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Archive for the ‘Energy Politcs’ Category

How to Get Off the Oil Price Roller Coaster

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

If we’ve learned anything in the first 16 years of the 21st century, it’s that expecting the unexpected is the best way to plan for the future.

If that sounds a little scary, let’s consider heating oil prices. Who would have guessed two years ago when prices were heading towards $4.00 a gallon that we’d now be looking at prices averaging just over $2.00? As a fuel oil dealer, we welcome the budget relief that low prices offer customers, but want to be sure we (and our customers) think a bit about some of the challenges that this extreme volatility can bring.

Source: Tradingeconomics.com

In Vermont, the good news is that fuel prices are currently averaging 19¢ a gallon below the same month of 2015. The bad news is that we’ve seen a steady price increase since March.

Source - Vermont Fuel Price Report, Vermont Department of Public Service

It’s easy to point to several factors that could affect heating fuel prices as we get closer to the cold winter weather:

  • Some weather experts are predicting the that end of the strongest El Nino in recorded history has started to make a transition into a La Nina-like state which could mean colder than average temperatures and more snow in the Northeast this winter. This is a welcome relief for those Vermonters that depend on the snow for recreation or livelihood, but a potential problem for those of us who will use more heating oil.
  • The presidential candidates have adopted different positions for and against climate change action that could eventually trickle down to affect gasoline and heating oil prices.
  • A recent New York Times article quotes OPEC sources who are speculating that a global output freeze could take place in September, when most members, plus non-members such as Russia, are expected to attend an International Energy Forum meeting in Algeria.

What can we do now to help protect our household budgets from future price increases? To use a sports metaphor, “our best defense is a good offense.”

  1. Do everything you can to improve your home’s energy efficiency and reduce the amount of heating fuel you use. Even simple things like adding insulation and regular heating system tune ups can make a big difference.
  2. Consider harnessing renewable energy sources to heat your home and provide your hot water. Rooftop or in-ground solar along with a cold-climate heat pump is a great choice that is becoming more and more popular.
  3. Sign up for price protection to lock in today’s low prices for the rest of the season. Combine this with a budget payment plan and you’ll eliminate those nasty mid-winter surprises when your oil usage spikes during a cold snap.

At the Energy Co-op, our goal is to help our members use less fossil fuel and save money. Don’t let the fuel price roller coaster leave you at the station. Call us today for a free home energy review or to schedule your pre-winter system tune up.

 

Five Key Questions to Ask About a Vermont Carbon Tax

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

On March 30, 2016 I gave testimony about the proposed carbon tax to the Vermont House Committee on Natural Resources and Energy in Montpelier. Here’s a summary of my remarks and the key questions that I feel are important to ask as the State of Vermont considers a carbon tax:

I come not as a supporter or opponent of a carbon pollution tax, but as someone with questions. I’m speaking as an individual, and not to represent the views of the Co-op’s members, Board of Directors or employees.

The Energy Co-op provides the same services as many full service fuel dealers. But we’re different, because we’re organized as a cooperative, are owned by our 2,000 members and governed by our Board of Directors.

Unlike many fuel dealers, we want to help our members and customers use less fuel. Our long-term vision is to place efficiency and renewables at the heart of our business, because we believe that doing so is in the best interests of our members and our planet. Structured as a cooperative, we value outcomes beyond just the bottom line.

I believe in climate science and know that burning fossil fuels is the primary contributor to global warming. I note that each of the past four months has been the warmest on record, with February beating the old mark by more than two degrees. Just recently came the news that the Arctic winter ice sheet now covers the smallest area ever recorded.

That said, fifteen years after our founding, the Energy Co-op of Vermont is still largely a fossil fuel dealer. While our strategic plan calls for diversification away from fossil fuels and towards efficiency and renewables, today’s low oil prices make many energy efficiency projects less financially attractive to homeowners, and that is slowing development of the efficiency division of our business.

