By Rob Roper
Many of the businesses that deliver fossil-based heating fuels (oil, propane, natural gas, an kerosene) in Vermont are small, mom-and-pop operations. Some, as describe by Matt Cota of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, are just one person “with a truck and a cell phone.” These companies exist on the margins of financial viability. The “clean heat standard” now being contemplated by the Legislature as part of the Global Warming Solutions Act will drive many these fuel dealers out of business — and where will that leave their customers?
Testifying before the House Energy & Technology Committee, Paul Beauregard, of OnSite Propane, put it bluntly: “There are a lot of us out there who are smaller providers in the marketplace, and your clean heat credits will put us out of business. We’ll be out of business day one. And those people serve, I would say, twenty-five percent of the market … we’ll just be gone. And it will literally leave tens of thousands of Vermonters scrambling immediately to find a provider.” (YouTube, 2/2/22)
Beauregard’s company employs six people and serves about 1,600 homes. The average fuel dealer, he said, serves about 2,000 homes, and if one-third to one-half of those businesses close down because of the Global Warming Solutions Act, it would mean 60,000 to 100,000 Vermonters will be left “scrambling to find a new provider” (2/2/22) — which may not exist. The remaining suppliers in such a scenario do not have the capacity to absorb that many customers, and since the goal of the Global Warming Solutions Act is to eliminate in the not-too-distant future all fossil fuel use for heating, nobody in their right mind would invest in increasing their capacity to deliver fuels that will be de facto illegal in a decade. A lot of customers looking to stay warm through the winter may just be out of luck.
But, at the same time, the goal of the Global Warming Solutions Act is to switch homes and businesses over to electric heating options, such as cold climate heat pumps, and in many cases will provide subsidies for those who wish to do so. So, if you can’t find fuel for your old heating system, just get a new one!
The problem here — especially for those Vermonters who can no longer find anyone to deliver them oil or propane, etc. — is that there is not a labor force in Vermont capable of installing heat pumps fast enough to retrofit all those homes. Even if all goes according the best laid plans of the Climate Council, they admit meeting their goals for electrification of the home heating sector will require a five-fold increase in the labor force. And let’s be realistic, that is not going to happen.
So, what our Legislature is doing here is destroying the old home heating business model before the new government approved system can realistically take its place — if it ever can. The consequence of this is that we could see a significant number of Vermonters who don’t have access to any working heating source for an extended period of time. This doesn’t seem like a solid policy decision for a place with six months of winter.