The only New England state not to border the Atlantic Ocean, Vermont (with somewhat more than 600,000 residents) is the second-smallest state by population, after Wyoming, and the eighth-smallest state by area (with 9,616 square miles).
Vermont’s forest-covered mountains and fast-running rivers are home to substantial renewable energy resources and no fossil fuel reserves. Less than 100 miles across at its widest, Vermont lies between the shores of the Connecticut River on its eastern border with New Hampshire, and Lake Champlain and the Hudson River Valley on its western border with New York. The mountains that run the length of Vermont, from Canada in the north to the hills of Massachusetts in the south, occupy most of the state and have Vermont’s greatest wind resources. Rivers that descend from the mountains and those that border the state provide hydroelectric resources. Forests that cover almost four-fifths of Vermont support the state’s timber products industry, whose byproducts also fuel electricity generation and home heating. More than one in eight Vermont households use wood for their primary heating source, eight times more than the national average and the largest share of any state.
More than one-fourth of Vermont’s residents live along Lake Champlain in the northwestern county that includes the city of Burlington. Most other Vermonters live in small towns and on farms. Based on the percentage of its population that lives in rural census districts, Vermont is one of the two most rural states in the nation. In part because of the state’s small population, Vermonters use less total energy than the residents of any other state in the nation, and their total energy consumption per capita is among the lowest one-fifth of states. However, Vermont consumes more than three times as much energy as it produces.
Since 1900, and more emphatically since the 1960s, Vermont has been getting warmer, with spring arriving two weeks earlier and winter starting one week later. The air temperature has increased more than 4˚F in winter and more than 2˚F in summer over the past 50 years. With 78% of its land covered in forest, and renowned for its ski industry, the increasingly warmer winters, which threaten this area of the state’s tourism, are one of Vermont’s largest climate challenges. Only New Jersey, Rhode Island and Delaware have warmed faster. Annual precipitation has increased by almost 7 inches during the same time period.
More than half of Vermont’s electricity supply comes from out of state. In 2020, renewable resources provided about 100% of Vermont’s in-state electricity generation – the largest share of any state. Half of that came from hydroelectric power, one-sixth came from biomass, primarily from generating units that burn wood and wood-derived fuels, and almost all the rest from wind and solar energy in nearly equal amounts. Solar energy’s contribution has increased rapidly, and, in 2020, was almost four times greater than it was in 2015.
The state generates virtually no other forms of energy, producing as a result, less carbon dioxide emissions than any other state. It consumes close to four times as much energy as it produces, even as its total energy consumption is the smallest of all the states. Residential use of energy represents 34.8% of its consumption; transportation 32.5%, Commercial 19.8% and Industrial 12.9%.
Vermont is a member of the 11-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which was established to cap and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power generation.\Proceeds from the sale of RGGI carbon allowances help fund state energy efficiency programs like Vermont’s Energy Efficiency Utility Program, which was created to provide energy efficiency services to residential and business energy consumers.
In 2011, Vermont set a goal to obtain 90% of all its energy from renewable resources by 2050 and to reduce its energy use by more than one-third. By 2016, Vermont had committed itself to a distributed energy future in which a significant portion of Vermont’s energy would be produced near where it was consumed. Published as the Comprehensive Energy Plan (CEP), it established goals to reduce total energy consumption per capita by 15% by 2025, and by more than one third by 2050; to meet 25% of the remaining energy needs from renewable sources by 2025, 40% by 2035, and 90% by 2050. Vermont’s CEP has three end-use sector goals for 2025: 10% renewable transportation, 30% renewable buildings, and 67% renewable electric power.
Additionally, in 2018, Vermont committed itself to a reduction of its greenhouse gas emissions from its own energy use: 40% reduction below 1990 levels by 2030 and an 80% – 95% reduction below 1990 levels by 2050. One of their primary tools is to convert more heat and transportation to highly efficient electric technologies, such as heat pumps and electric vehicles.
Vermont’s CEP reflects the enormous progress they have made in the last years. They have ten times the amount of solar installed or permitted today than it did in 2010 and 20 times as much wind energy. Over the past two years, one out of every 100 new vehicles purchased in Vermont has been a plug-in or fully electric vehicles. All of this has contributed to a clean energy economy that supports over 16,200 jobs and has helped reduce electric bills in three of the last four years for the vast majority of Vermonters.
In June, 2020, the Vermont Senate took another step, approving the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2020 (it had already passed the House in February) and “creating a legally enforceable system by which Vermont will reduce its statewide greenhouse gas emissions and establish strategies to mitigate climate risks and build resiliency to climate change.” It specifically calls for the state to reduce greenhouse gas pollution to 26% below its levels in 2005 by 2025, it requires that emissions are reduced to 40% below their 1990 levels by 2030, and ultimately 80% below by 2050. Although Governor Phil Scott vetoed the bill both the House and the Senate voted to override his veto and the measure became law in September 2020.
Vermont is one of twenty-four states, along with Puerto Rico, committed to the U.S. Climate Alliance, which is working to implement policies that advance the goals of the Paris Agreement.
CREDIT: UMASS Amherst