Last spring, we asked our members for their opinions on the proposed carbon pollution tax. We did our best to frame the question as neutrally as possible, with assistance from Ben Walsh of VPIRG and Matt Cota from the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association. About 22% of respondents agreed that a carbon pollution tax should be implemented in Vermont, 31% were opposed and 47% were either undecided or did not know enough about the proposed legislation to make a decision.
As I said, I’m not a supporter or opponent of a carbon pollution tax – nor am I a policy expert – but I do have questions about how one would be structured in Vermont. I’d like to ask five questions: who, what, when, where and how? You may not have the answers to these questions today, but as you craft legislation I hope that you will give them your consideration.

1. Who gets taxed? A carbon tax — whether it is levied on wholesalers or retailers — will ultimately be paid for by the end consumer. For the sake of simplicity, it seems to make sense that the state collect the tax from the small number of wholesalers operating in the state rather than the hundreds of distributors – the gas stations and fuel dealers. Please do not put additional administrative burdens on the fuel dealers.

2. What gets taxed? Some Vermont fuel dealers are selling BioHeat blends. Typically, these fuels combine between two and ten percent renewable biodiesel with 90 to 98 percent fuel oil. To be fair, it seems to me that a gallon of fuel that is 90% non-renewable should only be taxed at 90% of the full tax. We expect that sales of BioHeat blends will increase in the future, especially once the provisions in the Vermont Energy Act of 2011 kick in.

3. When is the tax adjusted? The proposals I’ve seen call for gradually increasing the carbon pollution tax over a ten year period. At two dollars per gallon oil and gas that’s one thing. But what if the price of oil climbs back to four dollars per gallon or higher? You may want to consider a pressure relief valve. If the market alone drives the transition away from fossil fuels, can the carbon pollution tax be reduced or paused?

4. Where are the border controls? Vermont fuel dealers compete with dealers from New York, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Those out-of-state dealers are supposed to pay Vermont’s gross receipts tax, but if we add a carbon pollution tax, it will be essential that the state make certain that these out-of-state dealers – or the wholesalers that supply them – are paying what they owe.

5. How can a carbon pollution tax help Vermont fuel dealers like the Co-op transition to offering more efficient and renewable products and services? This proposal will certainly reduce the volume of fossil fuels we deliver and have an impact on our financial viability, so I hope that you’ll dedicate a portion of the revenue to assist businesses like ours train employees on new technologies, invest in new equipment, and make the evolution to a cleaner energy future.

The answers to these key questions are critical to many Vermont fuel dealers, including the Energy Co-op. We will follow the proposed carbon tax legislation with interest.

Make Your Voice Matter – Join a Co-op

Thursday, April 21st, 2016

Many people are confused about what sets a cooperative business or organization apart from their same-sector counterparts.

The most important differentiators are participation and sustainability. Quite simply, a co-op is managed by its members and a co-op’s mission is to sustain and manage its business in the best social and economic interests of its members.

According to the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), cooperative enterprises worldwide currently employ 250 million people and generate 2.2 trillion U.S. dollars in turnover while providing the essential services and infrastructure society needs to thrive. Cooperatives cover a wide array of commerce and advocacy business sectors including banking, retail, tourism, utilities and housing.

There are more than 250 Co-ops and Credit Unions in Vermont. Together, Vermont’s co-ops have more than two billion dollars in annual revenues and more than 300,000 member owners. Vermont’s cooperatives include credit unions like Opportunities Credit Union and VSECU, the Mad River Glen ski area, Cabot Creamery and City Market/Onion River Co-op, Burlington’s thriving downtown natural foods store.

