While Irene proved little more than a light rain shower where I waited it out in New Hampshire, Tropical Storm Irene launched a surprise assault across the Connecticut River in Vermont. The resulting damage shocked the state and people across the country, but Vermonters now see the potential to rebuild infrastructure in a smarter way. The state government is hoping to align local, regional, and state energy policies to support “resilient growth,” foster economic stability, and safeguard the environment. New Governor Peter Shumlin led the effort to develop a Comprehensive Energy Plan, Vermont’s first in more than a decade, setting their sights on obtaining 90% of their total energy from renewable sources by 2050.
Vermonters have a history of thinking progressively about their energy. In 2011, they got 23% of their energy from renewable sources, compared to 14% across the U.S. (though Knowledge Mosaic’s home state of Washington’s number stands close to 80%). Even before Irene, the state had set a goal of reducing energy usage in state government by 5%. And while proud of their efforts to increase efficiency and keep demand for electricity down, the CEP goes further.
Identifying oil and fossil fuels, which remain the backbone of heating and transportation, as particular areas of focus, the CEP emphasizes four drivers of progress: finance and funding, innovation, outreach and education, and regulatory policy and structures. Their goal is to consider all four areas in every energy policy.
A first priority of the plan is to promote efficiency and make progress metrics, while continuing to improve the structure for allocation and pricing of energy. It supports reducing household heating cost through building codes and biofuels, and recommends a plan to move transportation infrastructure towards supporting electric vehicles.
It is a bold vision. But even the state’s own overview of the program recognizes that they are a “state leading by example.” Vermont’s economy is the smallest in the U.S. But they hope to make progress they could not consider if not facing significant infrastructure repairs across the state, and maybe have an outsized impact on other states’ future decisions.