Climate Goals & Data

How can we get close to zero annual CO2 production for Addison County?

Richard S. Hopkins

April 27, 2020

How much CO2 do we produce locally by our energy use? To develop a well-grounded plan for reducing our fossil fuel use to close to zero, we need to know how much CO2 we are producing, and how; and whether these uses are increasing or decreasing over time.

No single energy-using activity dominates Addison County’s 2017 CO2 production [1]

  • Home heating accounts for an estimated 28% of CO2 production
  • Commercial/industrial heating and operations account for 16%
  • Other uses of electricity account for 10% (mostly in the commercial sector)
  • Transportation accounts for 46% (figures rounded).

Since no one activity dominates, efforts to reduce CO2 production to or near zero must address multiple sectors.

This 2017 local energy use analysis includes the CO2 cost of producing goods locally that are consumed elsewhere, but does not include the CO2 costs to manufacture and ship goods from elsewhere that we consume here, nor of long-distance travel by county residents. It does not include other important greenhouse gas releases that are not related to energy production, such as methane from agriculture or wastewater treatment.

Commercial/industrial uses of energy are concentrated in the urban centers of Vergennes, Bristol and especially Middlebury. Energy use in the other, surrounding towns is primarily residential and agricultural. 

Broad strategies to get close to zero fossil fuel use

A successful strategy to achieve large reductions in fossil fuel use, and thus of CO2 emissions, should have four mutually supportive parts:

Electrify everything, including our trucks and tractors!

1.  Electrify everything possible 

2.  Decarbonize all electricity.

3.  Reduce energy consumption (to make steps 1 and 2 easier and achieve immediate reductions in CO2).

4.  Use other renewable fuels (e.g. biodiesel, or renewable methane or natural gas) when we can’t electrify. 

Some important approaches to implementing these strategies are not under local control:

  • Carbon tax or cap-and-trade schemes – strategy 1 – must be regional or national in scope
  • Transportation Climate Initiative – strategy 1 — also regional
  • Renewable Portfolio standard for utilities – strategy 2. Vermont’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, adopted in 2015, calls for 75% of our electricity to be from renewable sources by 2032
  • CAFE standards for fleet vehicle energy efficiency – strategy 3 – a national standard.

Below are possible local levers by strategy – not necessarily an exhaustive list, but intended to be broad in scope. See the 2019 Greater Middlebury Climate Action Initiative report (https://bit.ly/2KEFGCg) or the 2018 Energy Subsection of the Addison County Regional Plan for additional ideas (https://acrpc.org/programs-services/energy/).

Each of the leverage topics below could be a component of an Addison County plan that includes measurable, dated targets with assignment of responsibility.

Strategy 1 – Electrify Everything

  • Subsidize purchase of electric vehicles, heat pumps
  • More public charging stations for electric vehicles
  • Subsidize electricity
  • Provide technical assistance to industrial enterprises, businesses and home owners to help them to switch from fossil fuels to cold-climate electric heat pumps for building heat and hot water
  • Discourage or forbid new natural gas hookups
  • Work with owners of rental complexes to switch to electric heat
  • Support installation of rooftop solar arrays

Strategy 2 – Decarbonize the Electricity

  • This is mostly being handled at state level through Renewable Portfolio Standard and regional cap-and-trade program – which encourage installation of solar generating capacity.
  • Develop town enhanced energy plans that contain community-supported plans for solar facility siting

Strategy 3 – Efficiency and Conservation

  • Help people weatherize and insulate their homes
  • High-level technical efficiency assistance to industry and businesses
  • Help or require owners of rental complexes to invest in weatherization and insulation
  • Work with businesses to install more efficient outdoor lights and fewer of them
  • Increase residential density of our villages and cities
  • Make walking and cycling easier
  • Increase use of public transit

Strategy 4 – Other Renewables

  • Digestion of organic wastes to generate renewable fuel and heat (farms, industrial enterprises)
  • Replace diesel fuel with biodiesel, or blend diesel with biodiesel
  • Encourage use of truly sustainable biomass to back up electric heat pumps

A note on solar panels:

Placing solar energy panels on individual homes and buildings will reduce sales of electricity by Green Mountain Power (GMP), and thus CO2 from GMP’s electricity generation. It supports replacement of fossil fuels by electricity. The reduced energy demand also helps GMP to decarbonize the remaining electricity supply. This activity thus comes under both strategies 1 and 2.

The electricity produced by larger solar and wind arrays that exist to sell energy to the utility lowers the carbon intensity of the electricity that Green Mountain Power distributes to all its customers, and thus comes under strategy 2. GMP released ~400 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour in 2015-16, and ~210 in 2019. The pooled New England carbon intensity is around 680.

Methods

The data used to generate these estimates come from:

  • American Community Survey (US Census Bureau), for number of vehicles per household and number of homes using various home heating options
  • State reports on vehicle miles driven, fleet fuel efficiency averages, numbers of businesses, and gasoline and diesel consumption
  • Electricity consumption data by year and customer type from Green Mountain Power, and natural gas sales data from Vermont Gas
  • Conversion factors from fuel use (natural gas, propane, fuel oil, gasoline, diesel, wood) or MWh of electricity to pounds of CO2, from the Energy Information Administration of the US Department of Energy.

More robust estimates of Addison County CO2 production could be made if we had access to actual sales data on fossil fuels sold in the county, and to number of vehicles registered in the county, by type.

More detailed information is available HERE


[1] This 2017 local energy use analysis includes the CO2 cost of producing goods locally that are consumed elsewhere, but does not include the CO2 costs to manufacture and ship goods from elsewhere that we consume here, nor of long-distance travel by county residents. It does not include other important greenhouse gas releases that are not related to energy production, such as methane from agriculture or wastewater treatment.