by Guy Page
A bevy of climate and environmental organizations rallied behind Mayor Miro Weinberger yesterday in support of a Carbon Pollution Fee Ordinance going before the City Council next week.
The upfront fee would start at $150/ton of the project’s lifetime carbon emissions and rise with inflation.
If enacted, Burlington “would for the first time in state history implement a science-based carbon fee on pollution from fossil fuels,” a statement issued by the Mayor’s office yesterday said. The fee would be assessed on heating and thermal systems in new construction and large existing commercial buildings if the property owner does not install a renewable system – builders and owners can avoid the fee by using electric and other high-performance cost-competitive modern technologies.
The Carbon Fee Ordinance was introduced initially by Councilor Ben Traverse (D-Ward 5), Chair of the Ordinance Committee, and Councilor Mark Barlow, Chair of the Transportation, Energy and Utilities (TEUC) Committee. The Ordinance was reviewed and approved by both Committees and is on the agenda for full Council action on November 20.
“Implementation of the Carbon Fee Ordinance is a big step forward towards our prioritizing clean energy and reducing Burlington’s greenhouse gas emissions,” said Traverse.
Weinberger first proposed a building electrification and carbon pricing policy in October 2020, and the City determined that implementing it would require a charter change. Voters approved the charter change proposal at Town Meeting Day 2021 with about 65 percent voting in favor.
The Legislature then passed H. 448 which Gov. Phil Scott signed on April 20, 2022. The Charter Change required subsequent approval by voters prior to implementing the carbon fee, and Burlington voters approved Question 2 at Town Meeting Day 2023 with over 67 percent of the vote.
The initial carbon fee for non-compliant buildings would be set at $150 per ton, and would be charged upfront at the time of permit based on the expected lifetime emissions output of the system being installed. The fee price will rise annually with inflation. Proceeds from the fee will support low-income residents in accessing clean heating technologies.
Organizations supporting the ordinance with Weinberger today included Renewable Energy Vermont, VPIRG, and the Vermont Natural Resources Council.
As described in a December 5 Burlington Electric Department memo, the fee emulates a current carbon impact assessment now in place in New York City:
We propose the fee would start at $150 per ton of greenhouse gas emissions, for permit applications starting in 2024. It would increase annually at the rate of inflation but limited to no more than a 5 percent increase in any given year.
The fee would be assessed based on a net present value calculation of the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions that would be produced by the thermal system over its lifetime and charged upfront at the time of permit.
The goal would be to level the playing field for renewable technologies and represent the full societal, health, and environmental cost of the carbon pollution of the fossil fuel system.
We note that some cities are using higher carbon alternative compliance fees in their thermal sector policies. New York is using $268 per ton, and Boston is using $234 per ton. On the other hand, Vermont’s Climate Council has looked at analysis suggesting $128 per ton for use as a social cost of carbon in Vermont.