Commentary: Vermont’s Windmill-tilting Climate Action Plan

The Perfect Little Climate Conscious State now has its own Perfect Little Climate Action Plan.  Although the Climate Action Plan won’t have any impact on climate, it will have an only too real impact on Vermonters’ wallets.

According to the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) most recent report, Vermont’s carbon-equivalent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions totaled around 8.6 million metric tons in 2017 and was forecasted to decrease to around 8 million metric tons this year. By comparison, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, in 2021 total world energy-related carbon emissions were about 34 billion metric tons. That’s over 93 million tons per day.

Vermont’s emissions are equivalent to about two hours of world emissions. Even if Vermont reduces GHG emissions to zero by 2050, which will not happen, the total reduction between now and then would be just over 100 million metric tons — one day’s worth of world emissions. So, nothing Vermont does will have any measurable impact on world climate.

China’s emissions are increasing by 175 million tons per year, which accounts for 30% of world emissions. It is building 200 new coal-fired power plants to meet growing electricity demand. The country has said it will not begin to reduce emissions until 2060. India, the other Asian country with rapidly increasing emissions, doesn’t plan to start reducing emissions until 2070.

Meanwhile, the Vermont Climate Council wants Vermonters to spend billions to “electrify” their lives — electric cars and trucks, electric heat and hot water, and even electric stoves. The Climate Action Plan claims all of this will cost about $16 billion but will be offset by almost $15 billion in fossil fuel savings and $7.4 billion in health and climate benefits. If one is to believe the Action Plan, Vermonters will pay only a little over $1 billion to achieve this climate perfection, about $1,600 per person.

Are these numbers realistic? Have the costs been underestimated because of overly optimistic assumptions? Have the benefits overestimated the reduction in fossil fuel expenditures? One might think that before imposing the Climate Action Plan on Vermonters and asking them to spend over $1 billion of their money, getting answers to these two basic questions and allowing the public to independently review the assumptions and conclusions would be reasonable.

Except it’s not. The “LEAP” model used by the consultants (Energy Futures Group of Hinesburg), which was developed by the Stockholm Environment Institute and funded by the Swedish government, plus numerous environmental groups and renewable energy proponents, is available to the public. But the actual data assumptions used by the consultants and the results produced by the LEAP model are not.

The Ethan Allen Institute’s recent Open Records request to ANR turned up nothing. According to ANR, the data used for all of the modeling and the detailed results were not part of the “deliverables” from the consultants who wrote the Action Plan. Thus no independent review of the costs and supposed benefits is possible.

Moreover, the data inputs that are known aren’t credible. For example, the Action Plan calls for installing over 96,000 residential heat pumps by 2025 — two years from now — and more than 177,000 by 2030. The Action Plan claims these installations cost $4,000 “plus or minus about $1,000 depending on the house layout and other particulars.” Where is that number from? Who knows?

A 2021 study by Diversified Energy Specialists in Massachusetts looked at the actual costs of installing residential heat pumps in that state between 2019 and 2021. The median cost for whole house retrofits was $20,000, four times larger than what the Action Plan claims. A previous study looked at installation costs in 600 homes between 2014 and 2019. The average cost was over $20,000.

For older homes, installing an electric heat pump often requires upgrading the electric service and running new circuits. Those costs can run into the thousands by themselves. And, if the local distribution infrastructure – the poles and wires running down the road – aren’t robust enough to handle the additional electric load, then it must be upgraded too. Plus, there is the extra load that will be placed on the electric system by the 170,000 electric vehicles that Vermonters will be required to drive.

The Action Plan highlights the availability of rebates from the state’s electric utilities to lower the costs. However, the utilities recover the cost of the rebates in the form of higher electric rates.

Virtually none of the climate benefits will accrue to Vermonters. As for the health benefits of reduced air pollution, who knows how those were calculated.

The Perfect Little Climate Conscious State intends to force ordinary Vermonters to upend their lives – and livelihoods – to accomplish nothing except climate virtue signaling and enriching the state’s green energy industry.

What could be more perfect?

This commentary is by Jonathan Lesser, president of Continental Economics, an energy consulting firm. He previously served as the Director of Planning at the Vermont Department of Public Service.

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