Statement from Green Jobs Field Hearing

U.S. SENTOR BERNIE SANDERS
OPENING STATEMENT FOR GREEN JOBS SUBCOMMITTEE FIELD HEARING
AUGUST 20, 2009
Statehouse, Room 11, Montpelier, Vt.

Energy Revolution

I want to thank all those who could join us today for the second hearing of the Green Jobs and New Economy Subcommittee, particularly our terrific panel of witnesses. As some of you may know, this Subcommittee was created earlier this year and I chaired the first hearing in Washington, DC, in July. At that hearing we heard from four governors, three mayors, and one state representative about the growth of green jobs and green industries in this nation, and how we can do more.  To me, what we are talking about today is nothing less than a revolution in this country in terms of how we do energy.  It is a revolution which, over a period of years will create millions of good paying jobs, will help us substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat global warming and, in many cases, will help us save money as consumers.

How Vermont is Leading the Way

Today’s hearing is an opportunity to learn about what is happening in Vermont on energy efficiency, sustainable energy, and green jobs development. It is an opportunity to learn about where we are today in this revolutionary process and where we want to be in the future. 

Efficiency

In terms of this process, Vermont has a lot to be proud of.  For example, on energy efficiency, we have perhaps the leading program in the country in Efficiency Vermont, which saves consumers on their bills, lowers energy use, and reduces emissions. These programs saved businesses $8.9 million in 2008 alone, and saved residential customers $7.7 million. Efficiency is also our least expensive option, costing 2.9 cents per kilowatt hour compared to 14 cents a kilowatt hour for new generation.

For two consecutive years now, efficiency has actually reduced Vermont’s electricity demand. Vermont is the first state to do this, although other states such as California have had impressive efficiency results as well. California held electricity consumption relatively flat per person at about 7,000 kilowatt hours for the past 30 years, while the rest of the U.S. increased consumption per person by about 40 percent over the past 30 years. To put this in perspective, if every state was as efficient as California and Vermont and other leading states between today and 2020, we could avoid the need for up to 390 medium-sized coal-fired power plants and reduce emissions by as much as taking 49 million cars off the road. 

Sustainable Energy

Vermont has the lowest carbon footprint in the nation, in part due to the use of clean sustainable energy from hydropower. Vermont gets more than one-third of its electricity from hydropower. In addition, Vermont gets roughly 6 percent of its power from biomass.

Frankly, in terms of other forms of sustainable energy Vermont has not been as aggressive as I would have liked but, we are beginning to make some progress in areas such as wind and solar. The wind project in Sheffield could produce 115,000 megawatt hours of power per year, enough for all the homes in Caledonia County. The state has just passed innovative energy legislation that would provide a feed-in tariff for renewable energy such as solar, to ensure a premium price for renewable energy projects. This is the same policy that helped Germany, which has a weaker solar exposure than Vermont, grow its solar industry. Germany is the leader in solar energy development worldwide. 

Other Energy Leadership 

For a small state Vermont has seen a number of energy innovations already. In Middlebury College the installation of a biomass gasifier is creating electricity and heat and is saving a million gallons of fuel oil each year, and $700,000 annually. In Johnson, Vermont, Vermont Electric Co-op has installed so-called “smart” meters at 32,000 homes, and will soon be able to help customers understand their energy use and reduce it with access to real-time data. Washington Electric Co-op has a landfill gas project in Coventry that provides power at 4.5 cents per kilowatt hour to meet about two-thirds of its need, reducing greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 50,000 cars off the road. Green Mountain Power has provided incentives for solar in order to reach a goal of putting up ten thousand panels in 1,000 days. Central Vermont Public Service offers customers the option of purchasing cow power produced from farm methane emissions. Burlington Electric has long been a leader in energy efficiency and sustainable energy – including the construction of the McNeil woodchip plant in the early 1980s.

Green Jobs and the Opportunity to Do More

While Vermont has been a leader in many ways, there is a big opportunity to do more. There are various estimates of how many green jobs exist in Vermont today. A Pew report estimates there are more than 2,000 green jobs and more than 300 green businesses in Vermont as of 2007. Investments in sustainable energy and efficiency create 16.7 jobs for every million spent, compared to 5.3 jobs for fossil energy investments. As we ramp up our state’s investments in sustainable energy, we can see job creation and manufacturing opportunities.

Vermont can do more on efficiency and sustainable energy. For example, a number of towns are looking at district energy systems. In Burlington, the McNeil power plant loses 60 percent of its energy as waste heat. With district energy it could capture that waste heat and use it to heat 12,000 buildings. As another example Vermont uses oil to heat more than half of our homes, sending millions of dollars each year out of our economy to other nations. We have substantial biomass resources here which could provide heating for our homes and schools and keep that money in our economy. Already 41 schools in Vermont heat with biomass. At the Vermont National Guard, I have worked to secure funding to provide the opportunity for that to be a leading facility in using biomass and solar power. I believe we can be a leader in sustainable energy and green jobs creation, just as we have been a leader in energy efficiency.