Jonathan Lesser: Vermont’s windmill-tilting Climate Action Plan

This commentary is by Jonathan Lesser, president of Continental Economics, an energy consulting firm. He previously served as the Director of Planning at the Vermont Department of Public Service.

The Perfect Little Climate Conscious State now has its own Perfect Little Climate Action Plan. Although the Climate Action Plan won’t have any impact on climate, it will have an only too real impact on Vermonters’ wallets.

Jonathan Lesser previously served as the Director of Planning at the Vermont Department of Public Service.

According to the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) most recent report, Vermont’s carbon-equivalent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions totaled around 8.6 million metric tons in 2017 and was forecasted to decrease to around 8 million metric tons this year. By comparison, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, in 2021 total world energy-related carbon emissions were about 34 billion metric tons. That’s over 93 million tons per day.

Vermont’s emissions are equivalent to about two hours of world emissions. Even if Vermont reduces GHG emissions to zero by 2050, which will not happen, the total reduction between now and then would be just over 100 million metric tons — one day’s worth of world emissions. So, nothing Vermont does will have any measurable impact on world climate.

China’s emissions are increasing by 175 million tons per year, which accounts for 30% of world emissions. It is building 200 new coal-fired power plants to meet growing electricity demand. The country has said it will not begin to reduce emissions until 2060. India, the other Asian country with rapidly increasing emissions, doesn’t plan to start reducing emissions until 2070.

Meanwhile, the Vermont Climate Council wants Vermonters to spend billions to “electrify” their lives — electric cars and trucks, electric heat and hot water, and even electric stoves. The Climate Action Plan claims all of this will cost about $16 billion but will be offset by almost $15 billion in fossil fuel savings and $7.4 billion in health and climate benefits. If one is to believe the Action Plan, Vermonters will pay only a little over $1 billion to achieve this climate perfection, about $1,600 per person.

Are these numbers realistic? Have the costs been underestimated because of overly optimistic assumptions? Have the benefits overestimated the reduction in fossil fuel expenditures? One might think that before imposing the Climate Action Plan on Vermonters and asking them to spend over $1 billion of their money, getting answers to these two basic questions and allowing the public to independently review the assumptions and conclusions would be reasonable.

Except it’s not. The “LEAP” model used by the consultants (Energy Futures Group of Hinesburg), which was developed by the Stockholm Environment Institute and funded by the Swedish government, plus numerous environmental groups and renewable energy proponents, is available to the public. But the actual data assumptions used by the consultants and the results produced by the LEAP model are not.

The Ethan Allen Institute’s recent Open Records request to ANR turned up nothing. According to ANR, the data used for all of the modeling and the detailed results were not part of the “deliverables” from the consultants who wrote the Action Plan. Thus no independent review of the costs and supposed benefits is possible.

Moreover, the data inputs that are known aren’t credible. For example, the Action Plan calls for installing over 96,000 residential heat pumps by 2025 — two years from now — and more than 177,000 by 2030. The Action Plan claims these installations cost $4,000 “plus or minus about $1,000 depending on the house layout and other particulars.” Where is that number from? Who knows?

A 2021 study by Diversified Energy Specialists in Massachusetts looked at the actual costs of installing residential heat pumps in that state between 2019 and 2021. The median cost for whole house retrofits was $20,000, four times larger than what the Action Plan claims. A previous study looked at installation costs in 600 homes between 2014 and 2019. The average cost was over $20,000.

For older homes, installing an electric heat pump often requires upgrading the electric service and running new circuits. Those costs can run into the thousands by themselves. And, if the local distribution infrastructure – the poles and wires running down the road – aren’t robust enough to handle the additional electric load, then it must be upgraded too. Plus, there is the extra load that will be placed on the electric system by the 170,000 electric vehicles that Vermonters will be required to drive.

The Action Plan highlights the availability of rebates from the state’s electric utilities to lower the costs. However, the utilities recover the cost of the rebates in the form of higher electric rates.

Virtually none of the climate benefits will accrue to Vermonters. As for the health benefits of reduced air pollution, who knows how those were calculated.

The Perfect Little Climate Conscious State intends to force ordinary Vermonters to upend their lives – and livelihoods – to accomplish nothing except climate virtue signaling and enriching the state’s green energy industry.

What could be more perfect?

Image courtesy of Burlington Electric Department
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9 thoughts on “Jonathan Lesser: Vermont’s windmill-tilting Climate Action Plan

  1. This is the argument they want.
    This is the argument we’ve been losing at for 20+ years

    We need a different argument. This one isn’t working; it doesn’t expose their true intentions.
    It only frames us as not caring, which is their goal.

    Endless fighting assures Uniparty victory.

