Seven Days found an intriguing case study in public policy priorities: “As the state races to build its way out of the housing crisis, much new construction is still incorporating fossil fuel heating systems. That's a big problem, clean energy advocates say, because it adds to a carbon footprint that Vermont must drastically reduce... The 36-unit Stuart Avenue Apartments, owned by Champlain Housing Trust, will be heated by a fossil fuel — natural gas. The relatively low price of gas and easy access compared to other fossil fuels, such as propane and heating oil, made the heating decision an easy one, said Kathy Beyer. For an organization under intense pressure to build housing as quickly as possible amid soaring costs, the cheapest heating option was the developers' only real choice, Beyer said. "Our mission is to build more housing, I'll be very honest about that. If our operating costs are going to go up, it means we're going to build less housing."
According to their website, the “Champlain Housing Trust is a Community Land Trust that supports the people of Northwest Vermont and strengthens their communities through the development and stewardship of permanently affordable homes and related community assets.”
While it does mention the standard Vermont non-profit adage of “protecting the environment” on its website, it is clear that housing is prioritized when push comes to shove.
At last check, Vermont was short 5800 homes. The choice is clear: should Vermont be concerned about its carbon footprint or building as many homes as possible? For now at least, developers have the option to choose fossil fuels over “green” heating systems that don’t work in cold weather. That could change if Vermont adopts something close to the Clean Heat Standard in 2023. More expensive green building codes means fewer homes that can afford to be built.
Even more remarkable is all of the subsidies that go into green heating systems which still fall flat in comparison to heating systems like natural gas.
David Flemming is a policy analyst at the Ethan Allen Institute.