric energy efficiency in Vermont cut polluting greenhouse gas emissions by 8.7million metric tons since 2000. That is equivalent to reducing pollution by taking 1.8 million cars off the road each year.

But that is only part of the story. The regional New England grid operator recognizes the clear value of energy efficiency and holds it to high standards. Vermont is paid about $4 million dollars every year for its electric energy efficiency contribution to meeting the region’s power needs. Not only is that money reinvested in Vermont, and reduces fossil fuel use for heating, it lowers electric power costs for everyone in the region.

And in terms of electric transmission, Vermont’s investments in energy efficiency have deferred building over $279 million dollars of new electric transmission lines over the next decade.

From ski areas to grocery stores to homes and manufacturing, our energy efficiency efforts produce real results. Vermont’s employers are not only cleaner businesses, but also more competitive. For example, seventy five percent of Vermont ski areas have switched to more efficient snowmaking equipment, installing 2700 new snow guns that use up to 85% less energy to operate. That is a savings for all of us.

For such a quiet and hardworking resource, it is troubling that it has been caught in a political buzz saw this year. Energy efficiency was taken political hostage and cut as part of a new energy bill. We all know politics is not pretty. But it is sad when such shenanigans trump common sense, good policy and sound economics.

Rather than reward this quiet and hardworking team member, its ability to perform and deliver savings is being cut. Going forward, this means we will all pay more and pollute more.

It is time to make sure we rely on the cleanest and lowest cost resources. We should not leave real savings on the table and should not let politics elbow out the common sense solutions that benefit all Vermonters.

Gas Pipelines — Misinformation and High Costs

Mar 26, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The high cost and pollution from new gas pipelines are no secret. They deliver a clear reminder that investing in new fossil fuels is a bad bet for our energy future – bad for the environment and bad for our pocketbooks.

When costs ballooned for Vermont Gas Systems’ proposed new pipeline, the company failed to tell regulators, or the public, until months later. Vermont Gas is now facing penalties for the failure.

photo courtesy of Tom @ flickr.com

photo courtesy of Tom @ flickr.com

Unfortunately for the public, only the Public Service Department and the Company were allowed to present information during the hearing to evaluate the penalty. Since the two of them already agreed to a penalty, the proceeding took on an air of the sound of one hand clapping. A few concerned citizens resorted to waiving posters in the back of the room with questions they’d like answered.

At the hearing, a Vermont Gas executive acknowledged the loss of faith and lost credibility that resulted from not disclosing the cost increase sooner. Sadly that credibility was not restored when the same executive had to acknowledge that cost figures reported to regulators were not accurate.

A new gas pipeline is a big energy project. All big energy projects need to demonstrate that they advance the public good. With high costs and misinformation, confidence is sure waning on this project.

Public Hearing: TDI Transmission Project – Vermont

Feb 18, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The Vermont Public Service Board will be holding a public hearing on a very large scale electric transmission project proposed in Vermont.

TDI Transmission Project
Tuesday evening, February 24, 2015
7:00 pm
Fair Haven Union High School, (Band Room)
33 Mechanic Street, Fair Haven, Vermont

The project proposed by TDI is planned to go underneath Lake Champlain from the Canadian Border through to Benson, Vermont, and will then connect with existing transmission facilities in Ludlow, Vermont, to serve customers in Southern New England. You can see the full project filing here.

This is one of the largest transmission projects proposed for New England. The project is planned to carry more than 1,000 MW of power – more than is needed to power the entire state of Vermont.

Compared with many other large energy projects, the developers have done a good job to reach out to local towns and interested citizens. The project is planned to be entirely underground and/or under water. The developers are proposing to provide funding for renewable energy and for Lake Champlain clean-up as part of the project.

The Public Service Board still needs to determine that the proposed project promotes the general good of Vermont. Though connected to Vermont facilities, it is not planned to serve Vermont customers. Vermont provides the transmission highway for customers in other parts of New England.

TDI anticipates the project will deliver hydro power from Canadian facilities, but does not have any current contracts. In connection with Northern Pass, a large transmission project proposed for New Hampshire, CLF identified significant increases in greenhouse gas emissions from new large-scale hydro facilities. (See information about Northern Pass here); see information about GHG emissions from large-scale hydro facilities here).