  2. The barely moving the needle savings of co2 garnered by the expensive cost of VT climate objectives will be for nothing as stated China is continuing to build coal fired plants and along with India and Russia and all of Asia are not doing anything to curb their output. So bottom line your being robbed to make the climate weenies feel like their doing something when in actuality they are doing nothing but making life harder for you.
    Speaking of tilting windmills they are actually falling in mass numbers as now we are finding out they can’t stand the constant rotational pressure which ruins the pillar structures. https://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/infrastructure/a42622565/wind-turbines-falling-over/

  3. What could be more perfect? These mandates benefit renewable energy companies, weatherization contractors, heat pump installers, and the electric companies by increased sales. These groups then support legislators who promote their causes and oppose those legislators who don’t. Front groups like the Vermont Conservation Voters do their bidding. Then more of these types of laws are passed. That’s how it’s made more perfect.

  4. This is about equity, which is reducing the standard of living of prosperous countries to reflect third world countries. They are financially destroying the middle class with their policies and taxes.

  5. AIR SOURCE HEAT PUMPS DO NOT ECONOMICALLY DISPLACE FOSSIL FUEL BTUs IN COLD CLIMATES
    https://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/air-source-heat-pumps-do-not-economiccally-displace-fossil-fuel

    This article should be read by the Vermont Environment and Energy Committee and all Vermont legislators, so they understand the short-comings of HPs at low temperatures, when operated in houses, other than highly sealed and highly insulated houses.

    Air source HPs will not economically displace anywhere near 100% of fossil Btu in existing Vermont buildings, weatherized or not.

    The Vermont clean heating standard, CHS, modified or not, is deeply flawed. It is putting the horse behind the cart, because they are blinded by generous subsidies for HPs.

    Average Vermont House

    Based on my many years of energy systems analysis experience, I claim, the average Vermont house is totally unsuitable for HPs.

    It is down-right criminal for New England governments to cajole/browbeat/scare/force people to install HPs in such houses

    Summary of CADMUS Report
    https://publicservice.vermont.gov/sites/dps/files/documents/Evaluation%20of%20Cold%20Climate%20Heat%20Pumps%20in%20Vermont.pdf

    – The annual energy cost savings were, on average, $200/y, but the annual maintenance, and annual amortizing costs (at 5.5%/y for 15 years) would turn that gain into a loss of at least $500/y.

    – On average, the HPs provided 27.6% of the annual space heat, and traditional fuels provided 72.4%. These numbers are directly from the survey data. The small percentage of displaced fossil fuel heat indicates HPs would not be effective CO2 reducers in the cold climate of Vermont, if used in average VT houses.

    – Owners started to turn off their HPs at about 28F to 30F, because their past experience showed significant increases in electricity bills, if they had not turned them off.

    – Very few owners were using their HPs at 10F and below, as shown by the decreasing kWh consumption totals on figure 14 of URL.
    – At those temperatures, the hourly cost of operating HPs exceeded the hourly cost of using a traditional heating system.
    – This statement is true for average Vermont houses, which comprise about 90% of the Vermont housing stock.

    – On average, an HP consumed 2,085 kWh during the heating season, of which:

    1) To outdoor unit (compressor, outdoor fan, controls) + indoor air handling unit (fan and supplemental electric heater, if used), to provide space heat 1,880 kWh
    2) Standby mode 76 kWh, or 100 x 76/2085 = 3.6%. The HP cycles to “heat on” to “heat off”, but the fan keeps running
    3) Defrost mode 129 kWh, or 100 x 129/2085 = 6.2%. Defrost starts at about 37F and ends at about 10F.

    The HP overhead was (2085 – 205)/1880 = 10.9%, i.e., 10.9% more electricity was fed to the HP than was converted to space heat.

    – Turnkey cost for a one-head HP system is about $4,500 (2017 pricing); almost all surveyed houses had just one HP, which would be far from sufficient to heat an entire house. See URLs.

    CADMUS Survey of Vermont Air Source HPs

    CADMUS, an energy consultant hired by the Vermont Department of Public Service in 2017, performed a survey of 77 HPs at 65 sites, in Vermont. See URL of CADMUS report
    https://publicservice.vermont.gov/sites/dps/files/documents/Evaluation%20of%20Cold%20Climate%20Heat%20Pumps%20in%20Vermont.pdf

    VT-DPS was advised by the Vermont Legislature to obtain an “independent” study, because many people with HPs had complained, they did not get anywhere near the annual energy cost savings stated on websites, etc., of GMP, BED, VPIRG, VT-DPS, EAN, EFFICIENCY VERMONT, etc.,

    NOTE: The CADMUS report was written in such a confusing way, the average Vermonter, including almost all legislators, would not be informed by it, and would be more confused by it, unless they had a mechanical engineering degree, with applicable experience.
    I do have the degree and experience, so I could analyze it.

    HP Operating Data from Survey

    Figure 14 in the CADMUS report shows, the measured total electricity consumption, kWh, of all HPs was 8 kWh at 66F, then increases to a maximum of 97 kWh at 28F, then decreases to about 5 kWh at -12F. That kWh includes about

    Whereas the building heating load was increasing, because it was getting colder, the measured electricity to the HPs was decreasing!!

