Steve Thurston: The Affordable Heat Act – A wolf in sheep’s clothing

This commentary is by Steve Thurston, of Ferrisburgh. He is a retired general contractor and builder who advocates for sensible energy policy.

As the House Energy Committee begins its review of S.5, a wolf in sheep’s clothing described as “The Affordable Heat Act,” the Committee would be well served by reviewing the PUC’s 2021 Report to the Legislature where the issue of affordability was analyzed in great detail.

The PUC spent $6 million to study carbon reduction programs in 2018-2020, and is budgeted to spend another $5.3 million by the end of 2023, not counting the $900,000 included in S.5. Already $10 million has been spent on analysis, and yet the key points have been ignored by the legislature, or more precisely by the Senate Energy Committee where the Affordable Heat Act’s chief sponsor is the chair. As we are seeing it play out in real time, the rest of the legislature just goes with the flow.

Below is an excerpt from the PUC’s 2021 Report to the Legislature which discusses the cost of avoided carbon emissions (negative numbers get a thumbs up, positive numbers get a thumbs down):

“The chart below depicts the measures analyzed, ranked occurring to the cost per ton of carbon avoided.  A negative cost means that benefits outweigh costs; in other words, the measures save money over their lifetime. A positive cost means that the financial costs of the carbon-reducing measure outweigh the financial benefits. Generally, efficiency measures such as electric efficiency and weatherization programs are more cost- effective than measures that require significant upfront expenditures.”


The graph shows that of all the measures, only the Efficiency Vermont Electric Efficiency Portfolio has significant cost benefits, saving $1429 for every ton of carbon saved. 5 kW net metered solar panel installations are the worst performers by far, with a cost per ton of $9,325! Notice the arrow indicating that the bar would extend beyond the edge of the page! While this discrepancy might seem unfathomable to the average legislator, those creating energy policy do understand this graph and willfully conceal the truth.

The truth is solar is very expensive. You must pay for it three times over. Once for the electricity it produces, again for the massive subsidies mandated by the legislature, and again for the capacity payments to back up solar’s unreliability and intermittence. Not to mention the destruction to the landscape, the environmental effects of solar panel production, or the need for massive spending on new transmission lines.

Despite this contrary evidence, the legislature keeps requiring utilities to subsidize solar panels at the expense of ratepayers who don’t have solar panels. The subsidies for solar far exceed the wholesale value of electricity in the ISO-NE market.

As more people have solar panels the cost of subsidizing them falls on fewer and fewer ratepayers. It is nothing less than a Ponzi scheme. As more solar panels are installed to meet the demand for electricity caused by electric cars and heat pumps, the cost of the subsidies and capacity payments will force rates higher for all ratepayers.

There is another issue which has caused a great deal of confusion and angst for Vermonters and that is the notion that we are “transitioning away from fossil fuels” and therefore must embrace solar panels, wind turbines, heat pumps, electric cars, and massive transmission projects as the only way to save the planet. This doomsday scenario has been relentlessly pushed on Vermonters from the cradle to the grave, by teachers, the media, special interests, and lawmakers, and results in news reports like we saw over the weekend in VTDigger, where schoolchildren are desperately pleading for more decisive action to combat climate change. “I remember having panic attacks over the state of the climate before I even left elementary school,” said one high school student. Rob Roper has written a heartbreaking, but excellent piece on the damage being done to our youth by teaching them to fear a climate apocalypse.

The legislature’s “Vermont leads, the world will follow” approach to climate change is irresponsible. Following is a chart provided by the US Energy Information Administration which focuses on long-term energy trends. While renewables occupy a larger share of energy production, fossil fuel demand is forecast to increase in the coming decades at about the same annual rate it has for the past several decades. There will be no decrease in global greenhouse gas emissions. This is because societies have determined that economic destruction from decreased fossil fuel consumption would be a worse consequence for their citizens than the risks posed by climate change. Nothing Vermont does will persuade nations, including ours, to commit economic suicide. Our own legislature should place its duty to Vermont’s citizens ahead of its reckless pursuit of “Global Warming Solutions.”

There is a lot that Vermont can do to conserve energy and use it more efficiently in ways that are cost effective, as Efficiency Vermont’s programs have proven over the years. There is $140 million in Governor Scott’s budget to address energy conservation, efficiency, and resilience, including $80 million in weatherization, $45 million in municipal energy resilience, and $15 million in flood hazard mitigation. Governor Scott is opposed to S.5. As our Governor, elected overwhelmingly by Democrats as well as Republicans, he deserves the same support from the legislature that he received from Vermonters at the polls.

To summarize:

  • The PUC has already spent over $10 million in the past 5 years analyzing the economics of meeting Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan and has concluded that, of the various measures analyzed, only Efficiency Vermont’s Electric Efficiency Portfolio has significant benefits.
  • The legislature has ignored these reports.
  • S.5 requires the PUC to re-study this issue at an additional cost of $900,000 in hopes that heat pumps will miraculously prove “affordable”.
  • Solar panels, which S.5 anticipates will supply a significant amount of the electricity needed to operate heat pumps, are by far the least cost-effective method of reducing emissions.
  • The US Government Energy Information Association projects that worldwide fossil fuel use will continue to increase over the coming decades.
  • The concept of “a transition away from fossil fuels” is misinformation which the legislature should not be spreading. It is malevolent propaganda that distorts reality and is harming our children.
  • Governor Scott has proposed effective measures to address energy issues. S.5 is a distraction from these meaningful efforts and should be abandoned.

Let your legislators know what you think.

Image courtesy of Flickr/

2 thoughts on “Steve Thurston: The Affordable Heat Act – A wolf in sheep’s clothing

  1. Liberals have ruined this state. Now they want a 3 day waiting period to buy guns to prevent suicide, Why did they pass an assisted suicide bill??????

  2. Steve,

    A great essay.

    It is difficult to comment on the numbers in the table, without seeing calculations and assumptions

    The electric efficiency portfolio $savings and CO2 may be overstated, for PR reasons.

    It would be useful to place wattmeters on each electrical efficiency retrofit to better calculate the $savings

    Also the energy cost and CO2 of the “base system” should be stated

    Some base systems are antiquated, and likely would show big $savings and big CO2 reductions

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