Today, in a huge victory for climate action and addressing Vermont’s second largest source of climate pollution – the thermal heating sector – the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee voted 5-0 to advance the Affordable Heat Act (S.5). This legislation is the culmination of years of work and analysis, represents a key pillar of the state’s adopted Climate Action Plan, and is a top priority in the 2023 Environmental Common Agenda – a policy agenda signed onto by 19 environmental organizations.
The Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee has taken weeks of detailed testimony and made many notable improvements to the policy to ensure that it helps build an equitable and affordable transition to a local, clean energy economy by keeping dollars spent on energy here in Vermont – and requiring that the majority of residential clean heat services go to low- and moderate-income Vermonters.
Johanna Miller, Climate & Energy Program Director at the Vermont Natural Resources Council stated, “Today’s vote marks needed progress towards developing a pathway for Vermonters and Vermont fossil heating providers to help people stay warm with more cost-effective, clean, local heating choices. We must move away from the deeply inequitable and unsustainable status quo, and S.5 offers a way to do that while balancing many important climate, equity and affordability goals.”
“This bill creates a blueprint for Vermont to move to cleaner, more affordable heating options, and requires fossil fuel companies to help Vermonters make that transition – something it’s long past time for,” said Ben Edgerly Walsh, Climate & Energy Program Director with the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. “We deeply appreciate the hard work members of Senate Natural Resources put into this bill, and we look forward to continuing to support it as it moves through the legislative process.”
Lauren Hierl, Executive Director of Vermont Conservation Voters added, “Figuring out how to help all Vermonters transition to cleaner heating solutions requires vision and leadership. I’m grateful the Senate Natural Resources & Energy Committee advanced this well-vetted bill, recognizing that the Affordable Heat Act can help bring us a cleaner, healthier, and more affordable future for all.”
Dan Fingas, VT Movement Politics Director, Rights & Democracy commented “We appreciate the members of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, who took testimony from over 50 people and heard the call to center equity and affordability in this bill. The Affordable Heat Act is a needed transition that ensures that all Vermonters can benefit from measures that reduce energy use and provides a clear path to a clean energy future.”
“VBSR strongly supports the Affordable Heating Act and the tremendous opportunity it creates to move away from fossil fuels and in doing so reduce our climate pollution, keep more dollars in our local economies, and help Vermonters make the shift to more affordable, clean, and
predictably priced energy sources,” said Roxanne Vought, Executive Director of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. “We thank members of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy for their tireless work on this bill and on behalf of Vermont’s businesses, communities, and natural environment.”
“For the first time, the Vermont legislature is poised to adopt legislation that takes a comprehensive approach to bring down greenhouse gas emissions from the heating sector. This is a very big deal since the thermal energy sector represents 34% of our GHG emissions, second only to the transportation sector. That’s why the Vermont Sierra Club is glad to see today’s vote, and is urging all Senators to vote yes on this bill,” said Peter Malicky, Vermont Sierra Club Chapter Chair.
If enacted, this policy will begin to disentangle Vermonters from their dependence on expensive, price-volatile, and polluting fossil fuels. Instead, it will require the fossil fuel heating industry to offer Vermonters cleaner options – so when people go to replace their oil furnace, for example, they are offered more affordable heat pumps, weatherization services, or advanced wood heat options.
While we celebrate this first important victory today, we look forward to continuing to work alongside legislators to ensure the policy does as much as it can to ensure climate accountability and addresses equity, while also working to advance other bills and programs that will support a just transition for energy overburdened Vermonters. The bill is next anticipated to head to the Senate Committee on Appropriations for consideration, before heading to the full Senate for a vote.