Friday January 11, 2013

Vermont is poised to take a big bite out of the high cost and pollution of heating our homes and businesses. Slashing a full one-quarter of both lies within our reach. Now is the time to act.

Over the past decade, the cost Vermonters pay for staying warm has more than doubled. This strains our pocketbooks, our environment, our health and our security. It is time to stop seeing our dollars go up in smoke and stop draining hundreds of millions of dollars annually from Vermont's economy.

What can we do? Building on the enormous success of Vermont's electric efficiency efforts that saved over $775 million dollars since 2000, we can improve the heating efficiency of our homes and businesses. While some efforts have begun, most of the savings opportunity remains on the table. Stepping up our game on affordable heat will save Vermonters real dollars. It is also the lowest cost and most effective strategy for Vermont to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Throughout Vermont, heating efficiency has saved the average homeowner about $1,000 a year. But we are far shy of our goal of insulating one quarter of our homes and businesses by 2020.

The report of Vermont's Thermal Efficiency Task Force is due out next week. It provides a strong roadmap for jumpstarting heating efficiency and renewable heat for our homes and businesses. The Task Force recommendations will show how Vermont can stretch its heating dollars farther and provide over $1.5 billion in direct savings. That's $1.5 billion that is not going up in smoke, literally leaking out of our homes and businesses.

Affordable heat means lowering bills. Every year Vermont struggles to fund low income heating assistance (LIHEAP). With affordable heat, Vermont can reduce the funds needed and can use LIHEAP dollars to help more Vermonters. Cutting fuel use by one-quarter means that for every four homes that are weatherized, help is available for one additional family. In Windham County that will stretch the reach of the Windham County Heat Fund.

Affordable heat reduces pollution. Every gallon of fossil fuel we don't burn means less pollution. Whether we are adding solar to our roofs or insulating our homes we leave a lasting positive legacy for our children by taking seriously our responsibility to tackle climate change and reduce pollution.

The long and short of it is that Vermont -- and Vermonters -- can't afford to keep wasting energy, wasting money and wasting clean air. Vermont's commitment to affordable heat is our ticket to more comfortable homes and businesses, and a thriving and affordable clean energy economy.

Sandra Levine is Senior Attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation.