• Investing in our homes and our future
    June 23,2013
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    Investing in thermal efficiency improvements — air sealing, insulation, and heating system replacements — can dramatically reduce heating energy use in a building.
    Each year, we Vermonters spend over a half-billion dollars on increasingly expensive energy to heat our homes.

    Most of this $600 million, paid to out-of-state suppliers, does not fuel the Vermont or even the U.S. economy. And we are spending nearly twice as much to stay warm as we did a decade ago.

    Despite promising talk early in the session, the Legislature took little action on making a significant commitment to energy efficiency this year. An initially strong thermal efficiency bill, H.520, was whittled back and passed with a variety of provisions.

    “Despite seeming commitment from so many key players, the Legislature passed a bill without its most essential ingredient: funding,” said Richard Faesy, an energy consultant and chair of the Thermal Efficiency Task Force’s Finance and Funding Subcommittee.

    Faesy was one of more than 60 diverse Vermont stakeholders who participated in the task force, which was charged with coming up with policy, program, financing and funding recommendations to meet Vermont’s goal of retrofitting 80,000 homes by 2020.

    “I was disappointed there was such little action,” said Faesy. “Every year that goes by without a real commitment to heating efficiency is another year that Vermonters waste more energy and money. Efficiency investments put people to work, help homeowners and businesses save real dollars and help reduce our contribution to climate change. It’s a no-brainer.”

    Investing in thermal efficiency improvements — air sealing, insulation, and heating system replacements — can dramatically reduce heating energy use in a building. At current fuel prices, thermal efficiency investments in a home can bring savings of approximately $1,000 per year over the lifetime of the investment. The value of these savings increases as fuel prices rise.

    Each year that investments in thermal efficiency are not made, cost burdens must be borne by individual Vermonters, businesses, and property owners — collectively burdening the Vermont economy as a whole.

    In view of today’s tight economic times, most efficiency proponents were not surprised that securing the level of commitment the Thermal Efficiency Task Force recommended would be a challenge. But given the governor’s stated commitment to efficiency and some clear legislative will on the issue, many were disappointed to see how little progress was made.

    “The return on investment from energy efficiency competes with and often exceeds some of the best investments in the stock market,” said Faesy. “The challenge is that you need upfront capital — combined with consumer demand — to make that investment. That’s where the Legislature could have come in. Without more people understanding the benefits and making that clear to lawmakers, the governor and their neighbors, we’re never going to get this important work done.”

    Selling efficiency can be a real challenge. It’s largely invisible, and its value hasn’t been well articulated so far in the market or in the media.

    But as more Vermonters understand the benefit of retrofitting their homes and businesses and make the leap to do so, their friends and neighbors become more likely to follow suit. Sponsors and participants in Efficiency Vermont’s Home Energy Challenge are banking on that premise.

    Inspiring the public is at the heart of this targeted campaign, which is built on sharing success stories and information — largely under the leadership of town energy committees. The big goal for the 78 participating Challenge towns is to motivate three percent of residents in the town to weatherize their homes, which is the number of homes per year that must be retrofitted to meet the state’s 80,000-by-2020 goal.

    The energy challenge represents the first time that citizens and communities across the entire state are working together to meet a statewide energy efficiency goal. And the potential cumulative impact of this one-year effort shows the very significant benefits. A successful 2013 Challenge could save Vermonters $3.1 million dollars a year on their energy bills — enough money to heat 780 Vermont homes for an entire year. If realized, the 2013 Energy Challenge could also create 58 jobs in 2013.

    For contractors like Montpelier Construction’s Malcolm Gray, creating jobs is a big motivator.

    “One of the reasons we are able to hire right now is the energy work we are doing. I feel good about putting people to work in well-paid jobs, but customers also really appreciate it,” said Gray. “I regularly hear from Vermonters that they are saving money on their fuel bills, but they also tell us they are a lot more comfortable — staying warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. They also tell us their homes are quieter and less humid.”

    At the June 17 signing of H.520, Gov. Shumlin also stressed the economic opportunities afforded by committing to heating efficiency measures and clean energy solutions generally. Such commitments, he noted, are not only good for the planet, but “for our kids and grandkids.”

    “It’s the right economic policy… It’s jobs, it’s prosperity, it’s economic expansion,” the governor told a group of Vermont clean energy, finance, legislative and Congressional leaders.

    But Shumlin also expressed his disappointment in how far short the bill falls from meeting the heating efficiency goals he and the Legislature set out.

    “We’ve done abysmally on thermal efficiency,” Shumlin observed. “So we will go back in the second half of the biennium with a better plan, with more collaborative cooperation before we go in — because it’s critically important that we get thermal efficiency right.”

    Johanna Miller is energy program director at the Vermont Natural Resources Council. Reach her at jmiller@vnrc.org or 223-2328 ext. 112.
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