A New Money-Saving Tool for Climate Action

By Linda Gray

A local home with a heat pump. Photo by Aaron Lamperti.

I know from personal experience that town energy committee volunteers spend a lot of time talking with their neighbors about how to make the switch away from fossil fuels.

We set up info tables at the transfer station and the general store. We have conversations about how to use less energy, how to save money, and the benefits and incentives for switching to cleaner energy. We reach our neighbors through face-to-face conversations, listserv posts, energy fairs, and dozens of town web sites.

As I and my committee colleagues approach our neighbors to highlight both the personal and global benefits of making investments in efficiency and cleaner energy technologies, we’re noticing that we don’t have to do the approaching so much anymore. People come to us these days, because they want to make changes and they need to know how.

Energy committee members are often the “boots on the ground” or the “last mile delivery” in translating state or national policies into home-level action. And, to have any message to deliver, we need two things: policies that support people making changes, and accurate information about them.

We have both.

Though it took much too long, we now have a solid (and growing) roster of federal, state, and utility programs specifically aimed at helping households make crucial changes in how they use energy and what kind of energy they use.

And we have many longtime partners with reliable information and resources: Efficiency Vermont, HEAT Squad, Drive Electric Vermont, distribution utilities, our community action agencies, and more.

We also have a new tool to pull them all together – because, for the average householder who’s not an energy geek, the details can be hard to keep straight. It’s a Vermont-specific incentive calculator from Rewiring America and Efficiency Vermont: a single web resource, that shows people a financial savings estimate personalized for their circumstances, including federal, state, and utility incentives. You enter your zip code, household size, income, tax filing status, and homeowner status and get a summary of the total incentives available to you. This makes it clear how affordable household-level climate actions are, and it also makes it that much easier to take them.

And, make no mistake: household-level actions are critical to reducing emissions. Residences are responsible for half of our state’s heating emissions; passenger vehicles are almost three-quarters of our transportation emissions.

As the December 2021 Vermont Climate Action Plan says, “While individual circumstances vary, for most Vermonters, the single highest impact personal decision they can make is to commit, whenever practicable, to never again purchase brand new pieces of fossil-fuel dependent equipment. This is especially true of vehicles and space heating systems, but is also relevant for water heaters and smaller pieces of equipment like lawn mowers and snow blowers.”

The reality is that to do our part to preserve our communities for our children and grandchildren, we need new systems – and incentives – for making household-level decisions and investments. We all need to make different consumer choices, and we’ll do that if those choices are easy, efficient, and affordable.

While this online calculator isn’t a panacea for climate progress, it’s one more tool in our toolbox. And we need all the tools we can get, both to cut costs for Vermont households today and to ensure that the next generation of Vermonters isn’t stuck with disproportionate and exorbitant costs in the future.

Check it out – and spread the money-saving word!

This commentary is by Linda Gray of Norwich. She’s been active on her town energy committee since 2008.


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