Vermont has a valuable asset when it comes to tackling the climate crisis: energy efficiency. For decades, Vermont has been a leader on efficiency. We were one of the first states to fully incorporate energy efficiency into our planning and energy decisions, and to ensure everyone in the state has access to the increased comfort and lower bills energy efficiency provides. When combined with growing reliance on renewable energy, efficiency provides even broader benefits.
In a state that prides itself on a frugal Yankee ethic, energy efficiency sits at the head of the table. It helps all of us do more with less, while reducing pollution.
Over the past decades, Vermont’s energy-efficiency efforts have let us avoid using as much expensive and dirty energy from coal, gas and oil as we would have otherwise needed. It also helped us avoid the need for costly transmission upgrades and reduced the share Vermonters have to pay for regional facilities. These savings add up. Vermont now has some of the lowest electricity bills in the region.
Energy efficiency remains the cleanest and lowest-cost resource available. From motors, to lights, from maple sugaring equipment to refrigerators, from insulation on homes to air conditioning in businesses, energy efficiency remains the most practical and common-sense energy solution. Quite simply, it just costs less to use less electricity. It costs less to replace motors with more efficient ones than it does to keep those old motors running.
As Vermont transitions away from fossil fuels like oil and gas for electricity, energy efficiency stands ready to play an outsized role to keep us on track. Taking a meaningful bite out of Vermont’s polluting climate emissions requires moving away from dirty fuels. Whether heating our homes, driving cars, or powering public transit, tackling climate change means transitioning all of these to cleaner, renewable energy.
The technology exists now to move more transportation, heating and industrial uses to cleaner electricity. With some utilities leading the way, more Vermonters have access to electric vehicles, cold-climate heat pumps, solar power and battery storage. Coupling this with robust energy efficiency makes sure we get the biggest bang for the buck out of the renewable energy we use.
It may be tempting to think that with a solar panel you have “free” electricity and can waste it. On a bigger scale, a town or state with more renewable energy may want to curb energy efficiency, thinking it is needed less since the grid is already clean. But that thinking robs our future potential.
The power saved through energy efficiency is power available for other uses. When the power saved is renewable energy, it allows a bigger, bolder and swifter transition away from polluting oil and gas. As transportation and heating go electric, energy efficiency creates the headroom needed to allow more use of cleaner electricity. It’s like cleaning out your closet during a seasonal transition. Getting rid of the clothes you don’t wear lets you have more space for the things you do. More space doesn’t require an expensive new closet or expanding the one you have. It just lets you make the most out of what is already available.
With more energy efficiency, Vermonters can stretch their renewable-energy dollars and kilowatt hours further. Sensible investments in energy efficiency will recognize the broader, more resilient, and longer-term value delivered by increasing our reliance on energy efficiency.
As citizens and regulators consider how best to make sure Vermont meets its clean-energy goals and thrives for decades to come, keeping energy efficiency at the forefront ensures Vermont will see expanded opportunities. Tackling climate change is an “all in” proposition. It demands all clean-energy hands are on deck. Increased reliance on renewable energy neither replaces nor lessens our need for energy efficiency. We need a lot more of both now, and in the future.
Expanding our reliance on energy efficiency is more important than ever. Let’s keep it at the forefront of our energy policies and keep it working hard for all of us.
Sandra Levine is a senior attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation in Montpelier.