Roper: Will the Clean Heat Standard destroy Vermont’s maple sugar industry?

Asked how a provision designed to help the industry would actually help, Rep. says, “Who knows?”

by Rob Roper

For years we have heard that Vermonters must “do something” on climate change in order to, among other things, save our maple sugar industry. This, despite the fact that 2022 saw record production of maple syrup. But could the real existential threat to Vermont maple syrup be very actions taken to prevent climate change?

Representative Brian Smith (R-Derby) touched on this question as the House Energy & Environment Committee marked up S.5, the Clean Heat Standard bill, in anticipation of a vote to send it to the full floor.

While there are multiple ways to boil sap to make syrup, burning oil is the most prevalent, especially among medium and large sized syrup producers. Reliance on cord wood is more prevalent among smaller producers and, one would assume, has the highest greenhouse gas emissions of all the options. Which method is most cost effective is dependent upon the relative prices of oil and wood.

It takes about four gallons of #2 oil to boil enough sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup. There are over 1500 maple sugar producers in Vermont. According to Vermont Business Magazine, in 2022 our state produced 2.55 million gallons of syrup. A study from 2015 by the UVM Center for Rural Studies concluded,

In 2013, the Vermont maple industry contributed between $317 and $330 million in sales to the state of Vermont. The total effect sales multiplier is 1.49 meaning that for every dollar in sales generated by the maple industry another $0.49 circulated in the local economy. Additionally, the Vermont maple industry contributed between $140 and $144 million in value added which in this case mostly includes wages and profits. With a total effect multiplier for value added of 1.69, for every dollar contributed in wages and profits another $0.69 was added to the local economy. Last, the industry contributed between 2,734.93 full time equivalent (FTE) positions and 3,169.23 FTE. If we look at the number of jobs, knowing that one person can have more than one job, the range of jobs supported by the maple industry is between 3,192.1 and 4,519.7. The total effect employment multiplier was 1.25 and for every job in the maple sector another 0.25 was supported in the rest of the local economy.

Apart from the raw economic benefit, maple products play a huge role in defining the Vermont “brand,” so, Rep. Smith’s concern seems well placed. “What effect will this bill have on Vermont’s maple sugar industry as far as these sugar houses that burn fuel oil or propane?” he asked. “Are they going to be able to sustain? That’s a discussion we’re going to have to have at length at some point. It’s going to cost them a lot more money, I believe.”

Representative Laura Sibilia (I-Dover) tried to dismiss Smith’s concerns by pointing to a provision in S.5 that would allow obligated parties to claim “clean heat credits” for extending electricity lines to sugar shacks (among other types of buildings).

Smith didn’t see how this was particularly helpful as either a practical or motivating factor and asked Sibiilia, “How will this help reduce fossil fuel usage when they depend on fossil fuel to generate quantities of maple syrup?”

Sibilia fumbled her attempted answer. “There may be other things in there. Maybe lights. There may be other – who knows?”

Well, maybe find out and know something before you pass the bill!

The estimates are that S.5 will add somewhere between $0.70 and $4.00 to each gallon of oil, propane, natural gas, and kerosene sold in Vermont. That means it will cost Vermont sugar makers somewhere between an extra $2.80 and $16.00 to produce a gallon of syrup, placing them at a serious competitive disadvantage to producers in other states and Canada.

The other alternative would be for sugar makers to find a cheaper form fuel, the most likely being cord wood. This, of course, would be counter productive to the greenhouse gas reduction goals of the Global Warming Solutions Act but our pancakes would still taste good.

Rob Roper is a freelance writer who has been involved with Vermont politics and policy for over 20 years. This article reprinted with permission from Behind the Lines: Rob Roper on Vermont Politics,

Categories: Commentary

8 replies »

  1. I say it’s time to tell Montpelier NO. Were done with stupid. I’ll buy my gas and oil I’m NH. Can’t wait to see who the Emissions police will be. I have to travel 159 miles a day now to make a living to just barely get by.