All co-ops are guided by seven internationally recognized principles :

  • Voluntary and Open Membership
  • Democratic Member Control
  • Economic Participation by Members
  • Autonomy and Independence
  • Education, Training and Information
  • Cooperation Among Cooperatives
  • Concerns for Community

The Energy Co-op of Vermont was founded in 2001 with a unique mission:  To deliver heating fuel and provide home heating services to its members while advocating for energy efficiency and home improvements that reduce the use of fossil fuels. Our cooperative model can be demonstrated here:

Energy Co-op of Vermont Business Model

 The fuel dealer/efficiency advocacy that the Energy Co-op represents is a relatively new business model which is gaining increasing attention in view of the Vermont’s goal to transition to 90 percent renewable energy by 2050. In Vermont, where 59% of homes are still heated with oil, the Energy Co-op is already serving over 2,500 homeowners who benefit directly from new super-efficient technology and a wide range of home energy upgrades. In the past two years, we have launched new initiatives to provide solar hot water systems, heat pumps for space and water heating,  low-cost energy audits and an innovative Zero Energy Now program for our members. Because we are a not-for-profit cooperative, our members can be confident that we are recommending home energy solutions that will give them the best return on their efficiency investments.

We have also partnered with another cooperative, the Opportunities Credit Union, to promote the Heat Saver loan program, providing low-interest loans that often pay for themselves with the savings on energy bills.

The ICA states, “As member-owned, member-run and member-serving businesses, cooperatives empower people to collectively realize their economic aspirations, while strengthening their social and human capital and developing their communities.” The Energy Co-op’s ability to build on the trust and confidence of our member-owners is the key to making our cooperative business thrive in the future. Our ultimate goal is to provide the goods and services our members need to lock in reduce their fossil fuel use, lower their carbon emissions and help heal our planet.

New Year’s Resolution – Cut your Fossil Fuel Use

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

As we ring in the new year, we can celebrate some good news for homeowners looking to cut their fossil fuel use in 2016. At its final session in December, the U.S. Congress passed an extension for many of the most popular tax incentives for wind and solar. This provides a healthy boost to the development of new renewable power sources and will speed up replacement of fossil fuel and nuclear electricity generation with cleaner sources.

The economic advantages of extending the wind and solar tax credits go beyond price. A recent article in Bloomberg New Energy Finance states, “This is exactly the sort of bridge the industry needed. The costs of installing wind and solar power have dropped precipitously—by more than 90 percent since the original tax credits took effect—but in most places coal and natural gas are still cheaper than unsubsidized renewables. By the time the new tax credit expires, solar and wind will be the cheapest forms of new electricity in many states across the U.S.”

What does this mean for the average Vermont homeowner? It’s wonderful news because in 2016, many Vermont homeowners will qualify for credits and rebates for:

  • Making home energy improvements such as new windows, adding insulation, envelope and duct sealing.
  • Installing efficient air conditioners and heat pumps.
  • Purchasing gas or oil furnaces and furnace fans; and gas, oil, or electric heat pump water heaters.
  • Purchasing hybrid gasoline-electric, diesel, battery-electric, alternative fuel, and fuel cell vehicles.
  • Installing qualified solar water heating and photovoltaic systems, small wind and geothermal heat pump systems.
  • Installing qualifying fuel cells and microturbines, although these systems are not widely available for homes.

Many of these incentives are available for new construction as well. So if you are building a new home in 2016 be sure to talk to your builder about getting your house Energy Star® rated.

There’s no doubt that with so many different programs, credits and rebates, the average Vermont homeowner may be confused about where to begin. Start by checking these on-line resources:

For low-income Vermonters there are additional options for low-cost loans and subsidies for home energy improvements. Check the LIHEAP Clearinghouse website for more information.

Don’t forget about low-cost loans for efficiency upgrades that are widely available for all homeowners in Vermont through the Heat Saver Loan program. Also, VSECU offers a number of energy-related loans.  In many cases, the cost for your loan payment is more than covered through immediate savings on heating fuel and electricity costs.

Our core mission at the Energy Co-op is to provide our members with information, incentives and services that help to reduce their fossil fuel use. That’s why we’ve established our business model as a one-stop shop for home energy efficiency. Our service and installation teams are all NORA certified and because we are a non-profit Co-op, you can rest assured that the price you pay for service and upgrades will be fair and competitive. We’ll help you navigate through the maze of options for rebates and incentives and prioritize improvements that will offer the best return on your investment.

