Peter Sterling: The Inflation Reduction Act just shattered the ceiling for clean energy in Vermont

This commentary is written by Peter Sterling, the executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont. 

Incredibly and finally, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) has begun the shift to a clean energy America. For the first time ever, the massive resources of the U.S. government will be mobilized to move our country off of climate change-causing fossil fuels and onto renewable energy sources like wind, solar and hydro power. 

We are finally looking at a future where renewable energy and other pro-climate technologies will benefit from a level of government support comparable to what the fossil fuel and nuclear industries have received for decades. For the first time, there will be an energy storage tax credit, a comprehensive electric vehicle tax credit, a long-term commitment to a solar tax credit for homeowners, and extra incentives for renewable energy businesses that pay prevailing wages and help to build solar equipment in the U.S.

What does this mean for Vermonters? A lot. First, if you are looking to go solar, you will now get 30% off through a tax credit. Tax credits and rebates will also be available for those who want to make their homes more energy efficient and get rid of their fossil fuel-burning cars and appliances in favor of electric alternatives. 

Maybe the biggest game changer of all is that energy storage is now much more affordable. Here in Vermont, we make a lot of solar power when the sun is shining. Sometimes so much that this solar power is sent back out on the New England-wide power grid for other states to use. But when the sun goes down, we end up having to buy power back from this grid, power that is predominantly generated from natural gas and nuclear but also from coal and oil, especially during energy use spikes. 

With newly affordable energy storage, Vermont should be able to “save” our excess solar that we make during the day and tap into it at night or during peak usage periods.

Another benefit from the adrenaline shot of the IRA, Vermont should be able to receive 100% of its electricity from clean energy by 2030, including a doubling or even tripling of our in-state production from renewable sources. This brings with it the benefits of even more well-paying jobs, increased tax revenue and less vulnerability to the price spikes of fossil fuels from wars and political turmoil. 

Vermont’s existing law governing renewable energy, the Renewable Energy Standard (RES), was written in 2015. This was a lifetime ago in terms of the climate crisis and what is necessary to solve it. The RES calls for Vermont utilities to get only 75% of their energy from renewables by 2032 with a meager 10% of that generated in-state.

But a new opportunity is upon us. President Joe Biden and the U.S. Congress have kicked the door wide open for Vermont to re-establish itself as a climate leader by making renewable energy, weatherization of our homes and non-fossil-fuel-burning consumer goods so much more affordable. 

It’s now up to Gov. Phil Scott to agree to work with the Vermont Legislature to take the important next step in 2023: committing Vermont to reaching a 100% renewable energy goal with much of this generated right here in Vermont. This action would revitalize the once thriving in-state clean industry jobs while ensuring we met our critical clean energy goals and importantly, make Vermont once again a leader in the fight against climate change.

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