    That decrease could only happen, if Vermonters turned off their HPs, to save on electricity costs.
    Instead, they used their less-costly-to-operate traditional heating systems, such as oil, gas, propane and wood stoves.

    Deceptions by HP Proponents

    Vermonters operate their HPs mostly above 28F, which yields an average coefficient of performance, COP, of about 3.0. See figure 14

    HP proponents brag Vermonters get about 3.0 x 3412 = 10,200 Btu/kWh of electricity.
    However, proponents do not mention, if Vermonters had operated their HPs below 28F, the COP would become less and less
    Vermonters would get only 2.0 x 3412 = 6,824 Btu/kWh of electricity at 10F, or 1.6 x 3412 = 5,460 Btu/kWh at 0F

    The lower COPs occur while the building heating load is increasing, i.e., it is very expensive to operate an HP at low temperatures.

    Computer Program to Determine Heating Consumption
    CADMUS used a decades-old, standard, HVAC computer program that takes the hourly temperature history of one heating season (or averages, say 5 years of heating seasons).
    The temperature history is obtained from US weather data.

    The computer program allocates the frequency and duration of temperatures to two-degree temperature intervals, also called “bins”.
    See URL of CADMUS report; horizontal axis of figure 14

    The space heat to a site is calculated for each two-degree bin, say 32 F – 34 F; 34 F – 36 F; 36 F – 38 F, etc.
    The total space heat to a site is obtained by adding the space heats for all two-degree bins.

    The computer program calculated the following values, as stated in the CADMUS report:

    – Space heat to a site was 92 million Btu, of which 25.35 million from HPs (27.6%), and 66.65 million from other fuels (72.4%)
    – Space heat to all sites was 65 sites x 92 million Btu/site = 5,980 million Btu. See CADMUS URL, page 22
    – Space heat from HPs was 77 HPs x 21.4 million Btu/HP = 1,648 million Btu. See CADMUS URL, page 21
    – Traditional systems provided 5980 – 1648 = 4,332 million Btu, or 4332/5980 = 72.4% of the total space heat.
    – HPs provided only 100 – 72.4 = 27.6% of the total space heat for an average Vermont house. See table
    – Heating season average COP = 21400000 Btu/HP x 1/2085 kWh x 1 kWh/3412 Btu = 3.0

    Energy Cost Savings: The energy cost savings averaged about $200/y, instead of the $1,200/y to $1,800/y grabbed out of the air by GMP, VT-DPS, VPIRG, etc.

    After the CADMUS report, those overblown estimates disappeared from their websites. See URLs.

    http://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/air-source-heat-pumps-and-wood-burning-appliances-for-vermont
    http://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/fact-checking-regarding-heat-pumps-in-vermont-and-maine
    http://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/vermont-baseless-claims-about-cold-climate-heat-pumps-for

    The CADMUS report data is summarized in the table

    Click URL under title to see table.

    MY OWN HP EXPERIENCE OF THE PAST THREE YEARS

    I have three Mitsubishi HPs, with six heads ($24,000 – $2,400 subsidy from GMP) in my well-insulated/sealed house.
    I displace only 35% of my propane Btus, based on MEASURED consumption data during 3 years.
    I do not use my HPs below 15F, because they are less efficient PER HOUR than my efficient propane furnace.
    I save about $200/y in energy costs.
    If I amortize the cost of the HPs over 15 years, I lose about $2,000/y

    NOTE: Due to recent increases of propane prices, I will operate my HPs down to about 10F to 15F (depending on wind conditions and passive solar gain), which means, I will:

    1) Displace a little more than 35% of fossil fuel Btus with electricity Btus,
    2) Have a greater CO2 reduction.
    3) Have a MUCH greater monthly electric bill.

    Coddling RE Businesses
    Heavily subsidized businesses selling/installing/servicing HPs, etc., will be collecting hundreds of $millions each year over the decades, while already-struggling, over-regulated, over-taxed Vermonters will be further screwed out of a decent standard of living.

    HP boosters Sens. Bray, McDonald, etc., know about those dreadful HP results in Vermont, and yet they continue shilling for HPs.

    All these expensive Vermont GWSA efforts will be having ZERO IMPACT ON GLOBAL WARMING.

    • Dr. Lesser’s very good article states turnkey capital costs of $20,000 for WHOLE HOUSE HP systems.

      Those systems likely have 2 or 3 HPs, each with 1 or 2 heads, in average houses in Massachusetts.

      Almost all Vermonters with HPs have just ONE HP, which is OK for 1 or 2 rooms, but grossly insufficient to heat a whole house

  6. They want to turn Vermont into a colony of California. They have no real plan. No hard facts. Just virtue-signaling global agendas which they follow like lemmings — taking the rest of us over the cliff with them.

    • Some of them got into the Legislature by stuffing ballot boxes with phony “mail-in ballots”, using a grossly bloated registered “voter” list, that grows just before an election and shrinks thereafter.

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