Why not contact us today?  We’ll be happy to help you make a New Year’s resolution that will improve the safety and efficiency of your home, keep more money in your wallet and help save the planet at the same time.

How to be a Climate Change Hero

Monday, December 21st, 2015

The Paris Climate Action agreement signed last week has given new hope to those of us who are concerned about climate change and want world  leaders to join together to find ways to help. At home, President Obama has announced that by 2025 he wants the United States to reduce its total carbon footprint by up to 28% of 2005 levels.

While we applaud the global agreement and think that government goals and promises are a good start, we know that change must also take place from the bottom up, starting in our own homes and backyards.  These changes give new meaning to the old adage, “Think global, act local.”

Most experts in climate change science agree that increasing efficiency is the low-hanging fruit for reducing our carbon emissions.  In fact, many sources including the Natural Resources Defense Council, continue to put efficiency at the top of the list for consideration by both individuals and businesses.

Energy Efficiency 101

Being energy efficient doesn’t mean going without a comfortable and well-lit home or making painful sacrifices. Many energy efficiency measures are low cost and easy to implement. With the many attractive financing options now available, some upgrades can even save you money from day one. Consider these five options:

  1. Upgrade your home energy systems.  Consider a new energy-efficient furnace, cold-climate heat pump, or roof top solar panels.
  2. Weatherproof your home. Install storm windows and close curtains at night to reduce heat loss and energy use. Upgrade insulation in walls, basements and attics to save up to 30% of your energy bill. Not sure where to start? Get an energy audit to provide guidance and to set priorities.
  3. Install low-flow showerheads and wash your clothes in cold or warm water.
  4. Change your lights. Replace regular light bulbs with compact fluorescent or LED light bulbs to eliminate 150 pounds or more of CO2 per year for each bulb you replace.
  5. Plant trees and shrubs. Trees absorb CO2 and give off oxygen. One tree will absorb over a ton of carbon dioxide during its lifetime.

What About Conservation?

If you aren’t willing or able to spend money on efficiency improvements, consider conservation. Often confused with efficiency, energy conservation involves behavior changes that don’t cost anything extra but can have a big impact on your home energy use.

  1. Drive less. You save one pound of carbon dioxide for each mile of driving you eliminate.
  2. Stop idling. Turn off your engine when you are picking up your children at school or waiting in a drive-through line.
  3. Cut hot water use. Turn your hot water heater thermostat down to 120 degrees. Run your dishwasher and washing machine with full loads only.
  4. Adjust your thermostat. Moving your thermostat down just two degrees in winter and up two degrees in summer could eliminate about 2,000 pounds of CO2 a year for an average household.
  5. Turn off “ghost “power. Plug televisions, computers and other appliances into a surge protector and switch off the surge protector after you turn off the appliances – or use an advance power strip.
  6. Recycle and reuse. Recycle your old newspapers and magazines, cardboard, glass, metal, and recyclable plastic containers. Find creative ways to reuse items instead of discarding them.
  7. Be green in your yard. Composting your food and yard waste reduces the amount of garbage that you send to landfills and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
  8. Shop smart. Buy products with less packaging and reusable or recyclable packaging in the first place.

Calculate your household’s carbon footprint

Before you upgrade or conserve, you can check the EPA’s Household Carbon Footprint Calculator to estimate household greenhouse gas emissions arising from your home energy use, transportation and waste disposal. This tool helps you understand where your emissions come from and identify ways to reduce them. It can also give you a way to measure your progress.

Spread the word

Don’t be afraid to tell family and friends that energy efficiency is good for their homes and good for the environment. The small steps each of us take today to lower greenhouse gas emissions and reduce air pollution will add up to a livable planet for our children and grandchildren.

