Weatherization fee cheaper, reduces emissions sooner
by John McCormick
People are talking about global warming like never before. Mainstream news is helping us make the connection that extreme weather is the outcome of warmer oceans and atmosphere. This is not a drill.
Have we also begun to accept our demand for oil and natural gas is warming our planet? We can decarbonize how we drive and where we live. Electrifying your car or truck eliminates a yearly 4.5 to 6 tons of CO2 and weatherizing can reduce oil demand by 40% while continuing to rely upon oil as a backup.
It is past time we had a serious conversation with our children. They demand we do something to fix it. They protest in streets, in courts and in legislatures. They vocalize a deeper understanding than we adults. They will likely live into and beyond the 2050s, enduring all the weather extremes arriving way ahead of prediction.
Scientists are saying we can slow Earth’s fever. Leveling off — even slightly reducing — global CO2 emissions can have a positive impact in three to five years.
While we should make obvious lifestyle changes, let’s agree on the most sensible, at scale, thing we can do that will truly matter: Electrify everything we drive and live in.
The Vermont Climate Council sent the Affordable Heat Act to the Senate without discussing its cost. The Agency of Natural Resources estimated it would increase fuel costs by 70 cents per gallon or $70 per 100-gallon delivery. The agency was criticized for its back-of-the-envelope estimate while the council provided neither evidence nor its own estimate. Cost is what the Public Utility Commission will determine during its 18-month study and then present it to the legislators.
There is no certainty the Affordable Heat Act will become the law of the land when the 2026 General Assembly votes on whether to enact it, with the price tag attached.
Then there is the matter of the judicial process.
When the General Assembly approves the Affordable Heat Act. Gov. Scott will veto it. The Legislature will override. At which point the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association will immediately seek an injunction to stop implementation and file suit that S.5 is unconstitutional. The loser of that court decision will appeal. The loser of that appeal will make their argument before the Vermont Supreme Court.
From 2026 to 2031, it will be locked up in the courts. Vermont’s plan to meet the Global Warming Solution Act CO2 reductions mandate will be in limbo.
Vermont needs an alternative.
Vermont’s Weatherization Assistance Program is the logical alternative. It is a functioning state-funded CO2 reduction program providing grants for weatherization, heat pumps and pellet stoves to Low-Income Heat Energy Assistance Program clients that is funded by a 2-cent fuel fee. In 2020, the PUC recommended to the legislators that the Weatherization Assistance Program double the number of weatherizations. Middle- and upper-income families should also get very attractive incentives for installing efficiency.
You and I can’t install a heat pump. We call a contractor and wait months or longer. There just aren’t enough electricians, plumbers, laborers available to get right on it. Vermont is desperate to hire many more skilled laborers to do the job.
Installing rooftop solar, attic insulation and heat pumps are demanding tasks requiring trained and capable workers. They are the front line in the global warming war. We have to respect and support them. Increase their salaries while they shift us to electricity.
A bagel shop in Burlington is advertising for new hires at $25 per hour — about $5 more than the state’s Weatherization Assistance Program insulation installers are paid.
The Vermont Energy Investment Corp. and others are using state and federal funds to open training centers across the state. They need recruitment boots on the ground. The state can offer young graduates a recruitment program to enlist able and motivated non-college-bound students, fund their training, and subsidize them to the point of full employment.
The private sector is also desperate for more technically skilled employees. This should be a collective effort among the affordable housing/homelessness advocates, the energy efficiency market and the Vermont Department of Labor. That is going to cost money and should begin immediately.
Gov. Scott can work with the General Assembly to accelerate weatherization, recruitment and training by increasing the heating fuel fee. It expires next June 30.
Back in 2019, the PUC delivered another report to the General Assembly, detailing how to achieve CO2 reductions at least cost to Vermonters. It recommended doubling the Weatherization Assistance Program with a four-cent increase of the existing fee. The Weatherization Assistance Program wants to do more, if it could find more skilled workforce.
The 2-cent fee “sunset” provides the stage to debate this alternative next January. The fuel fee will have to be reauthorized or the Weatherization Assistance Program will shut down. For the legislators, it’s a no-brainer — the Affordable Heat Act 70-cent increase versus the 4-cent fuel fee increase.
The author is a Bristol resident and director of the Louise Diamond Committee to Protect Next Generations