The following is a contributed article by Darren Springer, general manager at the Burlington Electric Department.
Even as our community grapples with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, in his State of the City address this spring, Burlington, Vermont, Mayor Miro Weinberger shared his plan for Burlington to continue to lead on our core values.
While the Mayor made clear that evening that the State of the City was indeed a state of emergency due to COVID-19, he also made clear that we would continue to respond to the climate emergency. As part of that effort, the Mayor and Burlington Electric Department (BED) announced a new Green Stimulus package in early April.
The Green Stimulus package was created to utilize $800,000 in carry-forward energy efficiency funds to temporarily boost incentives and programs aimed at simultaneously supporting progress on our City's Net Zero Energy goal and supporting local economic recovery from the disruption of the coronavirus.
More significantly than any other past program, the Green Stimulus provides BED with an opportunity to make energy programs accessible to all our customers, including those who need our help the most right now. This includes offering programs to support renters and homeowners, small businesses, and non-profit organizations, with a specific focus on supporting our low and moderate-income customers.
While BED offered immediate COVID-19 related relief for customers, such as suspending late fees and disconnections for non-payment, the Green Stimulus aims to provide a near-term economic boost for our community and longer-term energy savings for our customers.
An example for others
In some cases, the best way to support our customers and economic recovery through the Green Stimulus is to enhance existing incentives, and BED has done so for our heat pump and electric vehicle programs. However, several of the Green Stimulus programs and partnerships are brand new, and could be replicable in other communities and by other utilities.
For example, one unique, new program is a partnership between BED, Old Spokes Home, and Opportunities Credit Union to provide electric bikes (E-bikes) at cost (including BED's E-bike rebate) to low- and moderate-income customers. The customers then are able to finance the E-bikes at zero percent to affordably meet their transportation and commuting needs.
The Green Stimulus also provides that BED will work with affordable housing providers to cover, in some cases, up to 100% of electric energy efficiency work. The Green Stimulus also focuses on reinvigorating partnerships with weatherization providers, such as our Energy Champ program with Vermont Gas that supports weatherization projects in multi-family buildings by covering up to 75% of the cost.
To make energy saving upgrades as affordable as possible, the Green Stimulus includes a new Home Energy Loan partnership for BED with local credit unions to provide rates as low as zero percent (for income-qualified households). BED's support helps to lower the rates on these energy loans for our customers.
Yet another new Green Stimulus package program called Cash for Appliances is aimed at providing a financial incentive for our customers to recycle old inefficient appliances and install energy efficient appliances in their place. Participating customers can also look to tap into the Home Energy Loan partnership to finance the cost of the new efficient appliance purchases at lower rates.
Another new effort, focused on helping community businesses that may be more challenged than ever to make energy efficiency investments, provides additional funds to support energy efficient replacements for any failed heating and cooling systems during this crisis. The Green Stimulus package also includes on-bill financing for small businesses and non-profit organizations at zero percent for up to seven years, with potential energy savings guarantees for the first time, to make energy efficiency upgrades.
The Green Stimulus proposal was approved by the Vermont Public Utility Commission on May 28, 2020. You can learn more about BED's Green Stimulus programs at www.burlingtonelectric.com/greenstimulus.
Green stimulus opportunities
We know so many are struggling with the economic disruption that has impacted our community, our state and our nation as a result of this pandemic. The Green Stimulus offers opportunities for our utility to respond to the need to boost local economic activity, support our customers with energy-saving technologies, and make progress on our City's Net Zero Energy goal all at the same time.
We can amplify that impact if more communities and utilities create Green Stimulus programs as a means of promoting economic recovery, and if future federal stimulus proposals incorporate some of these concepts to support the U.S. economy while reducing emissions nationwide.
Even in the midst of the COVID-19 response, there has been positive news regarding clean energy nationally, including that projections show 2020 will be the first year that renewable energy sources will produce more electricity than coal.
Building on this progress by investing in Green Stimulus programs to help put energy efficiency contractors and businesses back to work (when public health policies safely allow certain economic activities to resume) can support jobs and recovery, while helping to lock in additional greenhouse gas emissions reductions.