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In 2011, the State of Vermont developed a Comprehensive Energy Plan (CEP) with the goal of obtaining “90% of our energy needs from renewable sources by 2050.”  In order to meet this goal, municipalities and residents need to find creative ways to reduce energy use, conserve energy (or use it more efficiently), and produce and utilize more renewable energy. As described in the CEP, many pathways for our energy future involve significant electrification of non-fossil resources. A modern electric grid allows for the integration of distributed energy resources (DERs) — e.g., electric vehicles, heat pumps, smart appliances, storage, and generation — while maintaining and improving safety and reliability. The grid needs to continue to perform — to reliably deliver the required energy to customers, every hour of the year, to and from resources that are exponentially more distributed, diverse, and variable, under increasing pressure from severe weather events and cyberattacks, while weaning off fossil resources and staying affordable. Where we don’t electrify, ensuring that biofuels (solid, gas, or liquid) remain available and affordable is critical.

The CEP 2022 plan identifies the following set of goals:

  • In the transportation sector, meet 10% of energy needs from renewable energy by 2025, and 45% by 2040. 
  • In the thermal sector, meet 30% of energy needs from renewable energy by 2025, and 70% by 2042.
  • In the electric sector, meet 100% of energy needs from carbon-free resources by 2032, with at least 75% from renewable energy.
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Currently, Vermont’s electric generation mix is 94% carbon-free, and the statutory Renewable Energy Standard requires that all electric utilities meet at least 66% of electricity deliveries with renewable power. Overall, the electric sector contributed less than 6% of Vermont’s GHG emissions in 2017, a number that is forecasted to decline even further.

Transportation fuels continue to account for the largest portion of Vermont’s total energy consumption, and they include more fossil fuels than any other energy source. Transportation makes up 38% of the total energy consumed in Vermont, and produces more GHG emissions — around 40% — than any other sector.

The transportation sector is overwhelmingly fueled by gasoline and diesel, including small portions of ethanol and biodiesel, respectively. Electricity use for transportation is rapidly growing but remains less than 1% of total fuel use, in part because electric vehicles are more efficient per mile than vehicles with combustion engines. 

Every year, Vermont produces an Annual Energy Report. The following highlights the progress and challenges facing the energy sector: 

  • Solar: Despite its small size, Vermont has experienced a high rate of growth in distributed energy resources, specifically in the deployment of solar installations. Having seen almost 50 megawatts (MW) of small-scale solar installations each year for the better part of the past decade, and with total capacity now about 400 MW, there are certain parts of the Vermont grid that are saturated with generation resources. Particularly in western Vermont, several distribution substations are no longer able to accommodate the connection of additional distributed generation resources above a certain size. Reverse power flow from these resources would exceed utility system equipment ratings.
  • Biomass: Ryegate is a 20 MW biomass (wood-fired) generator plant located just north of Orange County. The fate of this facility is not yet known and contingent on improved heat utilization for beneficial purposes (also known as co-generation). As a wood-fired plant, the Ryegate facility relies upon a consistent supply of biomass from the forest economy. Likewise, many fuel suppliers rely on Ryegate to fill an essential role in the market for forest products, a market with significant impacts on businesses and livelihoods. Several fuel suppliers have recently expressed significant concerns about the state of operations at the Ryegate facility. The most prominent issues include (1) payment and contracting practices, with some commenters reporting that they are not being paid for deliveries or are owed substantial sums; (2) lack of a certified scale to weigh incoming deliveries; (3) lack of qualified forestry staff; and (4) the impacts of ongoing bankruptcy proceedings associated with Solar Enterprises, Series LLC (“Stored Solar”), Ryegate’s owner. The Department has engaged with Ryegate since learning of these issues to express its concern and underline the importance of addressing the issues, fully and transparently, without delay. Ryegate has acknowledged that it had been behind on payments, and faced difficulties with its payment schedules, but reported that it was current on its outstanding obligations through November 13, 2022. The company also expressed a willingness to enter contracts with suppliers, which had been a standard practice in the past. As to equipment and staff, Ryegate stated that its broken truck scale was due to be repaired and recertified on November 29, and confirmed it has a Vermont-licensed forester with plans for a successor. Ryegate also represents that it is not directly involved in the bankruptcy case, although the proceeding has indirectly affected its operations. There is still significant progress to be made on several fronts, and Ryegate has affirmed its commitment to continuing the work. The Department will continue to closely monitor Ryegate’s operations under the contract that has been directed by the General Assembly.
  • Vermont Gas Systems has begun incorporating alternative fuel supplies into their portfolio and has set a corporate goal to increase their alternative supplies to 20% of retail sales by 2030, including from Renewable Natural Gas (RNG). RNG can come from many sources including landfills and farms; each source brings different carbon intensity levels. Recently, the Public Utility Commission adopted the Department’s position that approval of RNG contracts should reflect the carbon intensity of the source, and keep the cost paid for avoided greenhouse gas emissions below the social cost of carbon.
  • Heating and cooling have a large impact on energy consumption and greenhouse gas production.  Over the last twenty years, the amount of Cooling Degree Days in New England has increased by 30% and the amount of Heating Degree Days has decreased by 6.5%.
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Vermonters often use more than one fuel for their thermal needs. The primary source of residential fuel use in Vermont remains fuel oil, although it has had a slow and steady decline over the last decade. Wood as a primary fuel dropped surprisingly in 2019 and 2021 (no data was collected in 2020) and electricity as a primary fuel had a significant increase since 2019.

The State of Vermont has committed to meet 90% of the State’s total energy demand from renewables by 2050. The CEP calls for an increase in the portion of renewable energy used to heat Vermont’s buildings to 30% by 2025, through both efficiency and increased use of renewable fuels (including wood). More specifically, the CEP calls for doubling the use of wood heating in Vermont. Expanded use of advanced wood heat will help Vermont make measurable progress toward a number of key goals. Developing local demand for cordwood, wood chips, and pellets will help create vital markets for low-grade timber from managed forests. Heating with local wood fuels reduces the economic drain on Vermont’s economy. Factoring that only 22 cents of every dollar spent on heating oil or propane are likely retained in the local economy, and 80 cents of every dollar spent on wood are likely retained in the local economy, an estimated net $70 million was retained in the Vermont economy in 2016 by Vermonters choosing to heat with wood rather than fossil fuels. Wood heat lowers and stabilizes energy costs and keeps dollars circulating in the local economy. Wood heat also creates and supports jobs in the forestry, wood processing, and transportation sectors. 

Wood heating comes in many forms. There are three main categories of wood fuels – cordwood, pellets, and woodchips. Cordwood is sold by volume and is used predominantly in the residential sector in stoves that provide point-source heat. Wood pellets sold in 40 pound bags are commonly used with pellet stoves that also provide point-source heat. Bulk pellets are now widely available to the residential and small commercial heating market and are most commonly used to fuel automated boilers that provide whole-building heating via hydronic (hot water) piping and emitters (radiators). Woodchips are used for larger commercial and institutional buildings or networks of buildings with central hydronic or steam heat distribution systems. Automated woodchip and pellet boilers are highly efficient with minimal emissions. Pellet stoves also feed fuel automatically and are thermostatically controlled.  Traditional use of cordwood in stoves is a significant portion of the total wood heating sector today and will remain an important portion of the sector in the years to come.

 VT Annual Energy Report 2023


A Roadmap to Reach the Target of 35% of Vermont’s Thermal Energy. Prepared byRenewable Energy Vermont and Biomass Energy Resource Center

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