Finding new ways to help Vermonters save


In the year 2000, Vermont embarked on a ground-breaking experiment to help Vermonters save money. It created the nation's first "energy efficiency utility" -- Efficiency Vermont -- in recognition of the fact that the cheapest and cleanest unit of energy is the one that you don't use.

Fourteen years into our efforts, it is natural to ask, "What's next?"

To answer those questions, let's start with where we are today:

-- In 2013, Efficiency Vermont bought energy efficiency for less than half the cost of comparable electric supply: 4.1 cents per kilowatt hour for efficiency versus 8.4 cents for supply.

-- A recent report from VELCO, the state's transmission company, found that Vermont's energy efficiency investments have resulted in the avoidance or deferral of $279 million in regional transmission projects.

-- An independent study commissioned by the Public Service Department found that every $1 invested in energy efficiency returns $5 in benefits to the Vermont economy.

-- The amount of carbon and other emissions avoided thanks to Efficiency Vermont's energy-saving efforts in 2013 had the environmental impact of taking more than 135,000 gasoline-powered cars off the road for a year.

The fundamental drivers of these results have remained the same throughout Efficiency Vermont's existence: Focusing on providing services that are cost-effective and innovative.

So what about the future?

From an economic perspective, there is still a lot of untapped energy efficiency savings to be had. Currently, electric energy efficiency is less than half the cost of electric supply. Every unit of energy we save through efficiency saves money for Vermonters.

In addition, the technology landscape is constantly changing. Ten years ago, LED lighting -- which can be up to 80 percent more efficient than incandescent technology and more than 50 percent more efficient than compact fluorescent technology -- was barely a gleam in the eye of the marketplace. Today, it is becoming the standard: Working with our retail partners such as local hardware stores, you can now buy a high-quality LED bulb for $4.99.

One of the most striking technology changes in recent years is in the use of electricity for heating. In years past, electric resistance heating systems were inefficient and costly. Today, electric-powered air source heat pumps can provide heat at half the cost of oil or a third of the cost of propane. So after years of focusing on reducing the use of electricity, Efficiency Vermont is now finding instances where it make senses to use more electricity instead of other sources of more costly, more polluting energy.

Technology is increasingly helping consumers reduce their energy costs in other ways as well. Vermont is a national leader in the deployment of advanced metering infrastructure (sometimes referred to as the "smart grid"). This technology will provide Vermonters with a vastly improved ability to understand how they use energy, and how they can reduce their energy costs. Efficiency Vermont will be there to help Vermonters take advantage of these opportunities in ways that are effective for consumers and easy to engage in.

As Efficiency Vermont's Director, I'm proud of the results that we have achieved to date, but I never want to see us rest on our past successes. There is still a lot of work to be done by Efficiency Vermont to help Vermonters reduce their energy use, save money, and help the environment. We are committed, and I am personally committed, to helping all Vermonters save money and for Vermont to continue to be a leader.

Jim Merriam is the director of Efficiency Vermont.


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