This commentary is by Mark Stephenson, co-founder and CEO of Vermont Energy in Williston. 

Today, more than half of Vermonters heat their homes with fuel oil or propane. Aside from being polluting fossil fuels that are driving the climate crisis, they are two of the highest-cost and most price-volatile ways to heat homes and buildings. 

This fossil fuel dependence creates a major strain on Vermont consumers and a large drain on the Vermont economy.  

While current retail fuel prices — $4.64 a gallon for fuel oil and $3.54 a gallon for propane as of this writing, but likely higher by time of publication — are particularly high, remember that the high costs and price volatility of fossil fuels are a feature, not a bug, of global commodity markets controlled largely by oil cartels and oligarchs.   

Vermonters who have switched to heating their water with heat-pump water heaters and their homes or buildings with heat pumps, especially after having weatherization done, often experience significant savings. 

I know because Vermont Energy Contracting and Supply Corp., which I founded in 1985, is now one of the largest heat pump installers in New England. To date, we have installed thousands of heat pump systems for Vermonters and I hear every day from customers who tell us about the savings they are experiencing, especially when they are able to reduce their propane and fuel oil use.  

While many fossil fuel companies are hesitant about the clean energy transition, we and thousands of other HVAC contractors, weatherization providers, advanced wood heat installers and forward-looking fuel dealers stand ready, willing and able to help Vermonters take advantage of the clean heating opportunities that are envisioned by Vermont’s Clean Heat Standard. In doing so, we can help more Vermonters save money and keep more of our dollars local, reinvesting in and growing Vermont’s economy.  

In 2019 (the year of the latest available data), Vermonters spent over $600 million on nearly 250 million gallons of fuel oil and propane — a cost that is sure to be higher this year. Of that amount, nearly 70% of those dollars drained out of Vermont’s economy, supporting multinational fossil fuel corporations and countries that abuse human rights and undermine democratic values.  

In contrast, when we heat our water and our spaces with heat pumps, that equation gets reversed: Over 70% of our energy dollars stay and recirculate right here in Vermont, providing good jobs for our neighbors as we heat more cleanly. In fact, in the last 35 years, Vermont Energy alone has added 35 jobs to meet growing demand for clean heating solutions, and we stand ready to train and bring on many more.  

Meeting Vermont’s emissions reduction requirements is a massive opportunity for Vermont consumers and the Vermont economy. This is because when we move away from high-cost, price-volatile fuels that are 100% imported and instead utilize lower-cost, price-stable alternatives that keep more of our money local, the result is a win-win. 

In fact, independent analysis conducted for the Vermont Climate Council projects $6.4 billion in net economic savings for Vermont between now and 2050 by virtue of meeting our emissions reduction commitments. At the same time, the analysis expects the net creation of 3,500 new jobs per year — with the growth in energy efficiency and clean energy jobs far offsetting the relatively few that will be lost at those fossil fuel companies that refuse to transition their business models.   

Vermonters have a choice: keep sending more money than we can afford to oil oligarchs and cartels, or save money and strengthen the Vermont economy by transitioning to renewable heating options that are better for the planet, pocketbooks and Vermont’s economy. 

The Clean Heat Standard will help Vermonters do more of the latter, and we are more than ready to get to work.  

Pieces contributed by readers and newsmakers. VTDigger strives to publish a variety of views from a broad range of Vermonters.