Building decarbonization with ‘climate justice’ to highlight Burlington Town Meeting Day ballot

Michael Bielawski/TNR

HEATING: On Town Meeting Day, Burlington residents will be deciding if they want the city to phase out oil and gas heating systems in favor of cold-climate heat pumps, which have a mixed performance and cost record.

Among the initiatives that Burlington residents will be voting on this Town Meeting Day include two climate-themed goals: letting the city regulate residential and thermal energy systems, and doing so with “climate justice” in mind.

The decarbonization initiative, Ballot Question 3, proposes a charter change that allows for local control of building heating systems. Specifically, it would let the city collect “carbon impact” fees from any home or building owner that uses carbon-based fuels. If it passes, voters would decide at a later date what fees to impose, such as during an annual or special meeting.

The idea behind the ballot question is to incentivize the use of electricity — in particular the use of cold-climate electric heat pumps such as currently promoted by Renewable Energy Vermont — to heat buildings. The technology is relatively new compared to its gas and oil counterparts, and performance and cost issues are still being worked out.

The Burlington City Council approved this charter change by a 10-2 vote in December. Councilors Ali Dieng and Franklin Paulino were the lone no-votes.

LETTER: Vote no on climate-related ballot questions 3 and 7 in Burlington

In October, Mayor Miro Weinberger put forth a proposal to achieve net-zero carbon emissions for Burlington. “Burlington is aggressively leading the country toward this essential and promising vision, and our building electrification proposal represents the City’s next big step forward,” he said.

Another item up for a vote, Ballot Question 7, would advise the city council and mayor’s office to create incentives for non-carbon energy sources for low- and moderate-income residents, yet with a social justice emphasis: a focus on “Black, Indigenous, and people of color, and to otherwise disadvantaged community members.”

Dieng, who is also running for mayor, was one of only two lawmakers to vote against the decarbonization push.

“Regulations should only stay around things that the city controls, such as outside people’s homes — the streets, the sidewalks, the lighting, the police, etc.,” he told True North in an interview Thursday. “But people’s homes are people’s homes, and I do not think that municipal government should have any say into it.”

Dieng said he is open to incentives for building owners to make the switch from gas to electric heat. But he cautioned that any new technology’s performance and cost should be considered.

“The cost associated with this, especially now during COVID-19 — the timing is just not right. Many people cannot afford it,” he said.  “I hear from constituents who live in the city, who made it clear that the city has no idea what we are talking about, because some who have tried to do the switch … encountered so much problems.

“[Another issue is] performance of this technology, and it’s not appropriate to see what is happening in LA and try to replicate it here in the cold climate,” he said. ” … In terms of heating, it may be clear that these technologies do not do the work that is needed to really keep people warm during the winter.”

Cold-climate heat pumps are a new and developing technology, and are more costly than natural gas systems.

“Because of the high cost of electricity in many areas, heat pumps are usually more expensive to operate in winter than a gas furnace,” a report states. “Compared to oil or propane heat, however, heat pumps are almost always less expensive to operate, unless electric rates are very high.”

Matt Cota, the Executive Director of Vermont Fuel, wrote in a commentary Thursday that recent weather events have exposed the fact that new electric technology is still developing.

“An energy spike in Texas [is] causing rolling blackouts, leaving 2 million people without power, cold and in the dark. Here in Vermont, many homeowners that have an electric air source heat pump received an email warning on February 12 that their utility will ‘manage’ the device remotely to lower energy consumption during peak demand.”

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North. Send him news tips at and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Image courtesy of Michael Bielawski/TNR

28 thoughts on “Building decarbonization with ‘climate justice’ to highlight Burlington Town Meeting Day ballot

  1. “Electrify Everything”, an easily uttered slogan that would cost $billions in Vermont

    It would require:

    – Additional electricity generation plants, such as nuclear, wind, solar, and hydro
    – Additional grid augmentation/expansion to carry increased loads for future EVs and heat pumps
    – Additional battery systems to store the midday solar electricity surges for later use, aka, DUCK-curve management.
    – Major command/control-orchestrating to avoid overloading distribution and high voltage electric grids regarding:

    1) Charging times and duration of EVs and heat pumps
    2) Operating times and duration of major appliances
    3) Control of electricity demands of commercial/industrial businesses

  2. Electricity Supply

    In the near future, in New England, there may be 2 million EVs charging for several hours, each drawing about 10 kW, plus there may be 50,000 buses and trucks, each drawing about 20 kW, for a total of 21,000 MW.

