Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Energy Subsidies: Past and Present

As public interest in green jobs, local energy, and lessening the impact of climate change increases, the clean energy economy continues to grow. One thing that can be said with certainty about the energy sector is that the landscape is shifting dynamically and dramatically. After more than a century of heat, power and transportation provided by fossil fuels, our energy economy is transforming – in many ways for the better.

America’s support for energy innovation has always helped drive U.S. growth, yet government support for renewable energy sources is much lower today than it has been at any other point in U.S. history, according to a DBL Investors report. Average annual subsidies for the oil and gas industry have been $4.9 billion (1918-2009), while renewable energy received just $0.37 billion annually (1994-2009).

This trend is similar in Vermont, where there has been support for mature and emerging energy sources, as evidenced by the Public Service Board granting approval to Vermont Gas to charge current customers $4.4 million annually for construction costs for a southern extension of a gas pipeline. Meanwhile, the Clean Energy Development Fund, which averages every $1 of public funds into $4 of other investment, is projected to provide only $3 million per year in the future. “All new energy industries – timber, coal, oil, gas, nuclear – have received substantial government support at a pivotal time in their early growth, creating millions of jobs and significant economic growth,” said Nancy Pfund, co-author of the DBL report. “Subsidies for these ‘traditional’ energy sources were many, many times what we are spending today on renewables.”

Renewable energy is one of the few energy options that provides price certainty. Utilities have testified that they choose renewables and wind energy because it “acts as a hedge against future volatility of natural gas prices” and address peak pricing. Electric rates increased three times more in the 40 states with the least wind power between 2005 and 2010, versus the top 10 states for wind generation.”

Other countries and states are showing that renewables can become the leading energy source provider. In May, Germany provided 50 percent of its power through solar energy. Meanwhile, implementing a Smart Grid in Vermont establishes the groundwork for deep integration of renewables and electric vehicles, allowing utility engineers to monitor where power is being produced versus needed, and to upgrade our grid to become two-way, bi-directional, and “real time”.

Vermont is poised to be a leader in this new energy economy, both incubating and growing local businesses and insulating our current businesses from a changing energy landscape. A diversified energy mix will ultimately lead toward increased reliability, lower costs, jobs and the economic and environmental benefits that come with clean energy.

• Now that summer is upon us, renewable energy businesses across the state have been workings on a number of projects. Sunwood Biomass celebrated the completion of an innovative project in Montpelier, combining wood pellet heating with a solar hot water system. In the geothermal community, St. Michael’s College, ECHO Lake Aquarium, and the Sutton School are installing geothermal heating systems. Real Goods and Gestamp Solar are constructing 4.8MW of solar energy in Vermont. Lastly, four wind projects are expected to be operational by the end of 2012, generating 120 MW of electricity and powering 46,200 homes.

• Due to the progress Vermont has had with the Renewable Energy industry, there are a number of upcoming events that highlight renewables in our state & region:

• VT Renewable Energy Conference and Expo | Burlington | October 1 & 2

• NESEA’s Green Buildings Open House | Vermont | October 13

Advanced Energy 2012 | New York | October 30 & 31

Renewable Energy Vermont is a nonprofit, nonpartisan trade association representing over 300 businesses, individuals, colleges and others committed to reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and expanding the availability of renewable sources of power in Vermont.

From the August, 2012, Green Energy Times

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