Senate panel OKs bill allowing Efficiency Vermont to subsidize heat pumps

A Senate committee Wednesday approved a bill to allow the state’s energy efficiency utility to subsidize residential electric heat pumps.

The bill, S.202, allows Efficiency Vermont to cover part of the cost to install efficient air-source heat pumps in residences that meet certain thermal efficiency standards. The Vermont Public Service Board, the state’s utility regulator, will work with the company to ensure the installations do not raise electricity rates.

The company collects money from ratepayers’ utility bills to subsidize thermal and electrical efficiency projects. The energy efficiency charge is designed to save ratepayers more money than they pay into the fund by reducing the need to upgrade the state’s electrical transmission infrastructure – a cost passed on to ratepayers.

The Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee was concerned the company’s original proposal would increase rates by placing added electricity demands on the region’s electricity grid. But the latest version of the bill is designed to require recipients of the subsidy to meet certain energy performance standards, which includes thermal efficiency, according to George Twigg, a lobbyist for Efficiency Vermont.

The utility said it will work with customers and utilities to control electricity usage by dialing the heat pump’s usage up and down during appropriate times.

“Outside of times of peak demand there’s a fair amount of unused capacity on the grid currently. So as long as we’re being attentive to working closely with customers and utilities on issues around demand management to avoid the peaks, there’s actually a lot of unused capacity that could be put to use for Vermonters’ benefit,” Twigg said.

Sen. Robert Hartwell, chair of the committee, said the bill must go to the Rules Committee for approval (because it was voted out after the crossover deadline to move bills from one chamber to the other). The bill could also be attached to other House bills that pass through the committee.

Heat pumps are a technology used to heat homes in mild weather at a third of the cost of propane and half the cost of heating oil. Heat pumps are not designed to replace traditional heating sources during the coldest winter months.

John Herrick

Comments

  1. Matt Fisken :

    Even subsidized, these heat pumps will likely only be used by a small number of Vermonters with disposable incomes. However “efficient” these devices are at capturing heat from outside air and sending it inside, this idea is still (literally and figuratively) just a lot of hot air.

    The wisest thing any Vermonter can do is make their home more passive solar. Maximize southern glazing in the cooler months, cover up north windows where there is only heat loss and no solar gain, and install some thermal mass in a practical location.

    Making Vermonters more and more dependent on the grid for heating and cooling is a bad plan for EVT and bad policy for the Legislature to push.

    The bottom line is if these things a) make sense to use in Vermont and b) save users tons of money then they 1) would be widely used already and 2) don’t need to be subsidized.

    • Peter Limon :

      I am building post & beam barn with an insulated and heated shop and apartment in the center of my little village. I don’t consider direct solar because it will be unattractive, (although we are exposing south windows and other solar tricks) so I have been investigating heat pumps.
      What I do not understand is why the bill approved by the Senate specifies air-source heat pumps. An air-source unit is much less efficient in cold northern Vermont because hte air is so cold in the winter, particularly at night. A vertical or horizontal, or even a water geothermal heat exchanger is much more efficient, although considerably more expensive. Could someone tell me why the bill specifies air-source heat pumps?

  2. Bob Zeliff :

    These new “mini-split” heat pumps claim (supported by a federal test) to be able to extract heat to as low a -4F and provide approx 2.5 heat out as electricity used. The makes them more than competitive with the cost of heating oil.

    For me they seem to be the ideal supplementary heating technology when couple with a solar array.

    This is exactly what I am considering.

    It seems to me to make both economic sense and environmental sense for me to displace 200 or 300 gallons of oil, with non polluting, renewable solar power.

    • Willem Post :

      Bob
      One kW (3413 Btu) of electricity in and 2.5 kW (2.5 x 3413 Btu) of heat out at a cost of about 19 c.

      Would you be so kind to supply the names of some manufacturers of such heat pumps?

      But you will need about 10 kWhs of heat to heat a house at -4F, say about 10 x 2.5 x 3413 for a standard 2000 sq ft house, at a cost of $1.90/hr.

      At lower temperatures, say -10, or – 15 F, the 2.5 would rapidly go to near zero, AND your house heating needs would be INCREASED, i.e., a supplementary heating system would be required.

      Also you need a pump to move the low temperature heat through in-floor piping and through in-concrete slab piping in the basement.

      If you had a 2000 sq ft house that would need only 20,000 Btu at, say -10F, then such a system might work for some years, after which you may have to replace the heat pump. Extremely few households have such high efficiency houses.

      • Willem,

        Your numbers are correct, but you are leaving out one pretty important piece of information. How often is it -10 to -15 where you live. The design temperature in Burlington Vermont is -11 degrees, depending on who you talk to. This means that 99% of the year, you are above that temperature. So, if a heat pump can heat a home for $1.90/ hour at -4 degrees, but it is warmer than that 99% of the year, then that seems like a pretty good deal. In Burlington Vermont, it is only below 10 degrees 11% of the heating hours.

        • Rick,
          “In Burlington Vermont, it is only below 10 degrees 11% of the heating hours.”