    On colder days, two million heat pumps, each drawing about 2.5 kW, a total draw of 5,000 MW, would be in addition.
    These additional demands, a total of 26,000 MW, would significantly exceed the existing demands on the NE grid. See Appendix.

    If nuclear and gas power plants were closed down, per RE zealot wishes, where would the electricity come from, when:

    1) Midday solar electricity is minimal, because it is cloudy, or the panels are covered with snow and ice?
    2) Wind electricity is minimal many hours of almost each day of the year?
    3) Such sunless, windless periods, which occur at random, could last 5 to 7 days?

  3. Heat Pumps are Money Losers in my Vermont House

    My annual electricity consumption increased about 50%, after I installed three 24,000 Btu/h heat pumps for heating and cooling my, well-sealed/well-insulated house. They displaced a fraction of my propane consumption.

    My existing propane system, 95%-efficient in condensing mode, is used on cold days, 15 F or less, because heat pumps would have low efficiencies, i.e., low Btu/kWh, at exactly the same time my house would need the most heat!

    There have been no energy cost savings, because of high household electric rates, augmented with taxes, fees and surcharges.
    Amortizing the $24,000 capital cost at 3.5%/y for 15 years costs about $2,059/y.
    There likely will be service calls and parts, as the years go by, in addition to service calls and parts for the existing propane system.

  4. “it would let the city collect “carbon impact” fees from any home or building owner that uses non-carbon fuels” Do I miss something here? Burlington is going to incentivize the use of non-carbon means of heating (I assume they mean electric, which isn’t “non-carbon” if it’s generated by oxidizing carbon fuels) by collecting fees for using non-carbon fuels? Is sun/wind considered non-carbon fuel – and will the homeowners be “carbon impact” taxed for powering their home with them?

  5. Id like to say M****ns but not PC. My say is the people thinking this up have no engineering background and therefore no help in the question. Not amazing that the people in charge are taking advantage of voter apathy. Good luck!

  6. This is funny stuff!
    But only because I don’t own property or live in Burlington. For those that do, passage of these ordinances further advance the decline of the former Queen City. To throw all one’s proverbial eggs into the electric basket might not be the best choice for anyone in Vermont. Ask a Texan how it’s working for them these days. The technology for heat pumps is solid, but one must understand the limitations of technology. When it becomes to cold for the units to efficiently produce heat- does the homeowner or renter plug in the electric space heater?
    Kinda defeats the goal here, folks. Burlington Electric’s infrastructures are adequate for now, but whom pays for the upgrades required as all these heat pumps are installed? Ratepayers, that’s who.
    The homeowners and tenants that vote on these ballot questions are also the ratepayers. The Burlington City Council and the Mayor are pushing an agenda, not serving the best interests of Burlington residents or taxpayers. There is a bright spot to all this hubris- after it fails in Burlington, the State legislature may not be so quick to adopt these types of foolish energy policies.

