• Efficiency isn’t enough
    January 09,2014

    It is interesting and informative to look at the stories in The Times Argus through a lens that focuses on energy, particularly the relation between renewable energy (solar, wind, biomass) and fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal). We know climate change is upon us. We know fairly well its causes. We know that we’ve got to reduce fossil fuel consumption to reduce carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere. It’s a big deal.

    When I read the stories in The Times Argus through this lens, I find a few critical things missing. Take, for example, the headline story of Dec. 27, “Range of bills to be considered”; no mention is made of any efforts by our legislators about renewable energy and reducing fossil fuel use.

    On another front-page story of the same date, “Legislators look to session’s issues,” central Vermont legislators were asked to set forth their priorities for the coming legislative session. Of the 15 responding, only two mentioned climate change and energy efficiency. Only one mentioned energy conservation, and it seemed that there was confusion between energy efficiency and conservation. Conservation is energy not used (smaller homes, trips not taken, materials not moved), and efficiency is still consumption and often makes consumption rise because it may make energy less expensive.

    A very interesting commentary by Gayle and Mike Morabito in the Dec. 28 edition calls into question biomass as a workable renewable choice (depends on the length of your view — decades for biomass or eons for fossil fuels to sequester the carbon dioxide) and cites the secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources as saying no progress has been made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions since legislation was passed in 2006. Again there is no mention of energy conservation.

    In the Dec. 29 edition, in another front page story, “Shumlin seeks to boost renewable energy,” the emphasis of those involved is to raise the cap on the net metering of solar electricity so more renewable energy can be brought online. Again no mention of energy conservation and, even more significantly, no mention of exactly how the use of fossil fuel-generated electricity will be reduced as the renewably generated electricity is brought online.

    Certainly we must put a priority on pressing, immediate items such as the budget and health care, but we must, at the same time, be laying the groundwork to meet and solve the important and urgent longer-range big deal item — the impacts of climate change and reducing fossil fuel energy use. Reduction in energy use will not happen unless a plan to “build in energy conservation” into our everyday activities is formulated and implemented with statistics generated to keep track of how we are doing to reach our goals of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

    Part of this plan for “built-in conservation” might be, for example, to ensure that before any renewable energy projects are approved for construction, a commensurate amount of fossil energy is taken offline. To reach our goal, “commensurate” in this case may mean taking 10 units of fossil fuel offline for every unit of renewable energy that comes online.

    As I’ve commented in this paper before, the Comprehensive Energy Plan, 2011, Volume 1 — Vermont’s Energy Future discusses energy efficiency at length but gives little time to energy conservation, with no mention of conservation in the section on “Outreach and Education.” Volume 2 of the plan, “Facts, Analysis, and Recommendations,” does not have a chapter on energy conservation but has two separate chapters on energy efficiency, one on electrical and one on thermal efficiency.

    We will not reduce fossil fuel consumption by bringing renewable energy online and increasing efficiency. Over the last two centuries we have increased efficiency, and consumption has continued to rise. A “built-in conservation plan” is needed if we are to make any progress at all. Remember that energy not used is conservation, and efficiency is still energy consumption and does not necessarily mean less overall consumption.

    I’ll be reviewing and commenting on the Public Service Department’s Total Energy Study (issued Dec. 15 with the public comment period ending Jan. 22). I am hoping that the plan does (or will) recognize the important and significant difference between energy efficiency and energy conservation and that it will include a workable plan to meet the long-range goal that includes keeping statistics that tell us if we in fact are on track.

    I also hope that folks who read this will take the time to visit the Public Service Department website, read the Total Energy Study and comment to the PSD before Jan. 22. Go to http://publicservice.vermont.gov to find and read the study.

    Richard Czaplinski lives in Warren.

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