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:

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: 

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

EXPANDED USE OF ADVANCED WOOD HEATING IN VERMONT: A Roadmap to Reach the Target of 35% of Vermont’s Thermal Energy. Prepared byRenewable Energy Vermont and Biomass Energy Resource Center