    • It doesn’t bother me in the least if Burlington wants to be the guinea pig for an exercise in futility that’s undoubtedly going to fail. Cold weather heat pumps have a built in auxillary heat system. It can be electric resistance heat or gas. When it’s too cold for the heat pump to keep up on it’s own, the auxillary comes on to make up for the heat the compressors can’t supply.
      In the future, something to watch out for is electricity supplied by companies who are wholesalers. Griddy a wholesaler in Texas prices it electricity based on the markets demand. If demand is high like during an extreme weather event, the price per kWh goes up. As in the case of Texas’ extremely high power demand that took down the grid of major cities, people’s bills have gone with high, as much as $10,000. See this article
      The lesson here is, if VT doesn’t have any backup for it’s future RE sources and an extreme weather event takes them out, we will be in the same boat as Texas is in currently. People in Texas have died, lost their homes, lost jobs, gone hungry because the Texas electric grid operator ignored the federal recommendations on upgrading the grid to handle an extreme weather event, ten years ago after a similar winter storm. VT can’t rely on other regional suppliers for backup, in the event they also may be down during a regional crisis. Montpelier is not looking at going all RE in a rational way. Looking at lowering CO2 only without investigating the pitfalls and planning solutions is like walking around on top of a high building while wearing a blindfold. Planning solutions based on theoretical and unproven technology is ignorant. The RE industry paints a rosey picture to sell their technology. But, when the solar fields are blanketed under 18″ of snow or the windmills are sheathed in an inch and a half of ice, VT will be on its own, just like in Texas.

  7. Most of the people in Burlington must not remember how much Burlington Telecom cost them – which they no longer own right? Keep voting for the same parties that cost you thousands and millions in bad ideas – snake oil salesmen/women run that place into the ground year after year….

  8. And all the indoctrinated college students who live in Burlington and have no skin in the game get to vote. The real residents are screwed.

    • And which companies will be licensed, or already licensed to install these
      10,000? brand new units.
      Who gets very, very rich in a matter of a very few months?

      Now you have “heat” how do you get it into the home? Brand new duct work,
      hot water pipes, evenly around the home. tear up your home.

      First convert City hall to ground based heat pumps, and figure out how to distribute that tiny amount of heat.
      What happens when your water source freezes up from sucking too much heat.
      How deep must these wells be, what if you are on ledge?

      This is an imaginary pipe dream, Vote No in self defense.

      How much ground heat can you suck from the same wells, when homes in old North End or in the small lot developments, just have.

  9. Let’s take a look at the Burlington ballot questions through words of former Massachusetts Deputy Secretary of Climate Change David Ismay. You’ll remember Mr. Ismay testified before Vermont’s Climate Council about a week ago and told the Council that the big greenhouse gas producers have been eliminated and it was now the everyday citizens and retired folks on fixed incomes that the “screws would be put down on and have their wills broken in the fight against climate change”.

    That remarkable comment has cost Mr. Ismay his job as Deputy Secretary……Now the Burlington ballot questions appear and if passed will allow the City Council to put the screws down and break the will of the people of the Queen City just as Ismay warned.

    Is this the type of government that the people of Burlington voted for, now want and can afford?

  10. Where do these fools come from, Burlington’s McNeil Plant the only source
    and is about 25% efficient at best? And the council thinks all homes should
    be all-electric., now that sounds like a winning combination.

    Then these clowns on the City council and their ” Gestapo Tactics ” telling the
    overtaxed citizens on what they can use within their own property, and if you
    don’t comply you’ll be fined who are these people, do they actually own property ??

    So all homeowners in Burlington need to stop paying their property taxes if this
    boondoggle passes, as it looks like the city owns it !!

    Wake up people, this is just more agenda-driven nonsense, see how your city
    councilor votes, and then vote them out in the next election cycle.

    Burlington, use to be the hub for everything real businesses, economy, jobs, low taxes,
    and then in the eighties, progressives came to town and the City has gone downhill ever
    since and they are still in charge ……………pretty pathetic !!

    Wake up, before it’s too late

  11. The question is:

    Naive: Deficient in worldly wisdom or informed judgement.


    Sophisticated: Having a refined knowledge of the ways of the world cultivated especially through wide experience.

    Is the Burlington City Council sophisticated or naive in thinking they are representing the best interests of their constituents by approving Ballot Question 3 ?

    1. Ten out of 12 members of the Burlington City Council approved Ballot Question 3, which “would let the city collect “carbon impact” fees from any home or building owner that uses non-carbon fuels”…….Extra and unknown costs on already overburdened Burlington residents……Will they like that?…….Not likely.