Don’t Let Low Fuel Prices Fool You

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

If you’re the type of person who just went out and purchased a large SUV because gas prices are flirting with $2.00 a gallon, don’t read this. On the other hand, if you see low energy prices as an interesting opportunity, read on.

Everyone who drives a car or heats their home with oil, propane or kerosene is aware that prices have dropped dramatically since last year. There are many factors effecting current low oil prices. These include sustained high output from OPEC nations, the ability of American frackers to cut costs and maintain output, and lower demand from China. Like all complex international issues involving markets and energy, it’s anyone’s guess as to when prices will rise again – or whether they have further to fall.

The Vermont Fuel Dealers Association has published these numbers for average Vermont fuel prices as of the end of August, 2015 compared with those of a year ago:

Type of Fuel

Aug 2015

Aug 2014

Change

No. 2 Fuel Oil

$2.45

$3.59

-31.92%

Kerosene

$3.01

$4.10

-26.64%

Propane

$2.30

$2.81

-18.15%

Reg. Unleaded Gasoline

$2.64

$3.66

-27.88%

Diesel

$2.96

$4.01

-26.33%

As an energy efficiency advocate and heating fuel supplier, the question on my mind is, “Will lower home heating costs discourage homeowners from investing in energy saving improvements for their homes?” After all, we’ve all got plenty of things to spend our money on!

We suggest that it makes the most sense to take the money you’re saving on your energy bills and invest it in ways that make those savings permanent. If you do so, you’ll be protected from future price spikes, cut your carbon emissions and make your home more comfortable as well.

A good place to start is with an energy audit from the Co-op. For only $100, we complete a thorough assessment of your home’s energy use, insulation levels, heating system and appliances and provide a written report with our recommendations for saving money and cutting your fossil fuel use.

Fossil fuels are not the only energy source that costs less these days. There’s more good news for homeowners interested in powering their homes with renewable energy. According to a 2014 report published by the International Renewable Energy Agency, electricity from biomass, hydro, geothermal and onshore wind are all competitive with or cheaper than electricity from coal, oil and gas-fired power stations, even without financial support, and despite falling oil prices. Solar is leading the cost decline, with module costs falling 75 per cent since the end of 2009 and the cost of electricity from utility-scale solar falling 50 per cent since 2010.

The bad news is that this also means many current state and federal subsidies and rebates may be phased out, discontinued or not renewed when they expire. The 30% federal tax credit for solar expires at the end of 2016, for example.

The Energy Co-op’s always urges homeowners to start with an energy audit. After that, our approach is three pronged:

  • First, and most important, we make sure that the home is safe and healthy, free from mold, risk of carbon monoxide leaks and things like asbestos and vermiculite. According to the Center for Disease Control, more than 400 people in the U.S. die every year from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. The National Fire Protection Agency reports that in 2011, faulty heating equipment was implicated in an estimated 53,600 reported U.S. home structure fires.
  • Second, we focus on energy and money saving improvements like stopping drafts and adding insulation.
  • Third, we look into alternatives or replacements for old, wasteful boilers and furnaces.

Our main point is, don’t go the SUV route and rush to purchase a gas-hogging vehicle while gas prices are low, only to regret your decision when prices go up. Instead, take advantage of low energy prices to create a safer and more energy-secure home.

We believe that there has never been a better time to invest in efficiency improvements. Right here in Vermont rebates and incentives are still available – and we’re told that winter – and home heating bills – are on the way!

 

Cigarettes, Coca Cola and the Carbon Tax

Friday, August 14th, 2015

At the Energy Co-op of Vermont, one of our key goals is to help our members stay informed about important energy issues that will have a direct effect on their lives and their bottom line. No energy or tax-related issue in recent memory seems more confusing than the Vermont legislature’s attempt to introduce a carbon tax. In fact, 47% of our members who responded to a June 2015 survey said they didn’t know enough about the carbon tax to take a position for or against it.

