By Guy Page
The Canadian province of Alberta this week became the latest North American jurisdiction to vote against carbon taxation. Voters overwhelmingly elected a new premier whose No. 1 campaign promise was “no carbon tax.” There’s a reason that even “green” states and provinces are backing away from carbon taxes — in addition to inflicting financial pain, they actually do little to reduce emissions. Even climate change author Bill McKibben conceded as much in a 2016 Yale University article.
Which begs the question: what energy strategies do reduce carbon emissions?
First, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ recent claims notwithstanding, keeping nuclear plants open limits carbon emissions. Vermont had the nation’s smallest electricity-based carbon footprint in the nation before the Vermont Yankee contract expired in 2012. Vermont’s carbon footprint then rose when our utilities became more reliant on fossil-fuel reliant New England “grid” power. (It then shrank some, in part because Vermont utilities bought more out-of-state nuclear power and developed the region’s best energy conservation program.)
Second, natural gas has led to almost 50 percent reductions in New England electricity carbon emissions since 2008. It’s a huge if little-known success story: natural gas replaced coal and oil as primary fuel sources for New England power plants. In a recent Real Vermont News post, former legislator Bob Frenier and I describe how it happened.
Renewable power opponents diminish this reduction as “incremental” and say Vermont must go all-in with renewable energy for electricity, heat and transportation. They also worry that building new natural gas distribution pipelines will “lock in” Vermont to natural gas heat for the rest of the century. That’s why they are trying to ban pipeline extensions.
To these objections, advocates of market-based low-emissions respond:
- 50 percent is one heckuva incremental change
- Renewable energy on a grid level is not (yet) affordable and reliable
- Low-cost natural gas heat and electricity can help cover smart zero-carbon power improvements and additions
- Pipeline bans could increase carbon emissions. They could drive many Vermonters to burn higher-carbon heating oil, which must be transported to them by carbon-emitting trucks. Pipeline bans, like nuclear power plant closings, reduce competition for the renewable power industry but do not reduce emissions.
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.