    2. The idea behind the ballot question is to incentivize the use of electricity — in particular the use of cold-climate electric heat pumps such as currently promoted by Renewable Energy Vermont — to heat buildings and make tons of money for the REV directors’ businesses……They’ll definitely love more business, more sales and more profits extracted from the residents of Burlington under the authority of Ballot Question 3.

    3. The technology is relatively new compared to its gas and oil counterparts, and performance and cost issues are still being worked out……..No big deal…….Especially if you’re “Naive”.

    So are the Burlington City Councilors “sophisticated leaders” or “naive babes” having little idea of what they’re getting the good people of Burlington into with ballot Question 3?

    • The City Council’s actions are neither naive nor sophisticated, but the Aristotelian definition of ‘hubris’…. The overweening presumption that leads a person to disregard the divinely fixed limits on human action in an ordered cosmos.

      • I’ll agree that sophisticated is definitely a no go, but naive can be worked in there some how. On the other hand, hubris is a great choice……It fits the behavior we’ve observed coming from the City Council Chamber……So is sophomoric and all of its immediate cousins…. immature, infantile, inflated, pretentious, reckless, brash, foolish, inexperienced, naive and young.

        Beyond the ballot questions, we hear orders coming from at least City Councilor who is less than two years out of UVM telling President Garimella how control costs and run that university……..Got a descriptor for that one?

        • There’s another analysis to consider too. This get’s a little deep in the weeds, but as long as you’re considering motivations, try this on for size.


          If you read the works of WEF founder Klaus Schwab (The Great Reset), Slavoj Zizec (Marxist philosopher), and Jordan Petersen (free market advocate extraordinaire), you see the dichotomy in spades.

          Zizek (the ultimate ‘horrified’ pessimist) is economically incoherent and seems very much an apologist for being a progenitor of the ill treatment of European Jews in the 1930s and 40s, like his fellow eastern European, Klaus Schwab, who was also born just after WWII. The extent of their confession of sins can only be matched by their insistence that we all plead guilty to being human (like them) and, therefore, inherently capable of unspeakable evil, as they were. Misery, after all, enjoys company.

          The Black Lives Matter movement, for example, is a similar casting of the inherent evil on free market conservatives, regardless of their race, color or ethnicity. The ‘Critical Race Theory’ and the ‘1619 Project’, now extensively taught in our schools, are similar permutations of these progressive liberal apologists.

          Ergo, we have the Burlington City Council – who have been brain washed into believing we are all guilty of inherent evil and must be ‘regulated’ for our own safety.

          If history is any indication, the progressive movement will do everything it can (e.g. the Great Reset) to justify their continued existence at our expense. This is the classic good vs. evil human condition.

          Jordan Peterson (a clinical psychologist), on the other hand, is the ultimate optimist. I recommend everyone check out his lectures and debates online, to see and hear the articulate antidote to the mental illness of socialism

  12. Burlington’s McNeil Generating Station’s primary source for electricity is wood. Wood has a ratio of combustible carbon atoms to hydrogen atoms of about 10:1, whereas natural gas has a much lower ratio of 1 carbon to 4 hydrogen. Moving McNeil’s primary electrical source to natural gas from wood would reduce CO2 emissions. Yet proposals 3 and 7 would disallow this. This is counter-productive! These proposals will increase CO2 emissions in Burlington as wood-generated electricity will displace lower emitting CO2 natural gas generated electricity.

    • In that same regard, replace McNeil with Hydro Quebec’s CO2 free, abundant, and sustainable power, already available at the wholesale cost of about 6 cents per KWH. And while the PUC is at it, replace the 30% of Vermont’s power provided by Solar and Wind that, through net-metering, costs more than twice as much as HQ electricity.

        • Willen:

          As you know, in Texas the wind turbines iced up and were unable to produce power…….Wind power proved to be unreliable in Texas and it certainly also be unreliable in Vermont.

          My questions:

          1. Is there now proven technology available to handle the icing of wind turbines?

          2. If not, what is being done to develop de-icing technology that would work in northern areas such as Vermont and what would it cost?

