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November 29, 2023

Vermont Should Not Try to Change the Climate

We should mitigate climate effects.

We’ve had a run of bad weather. Severe flood events that typically occur once a century seemed to have bunched up in the last decade or so. Even though there is debate over how much of this extreme climate has been caused by human greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the cost to Vermonters of these storms is indisputable. Flooding damage is greater than it used to be even when the storms aren’t stronger because of building in the floodplain, increases in the amount of impermeable surfaces, and riverbank reinforcement which channels stronger flows downstream. We are increasingly dependent on electric and communication lines which are vulnerable to storms. The cost of repairs by utilities like Green Mountain Power has increased dramatically, exacerbated by a shortage of workers and supply chain constraints. Poorer utilities like Washington Electric Coop have not been able to bring their customers back online nearly quickly enough.

No action we take here in Vermont will change the weather we’ll experience in the future. Global action can reduce the rate greenhouse gasses accumulate in the atmosphere and eventually lead to an actual reduction. We Vermonters as federal taxpayers and the subjects of various federal mandates are contributors to those global actions; we’re doing our share. Here at home we can and should mitigate the effects of a climate we can’t control. Making Vermont climate resilient is where our state tax and utility dollars ought to go.

Green Mountain Power is applying to the Public Utility Commission for permission to spend lots of money to harden our electric grid by undergrounding part of it, decentralizing, and using electrical storage where appropriate. That plan’ll cost money in the short-term but’ll result in lower outage and repair costs in the future. Those are climate mitigation costs. We must buy out buildings in floodplains rather than rebuilding them after each storm. People in flood-prone trailer parks and some of our downtowns must be able to move to higher ground (requires permitting reform as well as money). We were successful in building back better after Irene. The culverts which washed out then have been suitably enlarged and most held up to this year’s flooding. We can learn from that success. We may need to build flood control dams higher or dig deeper behind them.

Where will we get the money for climate mitigation?

We already have the money; it’s now being frittered away on projects like local subsidies for electric cars and appliances, which have no measured effect on the climate in Vermont. Every dollar spent on mitigation, however, will have an effect here. It will be less expensive to live in Vermont when the grid is more reliable and needs less repair. It is less expensive in the long run to avoid flooding than to clean up afterwards.  Vermont can indeed be a climate refuge even given our severe weather if we act locally to mitigate storm damage. Note that, even if the State of Vermont and its utilities don’t spend another dollar on fighting climate change, we Vermonters are still doing our bit as US citizens. We’re not copping out. We’re just doing the local work which we can do better than the feds and delegating international climate action to the federal government which can act on a global scale.

Screenshot 2023-11-28 193333

According to the incentive calculator at driveelectric.com, a family earning between $125,000 and $150,000 annually will receive as much as $7500 dollars in federal incentives if they buy certain Ford electric models. There are two additional federal subsidies: the “Deficit Reduction Act” includes huge loans and grants for the makers of electric cars and the batteries they require and a federal mileage mandate effectively forces the manufacturers to subsidize their losses on EVs with higher prices for gasoline-powered models. Even if we assume that we do want to spend public money to encourage people to buy EVs, how many more people will buy them because both the State of Vermont and Vermont electric utilities pile their own subsidies on top of the federal incentive?  How do we ever measure what these ratepayer and taxpayer dollars buy in terms of a better climate for Vermont? We will do much more to encourage electrification in Vermont by making our grid reliable than we do by icing the federal subsidy cake.

Vermont is on track to miss its GHG reduction goals; by law that will allow anyone to sue the state to force more severe reduction measures. Our per person GHG emissions are the second highest in New England; of course, that’s largely because our non-emitting nuclear power is gone and because we burn more oil and less much-cleaner natural gas than our neighbors as a result of pipeline expansion being blocked. The legislature wants the PUC to come up with a plan to force people off fossil fuel by raising prices. What we’ve been calling “environmental action” has largely succeeded in raising both emissions and costs.

We can and should think global. We must act local. It’s our job as federal citizens to decide on and pay for national climate policy. It’s our job as Vermonters to mitigate the effects of climate, whatever it is and whatever it will be, here at home.

See also:

Green Mountain Power’s Very Good Idea

Let’s Really Build the Electric Grid Back BETTER

 

 

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