What does this have to do with cigarettes and Coca-Cola? A simple way to understand the carbon tax is to point out that it works in some ways like the familiar “sin” taxes. For example: taxes on cigarettes are used to fund quit-smoking campaigns. The recently passed tax on sugar-sweetened beverages supports programs to fight childhood obesity. Similarly, the carbon tax is designed to discourage the use of fossil fuel while benefiting a range of popular tax reduction options and energy efficiency programs.

Vermont’s Carbon Tax Bill (designated as H.412) will, in some form, probably come up for a vote in the Vermont legislature next year. The current draft proposes to establish an excise tax on fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases. The intention is that reflecting the external costs of greenhouse gas emissions in the price of fossil fuels will result in reduced use. It also proposes to offset 90 percent of the carbon tax revenues through:

• Reduction of the sales and use tax
• A refundable tax credit to personal income taxpayers
• A low-income taxpayer rebate
• A per employee rebate to employers

The remaining 10 percent of the carbon tax revenues would fund low-income weatherization and a Vermont Energy Independence Fund (VEIF) to promote energy efficiency and reductions in fossil fuel use.

The question becomes – Is a carbon tax the best way to reduce fossil fuel use or is it just another confusing government bait-and-switch tax rebate program?

A good place to look for a case study is to our Canadian neighbors in British Columbia. In 2012, B.C. implemented a carbon tax that has so far been successful on many fronts. David Roberts, a former energy policy staff writer for Grist.org, cites some important reasons why. His concluding point is that the B.C. carbon tax program, as implemented, is currently revenue-neutral, thanks to cuts in other taxes, mainly corporate and personal income.

According to a June 2015 New York Times op-ed titled “The Case For a Carbon Tax“, top executives of six large European oil and gas companies such as the BP, Royal Dutch Shell and others, have already called for a tax on carbon emissions. A world environmental summit in Paris later this year will certainly continue this dialog.

Opposition to a carbon tax in the environmental community often focuses on the exclusion of biomass as a taxable carbon source. In Vermont, it could be argued that a carbon tax on fossil fuels will increase the use of wood and wood pellet stoves, which would cause carbon emissions to increase, at least in the short term. Pending legislation in Vermont does not address this concern, so we will be watching to see if Vermont legislators find a compromise on this issue.

The bottom line is this: Climate change is real. It’s impacting our daily lives, endangering our planet and threatening the future well-being of our children and grandchildren. Burning fossil fuels is the major cause of climate change. Using less fossil fuel is a large part of the solution. By learning about and taking a position on the carbon tax issue you are taking a small step towards being part of the solution.

Out of sight, out of mind. Can you see where your energy comes from?

Monday, March 23rd, 2015
Kathryn Blume

Guest Blogger - Kathryn Blume

There’s been a lot of statewide conversation lately around the question of how we site energy projects in the state – particularly renewables like solar and wind, which have the capacity to make our energy generation considerably more visible than when we’re pulling our power from remote locales like VT Yankee and Hydro Quebec, or off a regional grid – where frequently the power has been created by natural gas or coal fired plants.

While it’s not hard to appreciate everyone’s concern for the politics, economics, and logistics of siting what often gets referred to as “industrial” energy-generation projects in their communities, it’s also important to keep in mind the fact that climate change is accelerating rapidly, and addressing it requires that we get off fossil fuels as quickly as possible.

We demand abundant energy – exactly when we want it – to power every aspect of our lives. While one might be uncomfortable with the look of a field full of solar panels, or a wind turbine on a ridge top, they hardly rival the massive impacts of true industrial energy generation: entire mountains and forests destroyed due to mountaintop removal coal mining and tar sands extraction, earthquakes and poisoned groundwater due to fracking, massive offshore oil spills collapsing entire marine ecosystems, pristine rivers polluted by leaking pipelines, communities endangered by exploding oil trains…the list goes on.

The big difference is that we don’t live in Alberta or the Gulf Coast or Appalachia or Nigeria or Lac-Mégantic or San Martín Texmelucan de Labastida or Arkansas or Oklahoma or Montana or Michigan – so we don’t have to experience the consequences of all that firsthand. We just get to benefit from the results.

