Peter Sterling: Switching from fossil fuels to renewables is key to stopping climate change

Editor’s Note: This commentary is from Peter Sterling, the executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont, which is made up of companies and others who believe that Vermont’s energy use must come from 100% clean sources and renewable.

A recent article by anti-renewable energy activist Annette Smith asks, “Is electrifying everything a climate solution?” For those of us concerned about the increasing number of floods, wildfires, hurricanes and record high temperatures due to climate change, the answer is YES!

I can agree with Ms Smith that “the solutions cannot be just about technology and buying more things”. Reducing overall energy consumption is key to solving the climate crisis. But the continued use of energy for transportation, heating and cooling of our homes is inevitable. Energy use for heating and cooling our homes and using transportation currently accounts for nearly 75% of Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions, as they are heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Helping Vermonters replace the polluting fossil fuel technology they already use with more efficient technologies powered by local renewable energy is a critical climate solution and a major challenge requiring continued attention.

This focus on reducing Vermont’s global warming pollution requires a complete rethink of Vermont’s dependence on fossil fuels for our homes and cars. This will move us towards a clean energy future with more public transport, public funds to support the weatherization of our homes, increased dependence on renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power supported by the storage of batteries and much more. While improving our energy security with an electricity grid less vulnerable to the current chaos linked to climate change.

Ms Smith says that “the assumption is that building more renewables and switching to electricity as the primary energy source will lead to emission reductions.” This is not just a guess, the link between the transition to clean, renewable energy and reduced emissions is confirmed by tons of data collected over the decades.

For example, according to the state of Vermont’s latest greenhouse gas inventory, after years of effort, electricity consumption now only accounts for 2% of total greenhouse gas emissions from the state of Vermont. State, against 74% for the transport and heating sectors. The Energy Action Network, widely regarded as Vermont’s leading analyst of energy emissions and data, notes that if we could meet the goal of 120,000 electric vehicles replacing fossil fuel vehicles in Vermont during this decade, we would avoid burning over 650 million gallons of gasoline over the average 12 year life of a car.

And it’s important to remember that switching from fossil fuels to electricity doesn’t necessarily mean increased consumption when you consider Vermont’s impressive track record of investing in energy efficiency. For example, after major investments in efficiency starting in 1990, the city of Burlington, despite a growing population, now uses 6% less electricity than in 1989 while saving its customers about 12 million dollars a year on their electricity bills.

Ms Smith also fails to provide critical details and perspective when discussing a proposed solar project in Bennington County. If a homeowner wants to install solar panels on their property and it complies with the city’s zoning plan, studies from the Vermont Natural Resources Agency indicate that flooding should not stop the project. What is the problem exactly? Vermont has a comprehensive permit review process for solar projects (which includes the issue of possible flooding) and the project in question has agreed to comply with the requirements set out by the Vermont River Program.

It turns out the neighbors are really upset at the thought of looking at solar panels out their windows and using the possible flood boogieman to try and prevent them from being built. This is something we Vermonters will have to contend with as our planet continues to heat up and the resulting climate change leads to costly destruction. We cannot continue to operate as usual relying on imported fossil fuels and must accept the responsibility that energy use has a cost and that cost includes dedicating part of the Vermont landscape to production of the energy we use. It’s that simple.

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