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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Burlington Moves Toward Its Net-Zero Energy Goal

Burlington Mayor, Miro Weinberger, speaks at the Net-Zero Energy Revenue Bond press conference on September 2, 2021. Standing in the background are (from L to R) Jennifer Green, City of Burlington Sustainability Director, Darren Springer, BED’s General Manager, Emily Stebbins-Wheelock, BED’s Manager of Strategy and Innovation, James Gibbons, BED’s Director of Policy and Planning, and James “Duke” Dutra, BED’s Chief Union Steward for IBEW Local 300. (BED)

George Harvey

Burlington, Vermont, is making moves toward its goal of having net-zero emissions of carbon dioxide for its energy. A new proposal for a $20 million Net-Zero Energy Revenue Bond is intended to finance most of the work. Mayor Miro Weinberger and Darren Springer, general manager of the Burlington Electric Department (BED), explained that the proposal, by itself, would provide for 25% of the emissions reduction to achieve the goal.

The bond, with an added portion of BED’s annual General Obligation Bond, would be used for a series of investments. One of these is $17.5 million to support projects that help advance progress toward the Net-Zero Energy goal. Another is $7.8 million to fund grid upgrades that support reliability and manage new loads from strategic electrification. Certain more specifically targeted projects were also mentioned, including maintenance and upgrades for renewable energy generation plants, infrastructure for electric vehicle charging and demand response, and upgrades to technology systems to support new dynamic rates and load control.

One of the issues addressed by the bond is a need to upgrade the grid for improved reliability while at the same time giving it an ability to accommodate new loads. In the near future, we can expect increases in use of electric vehicles and heat pumps. We need an electric grid that can provide the additional electrical energy those changes require. The bond was designed to cover costs for these changes coming to $12.3 million.

The increased use of electricity for heat and transportation will not only change how much electricity is delivered, it will change how it needs to be regulated. Addressing this issue will be very beneficial for the customers, because it will allow dynamic rates for electricity. This means that customers can buy electricity for energy-intensive purposes at the lowest possible rates. The technology required to do this is expected to require $3.9 million, which is also included in the overall costs.

Two more items are also included. One is a sum of about $2.2 million to maintain renewable generation plants and convert a gas-powered peaker plant to run on biodiesel. The other is about $1.5 for EV charging stations, an electric bucket truck for the line crew, and other technological improvements.

The proposal will help customers pursue their own improvements to address climate change, live more efficiently, and save money. Among the examples of things people might want to be able to use are electric vehicles, cold-climate heat pumps, electric lawn care equipment, and electric bicycles. Costs for these would be supported by incentives over 2023 to 2025 with funds also coming from the annual bond.

The effects of the changes are expected to reduce the use of fossil fuels in Burlington by roughly 100,000 barrels of oil, reducing emissions by 47,000 tons. That reduces emissions by a bit more than one ton for each Burlington resident.

For anyone who is concerned that all this will drive electric rates up, according to BED the new bond will significantly reduce pressure on the electric rates for the future. In fact, its impact is expected to cause no increase in rates over the next five years. Moody’s Investors Service affirmed an A3 rating for BED’s revenue bonds and said the outlook for them was stable. Among the positive indicators Moody’s cited were the fact that BED is using renewable resources for 100% of its electricity and the fact that it went twelve years without adjusting rates.

Clearly, a number of environmentalists support the bond. Among groups that are not primarily environmental in their orientation, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, whose Local 300 represents about two-thirds of the BED workforce, also supports the bond.

The BED Net-Zero Revenue Bond was approved unanimously by the Burlington Electric commission and by the Board of Finance before it went to the Burlington City Council. The city council passed it on September 13. This means that the issue will go before the voters for a decision in a special election on December 7, 2021.

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