Of course, it’s important that energy generated in Vermont stay in Vermont and benefit Vermonters. And yes, the politics and policies can be complex, and we do need to engage them consciously and deliberately. But ultimately, if we’re going to power our lives, then the least we can do is take responsibility for it.

For many, the question then arises of what, exactly, they CAN do to take responsibility for both their energy use and generation. It gets complicated when you start pulling at a thread which turns out to be woven through pretty much every aspect of our lives.

Fortunately, we have numerous programs available throughout the state, the most entertaining, meaningful, and community-building of these is the award-winning climate game Vermontivate!

Vermontivate! – which runs this year from March 23 through May 2 – was designed specifically to provide a curated path of action and carbon reduction on topics ranging from energy, food, and transportation to waste-reduction, water quality, and Gross National Happiness.

Vermontivate! is accessible to a wide range of ages and experience levels – from lightbulb-changing newbies to veterans of off-the-grid living. We’ve had players ranging in age from 3-73 and almost everyone has found the challenges engaging, educational, and – most importantly – helpful when it comes to transforming their behavior and helping ignite the work of building a post-carbon society.

You can get more information at vermontivate.com.

Kathryn Blume is a public speaker and Executive Director of Vermontivate! – an award-winning community sustainability game designed to bring fun, hope, and possibility to the hard work of addressing the global climate crisis. She also serves as board chair of the climate action group 350VT.

How Smart Are “SMART” Meters and Thermostats?

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

Smart technology has been fully integrated into the way we talk to each other, drive our cars, cook our food and pay for things.  Whether you think this is a blessing or a curse depends largely on whether you have embraced the technology or become frustrated trying to install the latest app or device.

When it comes to your household energy consumption, there are several smart technology options that enable you to save, track or control your energy use.  Which ones should you consider and why?

 SMART METERS/SMART GRID

Vermont joined the smart meter movement in 2008, when state officials and utility executives announced plans to install the devices. The claim was that smart meters would benefit both utilities and consumers by allowing power prices to vary in response to demand which would encourage consumers to run power-hungry appliances like dishwashers and clothes dryers at night when demand is low.

On the opposing side, some individuals and special-interest groups expressed concern over the long-term health effects from exposure to the radio-frequency radiation emitted by smart meters.  Digital data privacy concerns prompted electric companies, the federal government, and the suppliers of critical electric grid systems to work together to strengthen consumer safeguards and develop a validated data security model.

In May of 2012, the State of Vermont passed legislation allowing utility customers to opt-out for free if they did not want a smart meter installed at their home.

If your home has a smart meter, the data can help you identify easy ways to reduce electricity consumption. In this regard, Efficiency Vermont has recently launched a consumer engagement tool, the first of its kind in Vermont. Under this year-long pilot program, 100,000 Green Mountain Power customers, will receive customized home energy reports including neighborhood energy comparisons and tips to save energy.

SMART DEVICES

Our favorite smart device, hands-down, is the Nest thermostat. Turn it up, turn it down. The Nest Learning Thermostat remembers what temperatures you like, creates a custom schedule for your home, and turns itself down when you’re away. Once it’s learned your schedule, Nest can save up to 20% on your heating and cooling bills. Your smart phone, tablet or computer acts as a remote control to allow real-time control of your heating and cooling system.

To date, the Energy Co-op has installed more than 50 Nest thermostats in collaboration with Efficiency Vermont’s smart thermostat study. Under this program, the Co-op’s service technicians have been installing $249 Nest thermostats for only $75. (The Co-op is no longer accepting requests under this program. ) We look forward to seeing Efficiency Vermont’s results when available in a year or two. Our hope is that the Nest thermostats help cut home energy use and also helps to identify homes that would benefit from energy upgrades.

BOTTOM LINE

We don’t think you should be afraid of the new smart technology. It can help you save energy and money and help your utility provide a more secure and efficient power supply for your home. If you are confused or have questions, here are a variety of resources that can help you.

