By Mike Yantachka, Rep.
Surely, we are all horrified by the devastation that is happening in Ukraine. The uncalled-for war initiated by Vladimir Putin has outraged the world and resulted in a unified front against Russia in support of the Ukrainian people.
The strong economic sanctions are totally justified and must remain as long as Russian forces continue their assault and occupation. We will have to stand firm regardless of the economic pain that the sanctions cause in the U.S. and among our allies in Europe and around the world, because that pain is nothing compared to the pain being visited on the people of Ukraine.
One of the biggest effects in the U.S. is soaring oil prices which are driving already high inflation even higher. With gasoline topping $4 per gallon and heating oil not far behind, the remainder of the heating season as well as our daily commutes will be more costly than previously expected.
The questions many are asking are: “What can we do about it?” and “How can I handle the added expense?” These questions are at the forefront of policymakers in Montpelier as well. One thing we can do is help Vermonters reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.
The governor has proposed, and the House Committee on Energy and Technology has recommended, that $80 million be allocated for weatherizing 8,000 low-income and moderate-income residences between 2022 and 2026. Vermont homeowners and tenants with low incomes will be eligible for no-cost, comprehensive home weatherization services through Vermont’s Home Weatherization Assistance Program administered by the Office of Economic Opportunity and delivered through six weatherization assistance providers.
Weatherization of buildings with five or more units will be delivered through 3E Thermal, a team of consultants who help apartment building owners increase energy efficiency and improve building performance. Vermonters with a moderate income will be eligible to receive incentives through Efficiency Vermont and its network of contractors to support the cost of home weatherization. Weatherization will reduce the amount of fossil fuels needed for heating and thereby reduce the cost of heating.
In addition, $20 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds is recommended for low- and moderate-income Vermonters to upgrade home electrical systems and install energy-saving technologies such as cold-climate heat pumps in conjunction with weatherization. Another $5 million is recommended to help approximately 3,000 low-income Vermonters who have a fossil fuel water heater at least 10 years old to replace it at low or no cost with a heat pump water heater to reduce their energy costs and emissions. These alternative heating appliances will further reduce dependence on fossil fuels and their associated cost.
While the situation in Ukraine was not a consideration when the Vermont Climate Council proposed a clean heat standard, it may turn out to be an effective tool when combined with the state’s share of American Rescue Plan Act funds in counteracting the heating costs of Vermonters. By allowing clean heat measures like weatherization, heat pumps, and heat pump hot water heaters installed starting January 1, 2022, to create clean heat credits, we can get a jump start on reducing emissions as well as costs of residential heating. These credits will be readily available for purchase by fossil fuel dealers to meet their clean heat credit obligations that are expected to start in 2024. Or they can generate credits themselves by helping their customers transition to these clean heat measures.
We don’t know how long the war in Ukraine will continue, how the sanctions will affect Putin’s conduct, and what the outcome will be. But fuel prices that were already high before the war will probably continue to be so. For every gallon of heating oil or gasoline we can avoid using, we will further insulate ourselves from the volatility of fossil fuel prices as well as reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.