In November, 2019, VGS unveiled our climate plan: a comprehensive strategy to NetZero by 2050, with an immediate goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions for our customers by 30% in the next 10 years. We will accomplish this by increasing the amount of renewable natural gas for customers, making significant investments in our energy efficiency programs and working with other like-minded energy leaders on innovative solutions.
Significant Investments in Energy Efficiency
The cornerstone strategy to achieve these bold goals is energy efficiency: that is, reducing the amount of energy our customers need to heat their homes, offices, and factories. Energy efficiency is so important because the least expensive, most environmentally friendly energy is that which you don’t have to use. In Vermont, we know this well, with pioneering energy efficiency leaders like Efficiency Vermont, Burlington Electric, and, VGS. In fact, we have been in the thermal energy efficiency business since 1992.
Over the last 28 years, VGS has provided almost 40,000 financial incentives to help customers weatherize their homes and purchase high efficiency equipment. By participating in our program, those same customers have saved approximately 1.6 trillion, that’s trillion with a T, BTUs. That’s a lot of fuel – and a lot of savings.
VGS recently joined the City of Burlington, the Burlington International Airport and local leaders to announce a path forward for the BTV Sound Mitigation Program. VGS will use Energy Efficiency Utility (EEU) funds to provide the 10 percent local match that is required to secure federal funding for the program. Starting in 2021, VGS is prepared to commit $550,000 in EEU funds to provide the local match for $4.5 million in federal funds.
Expand renewable natural gas for customers
VGS plans to increase its levels of renewable natural gas (RNG) so that 20% of its supply mix for retail customers will come from RNG by 2030. RNG is produced by capturing naturally occurring methane emitted from decomposing waste materials at places like farms, landfills, and wastewater treatment plants. VGS plans a steady increase in RNG in the coming years. The Company will propose to add approximately 2% RNG per year into its portfolio, which will allow VGS to build out its RNG supply chain and help keep rates affordable.
In 2018, VGS became the first utility in the nation to offer customers a retail RNG option. Since no other program like it existed, VGS built the program from the bottom up, including the accounting, supply management, verifications, and gas quality procedures to introduce this product to the marketplace. Several Vermont businesses have already made significant strides in achieving their own energy goals by investing in 100% RNG. Vermont Coffee Company in Middlebury, Vermont, and Groennfell Meadery are both operating their businesses on 100% renewable energy. Appalachian Gap Distillery has also signed up for RNG to help produce its quality craft spirits.
Further, to promote in-state development, VGS is working to increase the availability of locally sourced RNG. In August 2019, VGS joined its partners at Vanguard Renewables, Middlebury College, and the Goodrich Family Farm in Addison County, Vermont to break ground on the first local digester project that will turn farm and food waste into renewable natural gas in VGS’ pipeline. Vanguard Renewables and VGS recently received the American Biogas Council 2019 Up-and-Coming Biogas Project award for this project. RNG projects not only produce renewable energy, they can provide farmers a new income stream and help reduce run-off into Vermont waterways.
Partnering to speed development of pro-climate projects
VGS understands the value of great partners. We will achieve our climate goals by working closely with others to help customers significantly reduce their carbon footprint.
A district energy system (“DES”) is a network of underground pipes used to provide thermal/heat energy to buildings more efficiently than individual systems. VGS is partnering with Burlington Electric Department and other stakeholders to develop a system in Burlington. Burlington DES would capture the waste heat generated with biomass at the McNeil Generating Station, providing a renewable heat source to large commercial customers.
Net Zero Home Pilot
In partnership with Burlington Electric, VGS will launch a Net Zero Home Pilot that will assist residents in achieving their greenhouse gas reduction goals.
The pilot is intended to help residents make their entire home energy footprint “net zero” – meaning all of their electric, thermal, and transportation energy is from renewable sources. The initiative will put the customer in the driver’s seat for designing least-cost, zero-carbon solutions that fit their energy needs.
The two utilities will provide customers with an action plan that can be tailored to fit a customer’s energy goals and budget to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Plans will include weatherization, equipment replacement, electrification options (e.g., cold climate heat pumps), renewable natural gas, and electric vehicle options.
RNG for off-grid customers
Last month, VGS partnered with NG Advantage (NGA) to announce a first-of-its-kind plan to offer renewable natural gas to industrial users and hospitals across the northeast through VGS’ pipeline and NGA’s virtual pipeline infrastructure. This unique partnership allows NGA’s customers here and across the Northeast to significantly reduce their carbon footprint with RNG, a benefit that until now has only been available to pipeline-connected users.
Benefits to the Environment, the Economy and our Community
Each of these initiatives provide an environmental, economic, and societal benefit to our communities. Taken together, the environmental benefit of these proposals is a 30% greenhouse gas reduction in customers’ homes and businesses by 2030 as compared to 2019. In 2030, that’s an annual reduction of over 187,000 metric tonnes of CO2e. In everyday terms, that is equivalent to about 40,000 passenger cars, over 15% of cars registered in Vermont.
Affordability is a foundational value at VGS. VGS customers have seen their heating costs drop steadily over the last 10 years. The average residential customer saves about $250 per year on heating compared to a decade ago.
Further, with a focus on weatherization for low-to-moderate and fixed income customers, VGS is determined to help those least able to make ends meet contribute to a clean energy economy. Additional investment in energy efficiency advances the Vermont economy through the support of clean energy jobs.