Building Our Green Economy, Saving the Planet
By Scott Johnstone
What if there were a source of energy that …
- was cheaper than any other source?
- emitted no greenhouse gases?
- put Americans back to work?
Wouldn’t we want to get as much of that energy as we could? Especially at a time when our economy continues to stagnate and global climate change threatens our very future on this planet?
Fortunately, such a source of energy does exist: Energy efficiency.
VEIC has been in the business of promoting investments in this clean, cheap, job-creating source of energy for 25 years. We have demonstrated, through efforts like Efficiency Vermont, that a focus on efficiency and conservation first is both incredibly cost-effective and can have a real impact on both energy supply requirements and carbon emissions.
Efficiency has the potential over time to meet 30- 50% of our future thermal and electrical energy needs. In 2011, cumulative savings from Efficiency Vermont programs represented 11% of the state’s electricity portfolio, at about one quarter of the cost of comparable supply. This is a real resource; savings delivered by Efficiency Vermont represent the state’s second-largest “power plant” participating in the ISO-New England Forward Capacity Market.
This potential is not limited to small states like Vermont. By effectively adapting efficiency approaches to address energy resource needs in the District of Columbia (the DC Sustainable Energy Utility) and the Midwest (Efficiency Smart), VEIC is demonstrating that Vermont’s successes can be replicated in large cities and our industrial heartland.
This investment in energy efficiency creates real jobs; jobs that can’t be outsourced. As a recent report from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy noted, investment in energy efficiency creates jobs at greater rates than does investment in the economy as a whole, with average annual wages $4,900 higher than the national median. VEIC itself was recently recognized as the fourth fastest-growing company in Vermont over the past 10 years. That is a trajectory that our company is committed to maintaining, because nothing less than the future of the planet is at stake.
While energy efficiency is necessary, it alone is not sufficient. We will always use some amount of energy, and we must make sure that renewable sources provide as much of that energy as possible.
Old thinking about the limits of renewable energy penetration is being challenged in dramatic fashion. A recent report from the National Renewable Energy Lab suggests that the grid could accommodate up to 80% of its supply coming from renewable energy sources by the year 2050.
With so much focus on electricity, it is easy to forget about thermal energy. Along with transportation-related fuel, the energy we use to heat our buildings is a major source of greenhouse gases. To that end, VEIC recently assumed the programs of the Biomass Energy Resource Center (BERC). Nationally recognized for its expertise in sustainable biomass development, BERC helps make the best use of a homegrown energy resource that will increase our energy independence and support local job creation.
VEIC is also working to help break down the artificial barrier between energy uses that are stationary versus those that are mobile. From a climate change perspective, it is imperative that we in the energy world start having meaningful collaborations with those in the transportation world. At VEIC, we are taking this on with leadership from our Transportation Efficiency group.
Finally, as we think about energy, we need to be mindful of the issue of affordability, especially for the most vulnerable members of our society. Addressing the issue of energy cost burden for low-income families is part of VEIC’s founding mission and it continues to be a key part of our work. Whether through our traditional collaborations with weatherization providers, or through our newer efforts to learn how smart grid can benefit ALL ratepayers, service to low-income customers continues to be a core part of our work.
If we move aggressively towards these investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy, we will, as a nation, begin to approach the type of greenhouse gas emission reductions necessary to stabilize climate change. Just as importantly, we will set an example of innovation for the world to follow.
Scott Johnstone is the Executive Director of VEIC, which operates three large-scale energy efficiency and renewable energy programs (Efficiency Vermont, the DC Sustainable Energy Utility, and Efficiency Smart) and has provided policy and program consulting services in more than 30 states, provinces, and nations. He previously served as the Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources and led the Metropolitan Planning Organization for Chittenden County.