EPA lauds state on energy
By Jasper Craven
For the Rutland Herald | June 11,2014
WASHINGTON — When the Environmental Protection Agency issued its aggressive plan last week to cut carbon emissions 30 percent by 2030, only one state — Vermont — received no energy recommendations. Instead, the Green Mountain state was praised for its progressive energy portfolio.
“We assessed Vermont’s (and other states’) policies in developing the energy efficiency approach for the Clean Power Plan,” said Enesta Jones, an EPA spokeswoman, in an e-mail. “Vermont’s current renewable fleet is also included in EPA’s regional assessment of renewable energy goal-setting.”
In the 645-page proposal from the EPA, which was released June 3, Vermont is recognized as a national leader in multiple sections. The agency recognized Vermont as the first state to establish a statewide energy utility, Efficiency Vermont, in 2000. In 2013, Efficiency Vermont’s efforts brought a 1.66 percent total savings of electricity sales, according to the EPA.
“We have noticed an increase in interest since the (EPA) guidelines,” said Kelly Lucci, a spokeswoman for Efficiency Vermont. Lucci said a number of states are in conversations with Efficiency Vermont as how to best create efficiency utilities, but wouldn’t name any in particular as no formal agreements have been made.
“It’s a process we anticipate unfolding over time,” Lucci said.
Vermont was also cited by the EPA for its participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap and trade program. The nine states that participate in RGGI have invested more than $460 million into efficiency programs through 2012, according to EPA data. Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania’s Democratic nominee for governor, recently endorsed RGGI and indicated that he would bring Pennsylvania into the program if elected.
“Our energy efficiency models will be in demand in other places, and will spur innovation,” said Deb Markowitz, the secretary for Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources.
Vermont is the only state (besides the District of Columbia) without a single fossil-fueled power plant. Nuclear energy comprises roughly 75 percent of Vermont’s energy mix, according to state officials. Hydropower adds another 17 percent, and biomass comprises about five percent. Wind and solar power each comprise about one percent of the state’s energy output, but these numbers are expected to rise in the coming years, said Asa Hopkins, the state’s director of energy policy planning at the Department of Public Service.
Vermont utilities have no contracts with coal plants, one of the dirtier energy sources that the EPA targeted in its emissions proposal. But when energy demand peaks during the winter months, utilities must sometimes dip into the regional market, where dirtier energy is offered. More than 90 fossil fuel powered plants operate within New England, according to EPA data.
“When all the natural gas plants are running and we need more power, then the power source will became an oil or coal plant,” Hopkins said. “The market mix that we buy when we buy generic power will get more clear over time in response to these EPA regulations.”
Vermont Yankee was also mentioned in the EPA report as one of five nuclear power plants in different phases of retirement. The EPA estimated that if these plants were not shuttered, more than 200 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution could be avoided over 10 years.
Entergy Corp., the owner of Vermont Yankee, is planning to decommission the plant by the end of 2014 due to economic trouble and the state’s energy plan calling for an end to reliance on nuclear energy. The comprehensive plan, released in 2011, puts forward a plan to obtain 90 percent of the state’s energy from renewable sources by 2050.
Jasper Craven is affiliated with the Boston University journalism program.