Other resources:

Smartgrid.gov

Vermont Digger

Nest thermostat website

What is Smart Grid.org

Efficiency Vermont

Why should home heating fuel dealers help homeowners use less fuel?

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

As homeowners embrace energy efficiency and reduce their dependence on fossil fuels for heating their homes, heating fuel dealers have an opportunity to move to a new, more profitable business model . This new model is designed to  offset lower heating fuel revenues by offering new efficiency services and products.

According to statistics compiled by the Thermal Efficiency Task Force , heating oil usage in the average Vermont home has declined from a high of 1,400 gallons per year in 1973 to a low of 764 gallons per year in 2011.  We see a similar trend with Energy Co-op members. After allowing for changes in winter weather, our members and customers have cut their oil use by an average 23% over the past 13 years.  Good for the planet, not necessarily good for business.

What are the key steps that fuel dealers must take to capture the opportunity within this shrinking market? The new model builds on the trust that fuel dealers have established by providing their customers with reliable fuel deliveries and 24/7 service for their heating equipment. This gives fuel dealers a competitive advantage for offering new services, provided some key strategies are in place:

Partnerships are key

The Vermont Public Service Department has supported the creation of the Efficiency Excellence Network (EEN) which encourages strategic partnerships between members of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, Efficiency Vermont, and Home Performance Contractors. The Efficiency Excellence Network is designed to encourage fuel dealers and home performance contractors to work together to promote energy efficient equipment, energy audits and home energy upgrades.

As a founding member of EEN, the Energy Co-op now partners with several home performance contractors to make efficiency improvements in members’ homes.

To promote these partnerships, the Vermont Public Service Department worked with CEDF (Clean Energy Development Fund) and VLITE (Vermont Low Income Trust for Electricity) to create the Heat Savers program to provide funds to support up to $7 million in low-interest financing of clean energy measures. The Heat savers program is available only to EEN members working with Opportunities Credit Union and VSECU to offer attractive loans to their customers.

Opportunities and challenges for the new fuel dealer business model. 

Changing consumer behavior is never an easy task. Neither is it easy to change the way fuel dealers do business. But both are critically important to grow the home performance and energy efficiency sectors of the Vermont economy and cut our carbon emissions.

Fuel dealers must find innovative ways to expand their offerings in a wider competitive environment that includes electricians and HVAC contractors.

According to the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, only 28 of the 47 home heating fuel dealers within a 50 mile radius of Burlington offer heating system service and installation. This is clearly points to the opportunity for expansion.

Roadmap to new business model

We are fortunate that Vermont’s policies and programs provide support to utilities and fuel dealers that want to innovate. To capture new business opportunities fuel dealers should:

  • Create or build service departments that serve as a resource (consultant/coach) for questions about heating system efficiency. Be sure that the people staffing this department are not just reacting to problems, but are also recommending pro-active solutions.
  • Use National Oil Heat Research Association (NORA) certification to support service technician training and build consumer confidence.
  • Create working partnerships to finance and install energy efficiency improvements. For example, the Energy Co-op of Vermont has completed 40 energy audits since the spring, resulting in home energy upgrades for 17 customers. It’s a modest but important beginning.
  • Offer high-value incremental services such as heat pump installations, BioHeat deliveries, pellet heating equipment, solar hot water heaters, and other clean technologies.
  • Provide easy-to-access information (across multiple communication channels) for turn-key financing options, rebates and incentives.

The Energy Co-op of Vermont has embraced many aspects of this new business model since its founding in 2001, combining our role as a fuel supplier with a sustained campaign to educate our members and build their understanding of the value of all kinds of energy efficiency services. We realize that the ability to offer effective, comprehensive solutions will depend on maintaining strong partnerships, providing great service and continuing to earn the trust and confidence of our members.

 

Member: Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, Renewable Energy Vermont, Local First Vermont

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