          Those 11% of the season’s heating hours are when the most heat is required PER HOUR; the colder the hour, the more heat is required, but an air source heat pump puts out less and less heat, as the hours get colder and colder.

          Most lay people are easily fooled by fast-talking salespeople, who usually know full well the real situation.

  3. Janice Prindle :

    Passive solar is just not going to work for every home and for those of us otherwise stuck with fossil fuels, being able to significantly reduce our consumption is a good thing for the budget and the environment. The heat pumps are not only for people with lots of money, but there is unfortunately a “doughnut hole,” in terms of eligibility for the loans, which are amortized as part of one’s property tax and go with the property, not the resident, if you sell your home and move. The difficulties of financing are the main reason more Vermonters aren’t using them (yet), Mr. Fisken, not that they don’t work and wouldn’t save a ton of money. You could say the same for conversion to passive solar, which also costs money a lot of us don’t have.

    • Matt Fisken :

      Assuming your house has any windows, passive solar is always an inexpensive option worth exploring. I’m not saying you should/can heat your house year round using only the sun. But there is a lot of free energy that many of us pass up because we’ve been convinced by the purveyors of gas and electricity that it’s “not going to work.” It’s actually the one thing that always has and always will.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_passive_solar_building_design

      The prime time for passive solar are the spring and fall when there is ample sun during the day to “charge” a home with heat to make it through the night. Whether you get your heat is sourced from the sun, propane, NG, oil, or electricity, the fewer holes for heat to escape the better. From reading this article, it sounds like Vermonters will only be eligible for the rebate if their home is already efficient. This is good, because money won’t be wasted installing these units on energy sieves, but bad because there will be a lot of expensive hoops for someone to jump through before they can take part in the program. You may even need to have it wirelessly communicating with your smart meter so it can be automatically turned off during peak periods.

      I do hope you’re right, that these pumps will save the day and average income Vermonters will benefit from EVT burning its surpluses on subsidizing glorified air conditioners which have no storable fuel source, don’t work when the power is out, require holes to be drilled in your wall, make noise, and really only heat the air inside a home.

      My hunch is that they will save money and emissions like industrial wind turbines and wireless smart meters… not even close to as advertised.

  4. walter moses :

    Efficiency Vermont has a lobbyist? How much does he cost? Probably none of my business.

  5. Avram Patt :

    I’ve noticed errors in a few recent vtdigger reports on energy issues, some minor and others more substantive. Some have to do with incorrect electric terminology (watts, kilowatts, kilowatt hours, the difference between transmission lines vs. distribution lines, etc.) These can make a difference in understanding the issue.

    In this article:

    Efficiency Vermont is not a “company.”

    George Twigg is an Efficiency Vermont employee, with a title that should have been reported. By referring to him simply as a “lobbyist,” the article has given at least one commenter the impression that he’s is an outside hired gun. Employees who represent their organizations regularly at the State House are required to register as lobbyists, along with those who work for outside lobbying firms.

    • Eric Rutz :

      George Twigg is an employee of VEIC, (Vermont Energy Investment Corporation), a non-profit who manages Efficiency Vermont under an “order of appointment” from the Public Service Board. His title is Director, Public Affairs, and he represents Efficiency Vermont in this matter.

    • Tom Brown :

      Hi Avram, thanks for the insights. We do struggle at times with energy terminology and we appreciate being set straight. Our goal is to get it right. As for the lobbyist, I’m not sure what difference it makes whether the lobbyist is a full-time employee or not. In both cases he is attempting to convey the employer’s message to lawmakers and influence decisions. As you said, Mr. Twigg is a registered lobbyist.

      • Avram Patt :

        Tom, there is a difference and it is illustrated by one of the comments above mine. This is not being picky. When someone is employed by and has a policy position title at an organization, it is important to report that, to distinguish from someone who works at a “lobbying ” firm that represents multiple clients. I was registered as a lobbyist for 16 years on behalf of my former employer, was quoted in news reports numerous times, but was never referred to by a reporter as the lobbyist for that employer. That would have puzzled a lot of readers.

        • Tom Brown :

          Your point is well-taken, Avram. Thanks.

  6. Willem Post :

    Air source heat pumps only work in moderate climates, such as in the South. They would be energy hogs in Vermont, as the temperature difference between the evaporator and outdoor ambient would be too small.

    Ground sourced heat pumps work better in New England, because the temperature difference between the evaporator and the soil will be a constant throughout the year.

    Such systems require extensive excavation and piping coils in the ground and end up costing about $20,000 to $30,000.

    It is doubtful if that would be cost effective, unless we all chip in to provide the owner a big subsidy for such a system, as we are already doing for PV solar

    • Richard Ratico :

      Here’s an article detailing some of the much larger subsidies Willem and his fellow 1% crony’s enjoy:
      http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/27/opinion/kristof-a-nation-of-takers.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&_r=0

      • Willem Post :

        Richard,
        The households with high incomes will be the ones to install gong sorcery heat pump systems and have houses that have in- floor heating piping and basements with in- slab heating piping
        Adding all that to the cost of the house would be at least $20.000 to $30,000 more than having a house with a baseboard heating system.

