This earth day, let’s focus on taking steps that will keep Vermont, well, Vermonty. Whether it’s the quaint covered bridges or the thriving local farm scene, climate change is eroding the character of the Green Mountain State through more swings in extreme temperatures, severe storms, frequent flooding, and invasive species.
With so much richness at stake, our daily decisions have never been more important. One of the most impactful choices you can make is where your power comes from. Here are the environmental upsides of going solar.
Vermont has the highest level of greenhouse gas emissions per capita in the Northeast and is the only state whose emissions have increased in the last 30 years, according to the Vermont Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory and Forecast report.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory states that 40% of man-made carbon dioxide emissions, 23% of nitrogen oxide emissions and 67% of sulfur dioxide emissions in the nation are caused by fossil fuel-fired plants.
“One of the main motivators of going solar is the environmental benefit,” says Marcus Shapiro, Senior Solar Advisor at Green Mountain Solar. “Houses are one of the highest users of fossil fuels. When people can produce all their own power at their house via renewable energy, they’re taking a step to bring their carbon footprint down.”
In 2019 alone, New England solar created $22 million in CO2 benefits, and removed the equivalent of 42,000 cars from the road and powered the equivalent of 58,000 homes, according to the energy consultants, Synapse Energy Economics, Inc.
“When people are producing their own solar on site, they figure they might as well transfer everything else to electric,” Marcus adds, “so they add pieces like a heat pump or an electric hot water heater, that would otherwise be fueled by propane, oil or natural gas.” If you swap these for electric versions and power them with the sun, you’re doubling down on your green investment.
"Vermont renewable energy provides a strong, local economic engine while cutting electricity costs and climate pollution for everyone,” said Olivia Campbell Andersen, Executive Director of Renewable Energy Vermont.
Now, add the dynamic duo of solar and battery backup.
Most people think of batteries for the peace of mind when the power goes out. But in Vermont, batteries provide another environmental defense as well, thanks to Green Mountain Power’s (GMP) programs (the Bring Your Own Device program and Tesla Powerwall lease program).
It all starts with the grid. The grid is can meet our normal, day-to-day energy needs. But what happens on a sticky summer day when we all turn on our air conditioners? When there is high demand on the electric grid—called a peak event—the additional power comes from special power plants that only switch on during these peak events. These power plants are called peaker plants and they’re expensive and run on some of the dirtiest fossil fuels.
Here’s where batteries come in. Instead of calling upon dirty fossil fuel peaker plants to fire up and provide the extra power, stored clean electricity can step up and provide the extra energy needed during a peak event.
By changing our overly centralized grid into something that is versatile and resilient, we will naturally transition away from traditionally used fuels that no longer serve us.
“Every kW of renewable or stored power means less reliance on fossil fuels, less climate pollution, and more money in every Vermonter’s wallet,” said Campbell Anderson.
Keeping Energy Local
Vermonters get the importance of local. But what does it mean for your electricity to be home-grown? When you produce your power right on site, it’s more efficient. “A lot of the losses we have in our production is through the actual transmission of electricity,” explains Rob Dunn, project manager at Green Mountain Solar. “Minimizing the distance electricity has to travel, reduce the lost energy.”
No Time to Wait
Vermont can be the leader in this fight for our future. It is time to be the state that others look up to in order to inform their renewable energy progress. Campbell-Anderson sums it up: “From 2014-2019, Vermont solar saved Vermonters $79 million in electricity costs and an additional $93 million in public health and avoided CO2. If not for local solar, electric rates would be higher for everyone, we would experience significantly higher health costs, and pay a higher price to mitigate damage from climate change.”