Experts stress further achievements in energy conservation, technology

01/24/07 12:00AM By John Dillon
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(Host) Vermont is already a leader in energy conservation and environmentally friendly technologies, but there is much more the state can achieve.

That was the message today from several experts who testified before the Legislature.

VPR's John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) As the Legislature enters its third week of climate change study, lawmakers are focused on the potential economic opportunities for Vermont.

Richard Cowart is a former chairman of the state Public Service Board who now works with the Regulatory Assistance Project. That's a non-profit group that helps governments on electric utility issues. He says Vermont is a world leader in developing and implementing energy conservation programs.

(Cowart) "And I can speak personally to this. I spend a lot of time in China. And I was told recently there are two states in the United States that they like to pay attention to, California and Vermont. And they think Vermont is a really big state. And they're really interested in models like Efficiency Vermont."

(Dillon) Efficiency Vermont uses a small surcharge on utility bills to the fund investments in conservation. The idea is to save energy, reduce greenhouse gases and lower consumer costs.

Right now, Efficiency Vermont works primarily on the electric side of the energy bill. In an interview, Cowart says the same concept of using a small surcharge to leverage big savings should be applied to other energy uses, such as home heating. He says one dollar spent on tighter insulation, or better windows will save three to four dollars in fuel cost. And the money stays in Vermont.

(Cowart) "We ought to be doing that and I think the economic development opportunities will be spread throughout the entire Vermont economy."

(Dillon) Economic opportunities lie outside the state as well. Vermont's expertise is in demand, Cowart says, as the world turns its attention to reducing greenhouse gases and fighting climate change.

(Cowart) "It includes the kind of technologies that we've developed herewith respect to renewable energies, wind power, small scale hydro. And it will include these building technologies. The expertise in knowing how to save energy is a valuable thing."

(Dillon) Another witness called on lawmakers to help renewable energy developers cut through the bureaucracy.

Michael Dworkin is a former chairman of the Public Service Board who now directs the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School.

(Dworkin) "There is a real role for the state to help here. If 10 different farms are thinking about cow power, and each of them needs to spend 100 hours reading the rules for dealing with 6 different agencies - that is not as efficient as if the state has one person reading the rules and helps 10 different farms deal with it."

(Dillon) Dworkin said the state could set up an office that would guide people though the permit process for energy development.

For Vermont Public Radio, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.
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