CLF submitted comments in connection with planned federal permits for the TDI Vermont project. You can see CLF’s comments here and here.

In the comments, CLF identified some issues that deserve closer attention:

  1. Power Supply – what is the source and impacts of the power that will be delivered through this project? Will the project deliver power from fossil fuel facilities?
  2. Greenhouse Gas Emissions – What are the GHG impacts of the project? Are the emissions from new large scale hydro facilities fully and fairly evaluated?
  3. Phosphorus Pollution in Lake Champlain – The project will disrupt sediment and release phosphorus in areas that are already polluted with excess phosphorus.
  4. Mercury pollution – Emissions from power plants have deposited toxic mercury in the Lake’s sediments. The disruption of sediment can re-suspend the mercury and make it more available to harm fish and people.

As New England closes coal plants and moves toward cleaner energy supplies, it is important to ensure that new supplies meet our overall power needs and do not increase greenhouse gas emissions or harm our waterways.

New transmission projects should not provide blank checks to import pollution. Instead new projects should clearly reduce pollution impacts.

Come let the Board know what concerns you may have. Tell the Board you want to make sure energy is used wisely and that transmission projects in Vermont provide clean energy to New England.

It is important for the Public Service Board to hear from you.

 

 

Growing Clean Energy

Feb 17, 2015 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

The recent massive snow storms provide a stark reminder of why we need more clean energy. The more fossil fuels we burn, the more global warming we face.  Fiercer and more frequent storms continue to march across New England wreaking havoc with the daily lives and pocketbooks of so many.

Thankfully there are many efforts to bring more clean energy to the region and begin to break our addiction to fossil fuels.

In Vermont, Legislators are taking up a broad bill that would expand renewable energy opportunities. For electricity, the legislation would set the highest standard of any place in the region – 75% renewable by 2032. While much of that electricity would come from existing sources, including imported hydro power from Canada, it sets a new benchmark for what is possible — closing down coal plants, walking away from new gas facilities, and relying on more clean local power. The City of Burlington is already exceeding this standard and showing in real terms how meeting a 100% renewable standard is achievable and saves money for their customers.

The Vermont legislation would require that a full 10% of the electricity in 2032 come from smaller scale local renewable projects. Putting power generation closer to power needs reduces pollution and curbs the need for massive new transmission projects. This builds on the rapid success in Vermont of expanding customer opportunities to rely on renewable power. When combined with energy efficiency that already meets over 13% of our electric supply needs, Vermont jumps well ahead of the curve in bringing about a much needed clean energy transformation for the region.

The legislation also corrects a troubling problem with existing Vermont law. No longer would utilities double-count renewable resources, by both claiming them for Vermont while selling them to customers in other states. The Federal Trade Commission recently criticized this practice in regards to one utility’s activities. Instead, Vermont’s renewable supply would be better integrated into the regional renewable markets. Vermont can continue to sell renewable power in the region and avoid undermining our own efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Some of the more innovative aspects of the Vermont legislation begin to tackle the biggest sources of greenhouse gasses in Vermont – fossil fuel used for heating and transportation. As of 2011, heating and industrial uses account for about 32% percent of Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions and transportation accounts for about 46%. To meet our needed greenhouse gas reductions and avoid future climate disasters, we need to reduce fossil fuels from more than just electricity.

To further reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save money, the Vermont legislation would set binding requirements that by 2032 Vermont utilities provide opportunities for their customers to reduce fossil fuel use for heating and transportation. Projects can include such things as expanding the availability of heat pumps, weatherizing homes and businesses, installing efficient biomass heat, and providing facilities to support electric vehicles. Projects would not only need to provide reduced pollution, but offer clear economic savings as well. This opens up opportunities for partnerships that can break down barriers. Meeting customers where they are and providing the services they need and want at a reasonable cost is the hallmark of any good business. Legislation that paves the way for successful businesses to meet our broader 21st century power needs will position Vermont well to tackle global warming. Keeping a clear focus on the economics and the pollution reduction ensures that all Vermonters benefit from these changes.

With storms raging throughout New England, it is good news the Vermont Legislature is taking action to tackle global warming and help Vermonters save money.

