When shopping for a new car, it helps to know its fuel economy and how that stacks up with other models. What if you could have the same information when buying a new home? The Vermont Legislature is currently considering two bills, H-497 & S-143, which require sellers of buildings to provide information about a building’s efficiency. Sellers calculate a building’s efficiency using a free online tool approved by the Department of Public Service (Department). Buyers can then know a building’s energy rating. The rating is presented as a single number that compares that building with other similar buildings. In addition, a buyer could access other information such as the building’s total energy consumption, its square footage, energy intensity and annual energy costs.
This bill continues Vermont’s tradition of leading the nation in setting effective energy efficiency policies. It lets buyers know important energy use information before they make a big investment. The additional step of helping more customers improve their building’s heating efficiency is still needed. Vermont’s cold winters and old building stock makes bolstering buildings’ thermal efficiency low-hanging fruit.
While Vermont leads the way on electric efficiency, it still has a ways to go on improving heating efficiency. In 2012, Efficiency Vermont (EVT), Vermont’s efficiency utility, used 81% of its budget for electric efficiency resources and only 8% for heating efficiency. The divergence can be traced in part to funding sources. Electrical efficiency investments are funded from a savings charge on electric bills. Heating programs currently have limited funding available and rely mostly on proceeds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and participation in the regional grid’s capacity market. To bolster heating efficiency programs, S-143 directs the Department to study additional mechanisms for funding these programs. Vermont’s 2011 Comprehensive Energy Plan has recognized the need for new funding sources for weatherization improvements in light of the fact that current policies will leave the State far short of reaching its goal of weatherizing 80,000 homes by 2020.
In Massachusetts, a system similar to the funding model for electric efficiency is being considered. H.3897 would establish a comprehensive thermal efficiency program funded by a 2.5 cents per gallon savings charge on heating oil. Funds will be used to provide incentives for upgrading older inefficient oil heating systems, weatherizing, and helping low-income communities heat their homes in winter. Since 59% of Vermonters heat with oil, and savings programs are already available for gas users – which has limited availability in Vermont – it only makes sense for Vermont to expand the savings available for customers who rely on oil.
While some opposition from fuel dealers exists, given that heating oil prices are at an all-time high, there is a good opportunity now for fuel dealers to partner with customers to keep their houses warm, save energy, reduce pollution and grow jobs. Information about a building’s energy use is a good first step, but Vermonters need more to keep more warmth inside and more money in their pockets.