Statement by Senator Bernie Sanders

I want to congratulate the Energy Co-Op, Sunward Systems, ReSOURCE and HarveSTAR, and Vermont State Employees Credit Union on the launch of their solar program for 2013. This is a program that installs solar water heating systems and installs them in homes with Vermont companies, financed by a Vermont credit union. I want to talk about why this type of partnership is so important.

We know that we face a planetary crisis with global warming, and that we must cut greenhouse gas emissions and cut back on fossil fuels. Very recently scientists have reported that the worst-case scenarios are now some of the likeliest scenarios, and that we face up to an 8 degree Fahrenheit temperature increase by the end of this century. That would be devastating for Vermont and for our entire planet. It would mean more extreme weather like Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy, more flooding and rising sea levels, more drought and deadly heat waves.

To reverse global warming, to create jobs, and to stop sending money out-of-state for fossil fuels, we must transform our energy system and move to energy efficiency and sustainable energy such as solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass. I believe Vermont can help lead the nation in that effort. We can show other states what is possible. We already are a leader on energy efficiency, and are beginning to make progress on sustainable energy, as well.

One of the greatest barriers that people face when they decide they want to improve the energy efficiency of their home or business, or when they want to install solar energy or geothermal heat pumps for example, is the upfront cost.

We know how to save people money on their heating bills and their electric bills with today’s technology. What we need is innovative models for financing energy upgrades, and today we are here to highlight one very good approach.  

For members of the Energy Co-op of Vermont, you can now get solar water heating with no upfront cost. That is a pretty good deal. Here is how it works:

We bring down the cost of solar water heating thanks to a 30% federal tax incentive that I have strongly supported. We also have state rebates. And for Co-op members there is a volume discount as well. What those state and federal incentives and discounts mean is that a $10,000 solar water heating system now can cost $5,000.

But $5,000 is still a lot of money, so here the Co-op has partnered with the Vermont State Employees Credit Union and Sunward to provide solar water heating systems and finance the remaining cost over up to 15 years. This makes solar affordable and accessible to more Vermonters. We need to expand programs like this so that every family has the chance to move to solar energy.

With families in Vermont paying $600 or more per year to heat their water with fossil fuels, this type of solar energy system cuts emissions and saves money by reducing the need for fossil fuel water heating. It is a win-win for consumers and the environment. Again, I congratulate the Energy Co-op and its partners on a terrific program, and I look forward to working with our utilities, businesses, non-profits, state government, and other partners to expand these types of programs.