Contamination at Vermont Yankee (Again)

Feb 13, 2015 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Recent news reports that dangerous Strontium-90 was found in wells on the Vermont Yankee site are troubling. It sure is a good thing the plant shut down in December. Now the contamination can hopefully be contained and it should be cleaned up.

Unfortunately, Vermont Yankee’s owners continue to see no problems.

Back in 2010 Strontium-90 was found both in the soil and in fish in the Connecticut River on whose banks the Vermont Yankee facility sits.

At the time, Vermont Yankee’s owners defied common sense and insisted the contamination was not from the facility. CLF called these claims silly. We provided regulators with expert testimony that a more likely explanation was that these radioisotopes migrated with groundwater. Turns out we were right.

Thankfully the plant is now shut down and the State of Vermont is getting independent tests of water samples. At least we know what’s there.

Too bad Vermont Yankee’s owner, Entergy Corporation, didn’t test more carefully on its own. And too bad Entergy is not stepping up to be more responsible and clean up the mess that is there.

Halted: VT Gas Pipeline

Feb 10, 2015 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

courtesty of Axel Schwenke @ flickr.com

courtesy of Axel Schwenke @ flickr.com

Welcome news from Vermont Gas Systems that it will not proceed with Phase 2 of its expensive and polluting natural gas pipeline.

Over recent months, project costs have skyrocketed and pollution impacts increased. New gas pipelines lock us into continued fossil fuel use for decades into the future are a bad bet for our climate and our pocketbooks.

It is encouraging that Vermont Gas recognized the serious problems with this project and pulled the plug.

In December, just weeks before regulatory hearings were to begin, Vermont Gas announced it would hit the reset button and re-examine the project. Now Vermont Gas will no longer seek regulatory approval for that project, which would extend a natural gas pipeline through sensitive natural areas and underneath Lake Champlain to serve the Fort Ticonderoga mill in New York.

Vermont Gas still plans to pursue approval for Phase 1 even though the cost has nearly doubled and regulators announced they undertake a thorough review of the Phase 1 project in light of the new cost information.

The cancellation of Phase 2 is great news for Vermont. It helps reduce our reliance on polluting fossil fuels and allows Vermonters to move forward more quickly to rely on cleaner and lower cost energy solutions.

 

A Price on Carbon Pollution

Jan 12, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The recent storms and pervasive power outages provide a stark reminder of the challenges we face with global warming. The images of Governor Shumlin inspecting by helicopter the broad areas without power were reminiscent of Tropical Storm Irene, one of the most devastating climate disasters to hit Vermont. Utilities and road crews across the state are working harder and spending more money to clean up after storms and prepare for the next one. And the next one seems to be coming on fiercer and sooner than it did in the past.

photo courtesy of Sage @ flickr.com

photo courtesy of Sage @ flickr.com

Vermonters are resilient and independent by nature. The conversations when the power was out focused on how each of us managed by melting snow on our woodstove, and using our collection of candles and stored bottles of water. When some folks had power restored before others, we helped each other out by filling water bottles and sharing dinners together.

That same resilience and independence serves us well in taking action to tackle global warming and ward off future disasters. Sitting back and waiting for the next storm is not an option. We owe it to ourselves and our kids to take a bite out of carbon pollution now, while building a more vibrant and robust economy.

Putting a price on carbon pollution is one meaningful step we can take to tackle this challenge. Today, oil is relatively cheap. And proponents of new gas pipelines are quick to boast about the low cost of their polluting product. It may be a last gasp from a dying industry as oil and gas tycoons slash prices to feed an unhealthy fossil fuel addiction. Putting a tax on carbon pollution transforms this last gasp into a breath of fresh air. Instead of throwing energy dollars out the window or lining oil executive pockets, we are investing in a cleaner energy future.

A carbon pollution tax charges oil and gas companies for the pollution they create. It provides companies and customers with incentives to invest in cleaner supplies. Fuel dealers can make more money helping customers save oil instead of burning more of it.

We all pay taxes and pay too much now to help oil executives get rich. A carbon pollution tax instead puts these dollars back in our pockets by providing refunds or dividends to every Vermont resident and business. Vermonters can get a carbon dividend by reducing pollution similar to how Alaskans receive oil dividends.

