Geothermal Energy for Vermont

I took the opportunity to attend the Geothermal Energy Roundtable sponsored by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders yesterday, April 17th, at Contois Auditorium in Burlington. The place was packed upstairs as well as downstairs with folks from across Vermont. Cathy Zoi, Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the United States Department of Energy, was a guest of Senator Sanders along with a panel of homeowners, academics and business representatives, who were involved in using, researching or installing geothermal energy systems.

The message that came out of this conference is that geothermal energy source systems for both heating and cooling are not just feasible in the north country, but they have been proven to work as well . I spoke with a man from Highgate who had a chart of his electric and heating fuel consumption that showed a reduction in cost of around 60%. This type of energy resource is most efficient if integrated into the design of new construction, but it is also adaptable to existing construction. Key to the latter is an energy efficient envelope, i.e. a well insulated building.

State Representative Tim Jerman of Essex Junction was also at the roundtable. Tim is a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources and Energy. We chatted about the incentives provided by the state for alternative energy generation. Although there is a tax incentive for wind and solar systems, it is restricted to businesses that adopt them. Homeowners are entitled only to federal tax credits. (Those credits, by the way, are substantial, amounting to 30% of the cost of materials and installation.) However, there is no state incentive for business or residential installation of geothermal systems.

A priority in the next legislative session should be to include geothermal systems in the incentives provided for wind and solar energy production. We should also find a way to extend those incentives to homeowners as well as business. While the current budget crisis makes this a non-starter, block grants may be available as part of the federal Jobs Bill. Providing these credits would have the added benefits of creating jobs throughout Vermont, distributing energy production to reduce the peak demand on our electric grid, and helping to replace the production that we will inevitably lose with the closure of Vermont Yankee.