Vermont’s “Energy Secession” Movement: 90% Renewables by 2050

A 5-kW solar system in Roxbury, VT. Photo: Solar Specialists

Vermont is known for its lush Green Mountains, idyllic farm landscapes, and progressive politics. What many people may not realize is that Vermont has a pretty active secessionist movement too.

Vermont isn’t likely to secede from the U.S. But it is undertaking an ambitious renewable energy program that could at least put it on a path toward “energy secession” — developing a road map for procuring 90% of its heat, electricity and fuels from renewables by 2050.

Under Vermont’s new governor, Peter Shumlin, regulators are developing the state’s first comprehensive energy plan in over a decade. And this one is certainly forward-looking.

Vermont currently gets about 25% of its electricity from renewables — mostly biomass and hydro. But officials want to diversify technologies, address under-served markets like heat and fuels, and dramatically improve efficiency in all sectors. The state released its final comprehensive plan for 2011 last week.

Vermont has already embraced a modest transition to renewables, implementing a feed-in tariff in 2009 and developing a renewable energy standard (heat and electricity) of 20% by 2017. This latest plan, which just went through an extensive public commenting period, takes these efforts to the next level.

After Vermont received a devastating surprise pummeling from Hurricane Irene in August, state planners have taken the experience to heart, using it as one of the central drivers in the state’s new energy plan.

In the wake of Tropical Storm Irene, the need to align local, regional, and state policies across agencies and departments to support thoughtful and resilient growth in our downtowns and villages has never been more acute. The Agency of Commerce and Community Development, with the support of the Climate Cabinet, will complete a review of the state’s designation programs in 2012.

Prior to Tropical Storm Irene, the state had already set a goal of 5% reduction in energy usage across state government. Now that the state faces significant infrastructure repair and rebuilding, energy usage in our state buildings is even more central to our planning. The CEP recommends that the state sharpen its focus on efficient buildings while strategically deploying renewable energy systems.

…We recommend the midcentury goal while recognizing that we must pursue our goals responsibly, ensuring overall energy costs for our businesses and residents remain regionally competitive. But we must also act boldly to protect our environment and our economic security.

Kudos to Vermont for considering such a bold vision for the future and taking a real step toward independence.

6 Responses to Vermont’s “Energy Secession” Movement: 90% Renewables by 2050

  1. Zan says:

    Wow, Joe! Great report. Good news for a change.

  2. christine says:

    biomass = biomess

  3. John Tucker says:

    ?? As opposed to methane release I thought some biomass is good. You have different/more info?

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Biomass is a good idea, so I think. If Christine has info that says otherwise, she should enlighten we ignoramasauruses. I like biochar, too, I stick charcoal in my pot plants, but it’s hard to find. The orchid growers hog the supply.

  5. Tim says:

    In some places biomass makes sense as a chemical/polymer feedstock – places where it would otherwise be wasted. I saw a comparison recently:

    An area 3 times California under cultivation for world corn ethanol production needed to handle worldwide miles driven in 2006 (3 trillion miles, assumes aggressive cultivation goals: 500 gal/acre, 20 mpg), you need 7.5 Californias for soy biodiesel (aggressively assumes 100 gal/acre, 40 mpg), for an equivelent number of miles using solar electric, you need Riverside county (conservatively assumes 40 kWh/m²year – typical current German production).

    Plants use solar energy to grow and survive, they are not evolved to produce excess for our conversion into energy. Under ideal conditions, sugarcane yields 0.9 % energy yield, corn is less than 0.3% energy yield. Microalgae is best at 0.6%, future potential is perhaps 2-4%. PV solar blows that out of the water today.

  6. Steve in VT says:

    Not only are Vermonters moving toward renewable sources of power, Vermont power companies are seeking to develop and expand smart-grid technology. This will have the dual benefit of encouraging alternative power sources (net-metering), and making the power grid more distributed and thus more redundant and robust.
    In some cases, this may include burying power and communication cables. This requires a huge upfront cost (and creates many jobs) but the long-range cost avoidance, I believe, makes it worthwhile.