A portion of the tax can be invested in clean energy solutions, helping Vermonters buy more fuel- efficient cars, weatherize homes or install solar panels or heat pumps. These investments reduce customer costs while keeping more energy dollars in Vermont.

The real beauty of a carbon pollution tax is that it transforms the wild fluctuations we already experience in gas and oil prices into making us more resilient and less dependent on polluting fossil fuels. This past year alone, gas prices have changed by nearly $1 per gallon, first increasing and then decreasing. A change from month-to-month of 5 cents per gallon was not uncommon. Phasing the tax in over ten years lets us put this same $1 to work reducing pollution, while the total tax oil companies pay each year amounts to less than the regular 5 cent monthly fluctuation in prices the rest of us experience.

Let’s get polluters to pay their fair share. It’s time for our tax dollars to support our energy goals instead of subsidizing fossil fuels and increasing pollution.

 

End of Nuclear in Vermont

Dec 30, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

photo courtesy of David Jones @ flickr.com

photo courtesy of David Jones @ flickr.com

The end of a nuclear power era arrived in Vermont on December 29, 2014.

The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power plant in southern Vermont stopped producing power.

This is indeed the end of an era. And the beginning of a new one.

The shuttering of Vermont Yankee marks a significant passage – for CLF, for Vermont, and for New England. Our energy supply is undergoing transformation. As we move away from older and polluting coal and nuclear plants, we rely more on cleaner and lower cost supplies paving the way for a brighter energy future.

I’ll admit, with Vermont Yankee’s troubled history, I was not entirely convinced it would actually shut down. Old habits die hard. In the past, Vermont Yankee’s owners went to court rather than comply with promises to close the plant in 2012. The plant had leaks and its owners failed to provide truthful information about the leaks to regulators. The tired, old, polluting plant on the banks of the Connecticut River was forced to operate well past its previously planned retirement.

From the sale of Vermont Yankee in 2002 to the regulatory proceedings and litigation about its continued operation and leaks, CLF has shown that reliance on Vermont Yankee is an expensive and bad bet.

The plant proved to be a bad deal for Vermont. Other power was less expensive and the needed safety repairs required after Fukushima would be costly. Too costly. As renewable power supplies continue to grow, we have the ability to provide power with low or zero fuel costs. The need for these large, expensive older plants declines. It feels a bit like moving away from massive centralized computers in the era of smaller laptops and smart phones.

The lights are still on after Vermont Yankee shut down. And they will stay on. There is no question it will take continued effort to build the clean energy future we know we need. It is within our reach.

Many workers will remain at Vermont Yankee overseeing the safe decommissioning of the plant, which will take decades. They remain part of the transformation that is marked by Vermont Yankee’s closing.

Reset on Vermont Natural Gas Expansion

Dec 21, 2014 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

It’s good news that Vermont Gas Systems announced they will hit the reset button on the planned new natural gas pipeline in Western Vermont. Global warming demands far greater scrutiny of new fossil fuel expansions.

The project costs keep ballooning. In July, cost estimates increased more than 40%. At that time CLF called for a full re-evaluation of the project. Costs estimates have now escalated another 27%.

And those cost increases don’t even look at the increased greenhouse gas emissions from continuing our reliance on fossil fuels.

courtesy of Lucky Larry @ flickr.com

courtesy of Lucky Larry @ flickr.com

In the wake of these cost increases, Vermont Gas asked regulators to put a hold on the hearings for the second phase of the project. These hearings were scheduled to begin in January.

At a time when global warming requires that we move quickly away from reliance on fossil fuels, it is hard to justify spending hundreds of millions of dollars on new natural gas pipelines that keep us dependent on polluting fossil fuels long into the future.

It is no surprise to CLF that costs are skyrocketing. Expanding reliance on polluting fossil fuels is a bad bet. These natural gas pipelines will be in place for 50 to 100 years. That’s long past the time we need to move away from fossil fuels. Saddling customers with the high costs and increased pollution for decades is irresponsible. We can do better than that.

Our region is undergoing a major transformation of our energy supply. We can seize the opportunities this transformation presents by moving away from polluting fossil fuels and their long-term climate impacts. Going forward we need to rely much more on cleaner renewable energy.

The reset called for by Vermont Gas is a good opportunity to steer our energy future in a cleaner and lower cost direction.

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