A new climate action report proposes a “clean heat standard” requiring oil and propane dealers to provide an increasing percentage of cleaner alternatives to fossil fuels.
The Vermont Climate Council’s first-ever climate action report, issued Wednesday, acknowledges the cost of heating would likely rise as a result of that proposal, one of 230 in the 273-page report adopted by a majority vote of the council. The report was mandated by the Global Warming Solutions Act, which was passed into law last year and orders a 26 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2025.
“By imposing performance requirements on fossil energy wholesalers, the [Clean Heat Standard] will impose upward pressure on fossil fuel prices,” the plan says. “At the same time, the [Clean Heat Standard] would stimulate the market for fossil alternatives, putting downward price pressure on energy efficiency, weatherization, heat pumps and other clean heat options. For those customers who switch, those options are often less expensive and less volatile than the fossil heat status quo.”
It’s unclear what portion of increased costs will be passed onto consumers, the plan says. But it says easing the burden of that change on low-income households and rural Vermonters should be a priority.
“In a competitive market with many routes to earn clean heat credits, costs could be moderated in many ways, as we have seen with renewable electricity standards. The greatest impacts would be in later years on fossil heat customers who do not choose a clean heat option or are unable to do so,” the plan says.
But in the executive summary, the council says the plan will save the state money on fossil fuels and help create jobs.
“Vermont’s current dependence on fossil fuels leads to high and unpredictable energy costs for Vermont households and businesses,” it says. “Transitioning off fossil fuels presents significant opportunities for Vermonters including lower energy costs, greater investment in the regional economy and more high-paying jobs in the weatherization, electricity and clean energy sectors.”
Notably, four members of the Scott administration who are part of the council voted “no” and released a statement outlining their dissent. These members are: Interim Agency of Administration Secretary Kristin Clouser, Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn, Agency of Commerce and Community Development Secretary Lindsay Kurrle and Agriculture and Food and Markets Secretary Anson Tibbetts.
“Our votes today are neither a wholesale endorsement nor a total rejection of the Plan as presented,” the dissent said. “We reserve the right to support or oppose initiatives once further examined and detailed through the necessary, deliberative legislative process.”
Recommendations within the report include:
• Expanding weatherization and clean, energy-efficient heating options.
• Shifting away from fossil fuels and fossil fuel technology.
• Promoting electric vehicles by building more charging stations and providing purchase incentives.
• Incentivizing village and downtown development to promote efficient land use and preserve open space.
• Building infrastructure that supports more walking, biking, public transit options and electric vehicle use.
• Investing in agricultural and working lands management practices that cut emissions.
In the dissent, Clouser, Flynn, Kurrle and Tibbetts reiterated Scott’s explanation for vetoing the Global Warming Solutions Act, which became law in 2020, over his objection: that the executive branch should be carrying out “the development and implementation of specific initiatives, programs and strategies,” rather than delegating that authority to an appointed body.
The dissent took issue with a recommendation that the state pursue a statewide land planning policy, saying Vermonters want local control over how land is used. While the existing local policies have challenges, “they are consistent with Vermont’s culture of respecting the will of local communities,” they said.
The dissenters also disagreed with a proposal to join the Transportation Climate Initiative, or TCI. Last month, as the Climate Council was finishing up its work, two TCI member states, Massachusetts and Connecticut, opted out of participating in the program, which would tax fossil fuels at the wholesale level and use the proceeds to fund climate change resiliency. Those departures have cast serious doubt that TCI will ever move forward in its current form.
“The majority rightly notes … that ‘the regional implementation timeline of the TCI-P remains uncertain’ but stops short of acknowledging two critical implications of this uncertainty: first, that ‘uncertain’ in fact may prove to be ‘never,’ and second, that Vermont has no ability to predict or control whether or when there will be a TCI to join,” the dissenters said.
But the dissent also made clear that its signers support some action to address climate change.
The executive summary of the report states, “Vermont must get ready for a changing climate and cut its climate pollution, such as carbon and methane emissions, in half by 2030 to meet the target in Vermont’s Global Warming Solutions Act. To do this, Vermont will need to prioritize helping the people who will be most affected by climate change.”