Letter to the editor: Vermont falls short in true renewable energy efforts

I am a Bristol Energy Committee member and here are my thoughts on Vermont’s energy policy.

Critical to the electrification issue are three factors:

  1. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions, accurately calculated:

Hydro Quebec and out-of-state nuclear are not carbon neutral, both have relatively high methane emissions; hydro from decomposing natural materials from the impounded landscape, and nuclear from mining, transportation, decommissioning practices, and long-term storage of spent fuel.

The problem with “renewable natural gas” as advertised by Vermont Gas Systems, is that only a small percentage of the gas in Vermont gas lines comes from renewable sources such as bio-digesters in Vermont. Instead VGS is purchasing Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) from facilities where bio-gas is generated in the Midwest, and no actual renewable gas is piped to Vermont. Instead, the gas Vermont is using is largely from fracked sources.

  1. Phasing out of Renewable Energy Credits:

According the Energy Action Network, if we calculate our energy mix Post-REC, only 5% of Vermont’s renewable energy use comes from within state. We actually sell our high-quality green energy out of state.

The REC system allows large polluters to continue polluting, so if a solar or wind project is allowed to sell RECs, its power cannot be considered “green.” Subscribers to the Bristol Community Solar project have been told that they cannot claim that the project’s energy is green because it is being used to offset fossil fuel use.

  1. Additionality, providing new, sustainable sources of electricity:

The International Panel on Climate Change agreement stipulates that greenhouse gas reduction claims can only be applied to additional or new energy production. While Vermont currently claims to be using 96% clean energy, according to the Energy Action Network, we cannot credit any of that energy as meeting evolving needs as we electrify our thermal and transportation sectors. New sources of supply must meet new demands.

Our current mix of hydro and nuclear does not include any new sources of electricity and should not be counted as such toward our mandated 2025, 2030 or 2050 goals. However, we are going to have to rely on the current contracts for hydro and nuclear for the foreseeable future until truly “new green” energy can built in Vermont or purchased from such sources as offshore wind. (An innovative offshore wind project is to be built in Maine In 2023.)

Solar and wind backed up by battery or other storage are going to be necessary to meet demand caused by electrification and phasing out of fossil fuels.

Additional thoughts:

As a member of Bristol’s Energy Committee I was part of the development of the town’s Enhanced Energy Plan process that designated preferred sites for solar and wind and we were lucky enough to have the former, capped landfill that met that designation. So there was no objection to the project. Towns should be tasked with finding such sites that, together with rooftop, would enable construction of enough renewable capacity to meet their residential and commercial needs as they electrify. And establishment of micro-grids integrating those sites would enable resiliency.

Our experience with the Bristol Community Solar project indicates that most people who are adopting solar are of the middle and upper economic classes, and are doing so not out of economic, but rather environmental concerns. Clearly people are concerned about future generations. However, if we are to enable those at the lower end of the economic ladder to transition to renewable energy and efficient electric devices, we will need to provide means-tested assistance. And we need to return to robust net-metering incentives to make these projects attractive to those considering investing in them.

Providing opportunities for individual rooftop and community projects does increase buy-in and awareness by citizens, particularly if they see their own community directly benefitting.

We also need large-scale projects in the mix, and as John McCormick, another Bristol Energy Committee member and director of the Louise Diamond Committee to Protect Future Generations, asserts, we need to invest in innovative projects such as the offshore-wind project planned for construction in Maine in 2023.

Richard Butz


Editor’s note: This letter has been updated to correct an error in the header for item 3. “Additionality” is a technical term used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to describe a “reduction in emissions by sources or enhancement of removals by sinks that is additional to any that would occur in the absence of a Joint Implementation or a Clean Development Mechanism project activity as defined in the Kyoto Protocol Articles on Joint Implementation and the Clean Development Mechanism.” 

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