          3. Do turbine and solar icing problems represent a deterrent that makes achievement of climate change goals via renewable energy much more, if not totally undoable?

          • Peter,
            Germany and other northern countries have heaters for the blades and the big boxes on top of the mast, already for at least two decades.

            NE wind turbines would need the same.

      • Jay,

        H-Q Long-term Contracts with Vermont

        Hydro-Québec is connected to the Vermont grid via an approximately 24-km (15-mile), 120-kV transmission line that runs from Bedford substation in Québec’s Montérégie region to Highgate substation in the northwest corner of Vermont. The interconnection also includes a back-to-back converter station to synchronize Hydro-Québec’s electricity with the New England grid.

        With a maximum capacity of 225 MW, the interconnection was commissioned in 1985, enabling Hydro-Québec to supply Vermont utilities under long-term agreements.

        The first long-term contract between Hydro-Québec and Vermont was signed in 1987. In 2010, the parties signed a second contract for up to 225 MW, under which Hydro-Québec committed to deliver approximately 1.3 TWh each year through 2038—a quantity equivalent to about 25% of the supply of electricity to Vermont utilities.

        These long-term contracts are part of the reason Vermont consumers have not experienced the large rate increases that have occurred in other parts of New England in recent years.

        H-Q Building New Plants, Upgrading Others

        Below items 1 through 4 would enable H-Q to have at least 5000 MW x 8766 x 0.60 = 26,298,000 MWh/y, or 26.3 TWh, for export via new power lines that are being proposed, in addition to existing exports. If that electricity were not there, would various private companies propose HVDC power lines worth billions of dollars?

        1) Hydro-Québec Production obtained the necessary approvals to build a 1,550-MW hydroelectric complex on the Rivière Romaine, north of the municipality of Havre-Saint-Pierre on the north shore of the St. Lawrence. The complex will consist of four hydro plants, Romaine 1, 2, 3 and 4, with total average output of 8.0 TWh/y; CF 0.60.

        2) Other power plants up north are being refurbished (better water flow) and being upgraded with more efficient turbines, i.e., will produce more electricity.

        3) Existing plants not being fully utilized (water over the spillways instead of through the turbines, especially in summer).

        4) H-Q to build future hydro plants and wind systems.

        H-Q Export of Electricity and Revenues in 2016

        “H-Q electricity, very clean, very low CO2, steady, 99% renewable, 5 – 7 c/kWh per recent GMP 20-y contract; no subsidies required.”

        The 5 – 7 c/kWh contract price appears entirely reasonable, considering, in 2016, HQ was exporting at an annual average of 4.8 c/kWh (a mix of old and new contracts).

        HQ export revenue in 2016; $1.568 billion
        HQ electricity exported to New York, New England, etc., in 2016; 32.6 TWh (about 20.8 TWh to NE)
        Annual average electricity sales price 1.568/32.6 = 4.8 c/kWh; this is the average of older and newer contracts.
        See page 31 of URL

        NOTE: GMP buys at 5.549 c/kWh, per GMP spreadsheet titled “GMP Test Year Power Supply Costs filed as VPSB Docket No: Attachment D, Schedule 2, April 14, 2017”.

        Electricity Supply to New England via External Ties

        Quebec, New Brunswick and New York supply about 20.8 million MWh/y to the NE grid. See table 4.

        With additional HVDC transmission lines, the above 4 items would enable external tie supply of about 2 x 20.8 = 41.6 million MWh/y by 2050.

        Cost of Transmission: Some wind/solar proponents often claim transmission lines are expensive. They resort to all sorts of legal actions to obstruct permitting and building of the line.

        However, a 1000 MW transmission line costs about $1.5 billion, lasts at least 40 years, during which it would transmit about 1000 x 8766 x 0.70 CF x 40 = 245.5 billion kWh. Amortizing the cost of the line at 3.5% over 40 years would require total payments of $2.789 billion, or about 1.136 c/kWh.

Comments are closed.