Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Doctor Advocates Passage of New VT Energy Standard.

Michael Latreille

As a primary care physician, I am reminded with startling frequency that the climate crisis, and its growing impact on our health, is no longer a concern of the future. The World Health Organization declared climate change the “single biggest health threat facing humanity,” a sentiment shared in a joint statement by more than 250 highly respected medical societies.

My practice in Burlington offers a macabre front-row seat to this fact. It takes little effort to recall an inventory of informative recent encounters- the disabled patient with severe anxiety who has completely fallen apart after floods forced him out of his home and into his mother’s; the elderly woman with COPD who cannot breathe in the summer because of wildfire smoke, 90+ degree temperatures, increased pollen counts, or some combination of these; or the huge, rising number of patients with tick-borne illnesses and their complications, unheard of several decades ago. These stories are real, steadily growing, and disproportionately hail from vulnerable pockets of Vermont — the elderly, low-income communities, racial and ethnic minorities. They also represent merely the tip of the melting proverbial iceberg.

On March 21, however, the Vermont House brought us one step closer to an exciting climate victory, with a 99-39 vote in favor of overhauling our Renewable Energy Standard (RES). The Vermont Senate will soon take up H.289, which represents a remarkable collaborative effort by a group of legislators, utilities, and other stakeholders, to modernize the existing Standard, last passed in 2015. The new Standard would quadruple the amount of new renewable energy Vermont electric utilities deliver to their customers in the next decade, equivalent to taking approximately 160,000-250,000 gas-burning cars off the road, permanently. As good as this sounds, the bill is at risk of being vetoed and urgently needs the support of Vermonters to pass. 

The RES presently in effect for Vermont was an important step forward when it was passed in 2015, requiring Vermont electric utilities to provide 75% renewable electricity to their customers by 2032, of which 10% was required to come from smaller, new renewable sources built in Vermont. Nearly a decade later, Vermont still produces only a fraction of the energy it uses, much of the rest coming from combustion of fossil fuels outsourced to vulnerable communities in the region. The existing Standard is now the oldest and, with respect to new renewables, least ambitious of its kind in New England.

In contrast, H.289 looks to the future, aiming for the ambitious goal of 100% renewable electricity in Vermont by 2035, faster than any other State in the region except Rhode Island. It would double the amount of energy coming from new renewable sources in Vermont, increase the provision of new renewable energy from regional sources, mostly in New England, and would require all Vermont utilities to provide 100% renewable electricity to their customers in the next 11 years– by 2030 for Green Mountain Power and Vermont Electric Coop, and by 2035 for other utilities. The bill would also shift away from using biomass and large, potentially ecosystem-damaging, hydroelectric projects to truly renewable wind and solar. This would be the largest single move away from fossil-fueled power by the State of Vermont ever, by a wide margin.

Initial cost estimates, which scared away some supporters with a figure approaching $1 billion, were grossly overestimated. The Joint Fiscal Office now estimates the proposed changes to cost between $150 – $450 million over 10 years. It is also important to note that the Standard would advance affordability and resilience of the electric system for consumers, reducing reliance on energy from outside Vermont and insulating ratepayers from the historically volatile fossil fuel market. Its broad support among utilities and climate advocacy groups alike is a testament to painstaking efforts made to balance cost-effectiveness and climate impact.

Merits and clear support of H.289 notwithstanding, the Scott administration’s woeful track record on climate legislation would suggest that a veto from the Governor’s office is all but certain. However, such a move does not have to mean the end of this bill. The Senate can, and should, override an anticipated veto. For our part as constituent Vermonters, we can steel our senators’ resolve by letting them know how strongly we support it.

Vermonters have stepped up to the climate crisis in large numbers- solar panels materialize on our neighbors’ rooftops; heat pumps, EVs and charging stations proliferate at dizzying speeds. We, in turn, owe it to each other ensure that all our electricity comes from clean, renewable sources, not from those that pay for present energy needs with future calamity. My two-year-old son Theo sleeps soundly next to me as I write these final words, himself a call to action, a reminder of what is at stake. Our Senators have an opportunity to do their part in protecting the health of Theo’s generation and those that come after. Please help them do the right thing. Find your representatives here and tell them how much this bill means, for the Vermont of today and for a healthier, cleaner future.

Michael Latreille, MD FACP is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>