        A much better approach would be to have a thermal solar system on the roof that can produce 180F water for heating the hous and other uses.

        A hot water storage tank of about 500 gallons would be required if the house is highly insulated and sealed, a bigger tank, if not.

        I would add a PV system to such a house, with a few days of battery energy storage to be off the grid.

        More and more smart households will opt to go that way to insulate themselves from rising energy prices and any RE follies Montpelier comes up with the would increase already- high electric rates.

        • Willem Post :

          Richard,
          I was typing this on my iPad. Correction: ground source heat pumps

          • Richard Ratico :

            “Gong sorcery heat pumps” would be pricey and probably look like billboards.

  7. sandra bettis :

    disposable incomes? i spend 300 mo/3000 yr on propane – i’m looking forward to spending 50 mo on elec – which do you think is more efficient? i tried to do solar – it was going to cost 20,000. in the south, they’ve had heat pumps for a long time – and it was pretty cold down there this last winter.

    • Willem Post :

      Sandra,
      And I am willing to bet, those households in the south will have big electric bills this winter, because almost all of those air source heat pumps would be operating very inefficiently.

      In Vermont that would be even a bigger problem, because the electric rates are almost two times as high as in the south.

      Because you are a lay person in such technical issues, as are most other people, it is easy to be confused by promoters of heat pumps with agendas.

  8. sandra bettis :

    willem – i spoke to someone with a heat pump in vt – he spends $50 mo for elec to run it. i, on the other hand, spend $300 mo on propane.

    • Willem Post :

      Sandra, if you belong to a fuel buyers club you can get your propane at about $2/gal; I paid $1.86/gal for 1200 gal, last year.

      $50/month is about 265 kWh. How big is his house? Is it highly insulated and sealed? Does it have an heat recovery ventilator? How does the heat get distributed in the heated spaces? How does that compare to your house.

      People often use them to heat a larger room by having the unit blow warm air from a single point into the room.

      If the room is really large two units may be needed at about $3500 each, installed.

      A mini-split heat pump has two fans and a compressor; Fujitsu makes them. Other, more expensive units, have variable refrigerant flow, VRF.

      If warm liquid is circulated through in-floor piping and in-concrete basement slab piping, a circulating pump may be needed for each zone.

  9. Dave Bellini :

    Someone explain it to me. A device that pumps outside air into the house in the winter? In Vermont? Does it heat the air first? It captures the outside heat even at -4 degrees? Where is the heat hiding outside when it’s winter? The last month I got every morning and it was around -4 degrees, I couldn’t find ANY heat out there.
    .
    I’m certain of my ignorance on this issue so blast away, maybe I’ll learn something…….

    • Willem Post :

      Dave, most ignorant people, including myself, go to the internet and start googling.

      It is amazing how much you can learn, if you know where to look.

      See my above comments.

    • Matthew Rutherford :

      Dave,

      I am no engineer so the science was pretty confusing to me as well.

      I found this link from Mitsubishi which broke it down for me rather well.

      http://www.mitsubishielectric.com/keytechnologies/main.html?shortcut=35

      • Willem Post :

        The link did not work for me.

      • Willem Post :

        Matthew,

        Your refrigerator is half a heat pump. It pumps heat out of your refrigerator via the cold evaporator coil, which gets periodically defrosted, and exhausts it with a fan via a warm condenser coil in the back of the unit.

        A full heat pump can also act as an air conditioner by reversing the refrigerant flow.

        Mini-split heat pumps have a separate fan for the condenser and evaporator. These fans can be variable speed.

        Some minis-splits have variable speed compressors, so- called VRF units.

        • Matthew Rutherford :

          It’s unfortunate that link did not work for you. I tested it just now and it still works for me just fine.

          And I feel that your comparison is quite fitting. Thank you.

  10. sandra bettis :

    i belong to ruth clark’s fuel group and get my propane from suburban – the last fill up was 3.93 per gal – they said that, if i didn’t belong to a fuel group, it would be over 4.

    • Willem Post :

      Sandra, I pre-buy my fuel to ensure a constant price for the heating season.
      Our buying group contracts for over 1.1 million gallon of fuel oil and propane and settle on a price in early summer when prices are lowest. The more an individual buys the lower the price. Money not spent is carried over to next year.
      I suggest, you look around for a much better and bigger buying group.

  11. Randy Jorgensen :

    Recently efficient heat pumps have really improved over the years. Mitsubishi has been installing them in Canada for some time now. (in colder climates then Vermont) Take a look at the Mitsubishi Zuba system. It’s rated down to -30C or ~22F. I currently have a less then 5 year old propane furnace in the 95% range and am really thinking of installing a heat pump. I built a very efficient house and essentially penalized by the propane industry for using “less” propane. So for spending the money on efficiencies when I built the house to use less fossile fuels I get hit on the other side with a higher per gallon rate. It actually cheaper for me to heat with electricity which is why I had a “backup” electric heat element installed in my duct work.

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