The following is a contributed article by Darren Springer, general manager, Burlington Electric Department.
Burlington, Vermont's electricity needs have been served for over 100 years by the Burlington Electric Department (BED), a municipal public electric utility. Our community has long been proud of a strong track record on energy efficiency and renewable energy. This record includes investments in energy efficiency that are helping to save our customers millions of dollars annually on electric bills.
We currently are using approximately 6% less electricity in Burlington today than we were in 1989. In 2014, Burlington became the first city in the nation to source 100% of our electricity from renewable generation.
To build on these accomplishments, in 2016, Mayor Miro Weinberger announced the goal of becoming a Net Zero Energy city by 2030, and that goal was adopted by BED and our Electric Commission. It now is a key part of our utility's Strategic Direction.
This goal, of reducing and eventually eliminating fossil fuel use across the electric, thermal and ground transportation sectors, may be one of the most ambitious local climate goals in the nation.
Since the goal was first announced, BED has rolled out new incentive programs to support adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs), electric buses, electric bikes and electric lawn mowers. Also, we understood that analysis was necessary to detail the pathways to achieving the Net Zero Energy goal.
Net zero roadmap
BED issued a competitive request for proposal and selected Synapse Energy Economics, and its partner Resource Systems Group, to produce a Net Zero Energy Roadmap in 2018. The Roadmap is now complete, and analyzes Burlington's energy use across the electric, thermal and ground transportation sectors, and provides pathways to reduce and eventually eliminate fossil fuel use in those sectors.
The analysis shows that, to achieve our fossil fuel reduction goals, we would need to reduce total energy use through energy efficiency and weatherization and strategies to reduce vehicle miles traveled. We then would replace the remaining fossil fuel use through electrification of transportation, and by electrifying heating, while adding renewable fuels such as renewable natural gas and biomass-led district energy for remaining thermal use.
The challenges involved are significant. On the transportation side, while Burlington benefits in the Roadmap analysis from supportive national trends and state policies promoting EVs, there is discussion nationally about freezing fuel economy standards for vehicles. Some automakers have reached the threshold by which the federal EV tax credit phases out.
Our customers find a varying experience when they shop for an EV, with sales teams sometimes trying to sell the customer a conventional vehicle instead. Additionally, there is a documented effort by the fossil fuel industry (which continues to enjoy significant federal subsidies) and its allies to advocate against policies that support EVs and to promote sometimes-punitive state fees on EV drivers.
On the thermal side, Burlington has approximately 95% of our customers using natural gas, which is currently relatively cheap. To make progress, we'll need creative rate design and incentives to make customer electrification more affordable, and partnerships to advance weatherization and renewable solutions in the thermal space. Continued technology advancement and additional regulatory flexibility to design new utility programs also will be vital.
In addition to these challenges, whether or not Vermont moves forward with carbon pricing, as states like California already have, will impact our ability to make progress on the Roadmap timeline.
Increasing renewable electricity supply
Despite these challenges, a key opportunity for BED, and relevant for utilities around the nation looking to make similar progress, is that we would need to increase renewable electricity supply to our community by approximately 65% to achieve the Roadmap vision. Doing so requires that we take what has been modestly declining sales, and turn that around and grow our business.
That means investing in new grid infrastructure, while utilizing new demand management strategies and technologies to drive new demand off-peak wherever possible. The path outlined in the Roadmap represents a fundamentally different business model for our utility, and offers a path to our being even more relevant and important to our customers and community going forward.
Critically, we know that using BED's renewable electricity instead of fossil fuel has several economic benefits for our community. Using more electricity while simultaneously driving demand off-peak can (all things equal) put downward pressure on utility rates.
That is why, for example, BED now is offering an off-peak residential EV rate that provides renewable electricity to charge an EV for the equivalent of $0.60 per gallon of gas. Our renewable electricity, whether a customer charges at home or at our public stations, is quite simply a cleaner and cheaper transportation fuel per gallon equivalent than gasoline. Driving electric can save Burlington drivers money.
In addition, using renewable electricity from BED is better for the local economy. In Vermont, only approximately $0.20 of every dollar spent on fossil fuel stays in the state's economy. When you spend a dollar charging an EV with BED, we estimate more than half the dollar stays in the Vermont economy, and more than three-quarters of the dollar stays in the regional economy.
To support immediate progress toward the Net Zero Energy goal, BED has launched new incentive programs making cold-climate heat pumps, geothermal heat pumps, efficient heat pump hot water heaters, pre-owned EVs and PHEVS, and even electric forklifts more affordable for our customers. We are going to more than double the number of charging stations in the community, with a focus on siting them at multi-family buildings.
Importantly, a number of our programs offer enhanced incentives for our low- and moderate-income customers, to make the benefits of electrification more available to all in our community.
Burlington is well-positioned to lead on this effort, with a supportive community and a long history of our public power utility providing innovative approaches to energy efficiency and renewable energy.
We believe the Net Zero Energy Roadmap will be of value to our Burlington community and to communities around Vermont and the nation in providing clear analysis of what it will take to reach our ambitious climate goal commensurate with the scope of the challenge we face, and do so in a way that is economically beneficial for utility customers.