  2. And if the oil companies raise it to $5/Gallon, oh well. Rob and the EAI don’t give a hoot about fuel prices. They are dark money funded propaganda tools for the fossil fuel and other corporate interests.

    • Hi Ivan. I don’t work for EAI anymore and haven’t for a year. I’m not funded by anyone except individual subscribers to my substack page ( check it out!). As to your allegation about $5 per gallon market priced fuel, yes we all give a hoot about that — except perhaps the folks who want to squeeze the supply of domestically produced oil and natural gas driving up that cost. But, if the price does rise to $5 per gallon due to market forces, the solution to easing people’s financial pain is NOT to add a $0.70 to $4.00 tax to that cost. If your definition of sympathy is to take someone’s $5 bill and jack it up to $9, well, as the saying goes, with friends like you….

    • Quite a bold statement, Mr. Smith. I assume you have some source or proof to validate this accusation? I believe you will find that the real dark moneys on the side supporting S.5, just as it was in 2020 with the GWSA. VPIRG, CLF and a host of NGO’s and special interest have poured plenty of money into supporting legislation that ultimately benefits these same groups. The ties between legislators and solar companies has been well documented here. Should S.5 pass, $5.00/gallon for #2 fuel oil will be a bargain in Vermont. Try $7,$8 and more by 2027. S.5 puts an additional tax on energy not approved by government, as determined by a 3- member Public Utilities Commission. Market price plus the existing taxes, plus the “fee”.
      Somehow, I doubt that Mobil Oil or Shell has much interest in Vermont or it’s crazy legislators. Both oil companies pulled out of Vermont long ago- wholesalers and jobbers own and supply the gas stations and fuel dealers in Vermont.
      Contrary to what the legislature might think, Vermont just isn’t very important to the rest of the USA.

  3. Not a single one of these S5 proponents has a single answer as to how anyone or anything will be affected as they are hell bent on its passage, NO MATTER WHAT. They don’t care who or what it harms, or what problems it causes down the road. They have been told over and over, by industry experts, and reporting, that it won’t work, the dollar cost is exponentially high, we don’t have the infrastructure or workforce to put into play the mandated malarkey, yet they push forward anyway. How many ways do they need to hear it?? Oh and I didn’t even mention all the conflicts of interest and lying on the part of the legislators regarding this piece of garbage. Legislators, THROW IT IN THE TRASH and recall the GWSA. Oh and then throw out your pay raise and free health care bills and reduce your time in Montpelier. There. Problems solved. GO HOME. Vermont is a tiny state, the second smallest in the nation. Throw out your ego and start working like the small state that we are.

  4. As Legislative Counsel repeatedly said, “As with everything else in this bill, this is a tension between the competing interests of not negatively affecting Vermonters, and meeting the requirements of the GWSA.”

    GWSA negatively affects Vermonters, it does not help them.

    Rep. Morris’ nay vote on S.5 in the House Energy and Environment Committee today is encouraging. The Dems broke ranks in committee and if the ratio of 3 nays to 8 yeas holds in the house vote there will not be enough votes to override Governor Scotts’ veto. Stebbins warned us of what is coming if this bill passes. “Next we’re going after transportation, and increasing the requirements for more wind and solar (renewables)”.

  5. ms. sibilia clearly shows her ignorance about energy efficiency with her statements.
    Electricity is, has and will remain the least efficient method to obtain heat energy.
    Oil has the most Btu’s per unit, then propane, natural gas and finally at the bottom is electricity.

  6. One point that Mr. Roper didn’t make is the transition to electricity that the maple sugar industry has already made. Virtually all sugar makers who are larger than “hobby” class use reverse osmosis technology to concentrate the sap before boiling. The r.o. removes most of the water from the sap and greatly reduces the fuel needed to make the syrup. Reverse osmosis machines run on electricity and therefore should be hailed by the green crowd for reducing the need for fossil fuels. Or something.