Clean Heat Standard
Our blue planet is beginning to see the long term effects of climate change and environmental catastrophes to come. The industrial revolution increased production and productivity and freed workers from a life of drudgery to pursue leisure activities unheard of two centuries ago. However mechanization came about through an ever increasing use of carbon based fuels to run factories and produce the electricity that made this transformation possible. The irrefutable result has been the dramatic increase of atmospheric methane and CO2 that is causing climate change.
Despite Vermont’s reputation of being a very environmental state, our greenhouse gas emissions are much higher than many would assume, and it’s high time we cleaned them up. We can’t leave that work to others.
Two years ago the Vermont Legislature passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) that requires Vermont to reduce carbon emissions by enshrining carbon reduction targets in state law. For the first time the Act requires Vermont government to assure that CO2 reduction targets are met. Upon passage it was hailed by environmentalists is a master stroke. The next step is to reduce carbon emissions sector by sector. Heating accounts for 34% of Vermont’s carbon emissions, second only to transportation, and soon the Legislature will vote to adopt the Clean Heat Standard (CHS). It requires heating fuel dealers to account for and reduce the net carbon emissions in the fuels they sell and also to purchase credits that effectively buy down high carbon emissions and provide incentives to move Vermonters to cleaner heating solutions. The bill requires fuel providers to reduce climate pollution over time and will provide a gradual path to cleaner, more predictable and more affordable markets. The intent of the bill is that Vermonters will switch either to fuels with lower carbon content or to efficient electric heat instead of natural gas, oil or propane. The bill is complicated, not without flaws, and will likely undergo further work in the Senate. But in an unusual turn of events, some environmentalists that hailed GWSA a year ago are very angry that the Clean Heat Standard doesn’t go far enough.
The rub is that some fuels produce more carbon emissions than others and that bio-fuels are included as alternative to standard heating fuel and gas. Bio-fuels are those derived from sources other than petroleum and can be manufactured from used cooking oil, corn (a food stock) or even trees. But some bio-fuels require more energy than they provide in heat when life-cycle costs are included. Some should be excluded from the get go. How they might be balanced against other fuels and how credits might be awarded is what makes the detractors very upset. That may be due to a misreading of how the bill works. Under CHS all heating fuels (including electricity) will be rated according to their carbon intensity score, a metric in use in western states, which includes life cycle costs. For example, weatherization will earn ongoing credits because it will reduce fuel consumption as long as the weatherization remains effective. In contrast bio-fuels will earn credits only for the year they are purchased and consumed.
Specifically, the detractors don’t believe that the metrics will be honestly applied, that those doing the judging will be forthright in awarding credits and that they will not be influenced by political considerations. To answer those concerns, it’s essential that the entire process be transparent and based on engineering science as will be the case in rule making set forth in the bill.
It is clear that we need a Clean Heat Standard if Vermonters are to participate in reducing carbon emissions and not continue to fall victim to whims of our current mix of heating fuel suppliers. At present Vermonters spend some $750 million a year making out of state corporations rich. We should all take heart knowing that few bills are perfect in their first iteration and that Vermonters will continue to work together to address concerns as they develop to improve the Clean Heat Standard as we go forward.