Investing in clean energy is smart for our future
BY STEVE PATTERSON
Vermont is not known as the “Green Mountain State” for nothing. Our environment is characterized by thick forests, rolling hills, steep mountains and flowing rivers.
From the shores of Lake Champlain to the top of Mount Mansfield, our state has made significant efforts to keep the natural beauty that dots our terrain untouched, ensuring our ecosystems stay healthy and our natural resources remain abundant..
However, recent environment-related catastrophes have highlighted just how precarious our nation’s fight against climate change is. One of the starkest examples of this was the raging fire seen in the Gulf of Mexico this past month, which was the result of a gas leak.
It should go without saying that we have some work to do as a nation when it comes to climate change.
Thankfully, the White House is on the case. President Biden’s administration has made it unequivocally clear that addressing the climate crisis is at the top of its agenda, outlining goals of achieving 100% carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035 and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. His American Jobs Plan calls on Congress to invest $100 billion to explore clean energy development and green infrastructure. This is followed by his fiscal year 2022 budget proposal, which calls for a $14 billion increase in climate-related spending compared to 2021 levels, including $2 billion in spending for clean energy projects nationwide.
In Vermont, we could put this funding to good use and build out green infrastructure projects across the state. Although we have outlined climate milestones of our own via our Renewable Energy Standard — which mandates that we obtain 90% of all our state’s energy from renewable sources and reduce overall energy use by more than one-third — there is still considerable work to be done to achieve these goals and those of the White House.
During my work with the commerce agency, I saw how championing clean energy and other green infrastructure developments in their early stages brought significant environmental and economic benefits to Vermont. States like ours will be counted upon to lead the nation into a new era of sustainability and climate-consciousness, not to mention we could continue to expand our investments in an emerging and increasingly vital sector that will stir economic growth and secure clean and reliable energy for generations to come.
To begin with, green infrastructure can move Vermont forward in its long-term divestment from fossil fuels. For decades, we have imported natural gas and oil into our state to heat many of our homes and buildings. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, approximately 60% of Vermont households heat their homes with petroleum and 20% use natural gas. That will need to quickly change if we are to make the greener future that we all envision a reality.
By instead generating power from more natural, cleaner sources like hydropower, clean energy facilities can offer the same level of power capacity to Vermonters without the harmful carbon emissions that fossil fuels bring about. Investing in these green energy projects can be the catalyst in winding down our longtime reliance on fossil fuels and meeting climate goals.
There are also a host of economic benefits that come with developing clean energy facilities and other green infrastructure. Many of these projects require hundreds and thousands of workers from all different industries, offering high-paying, reliable jobs that can offer a financial lifeline to Vermonters still struggling to rebound from the economic fallout caused by the pandemic.
Additionally, because they are typically built across and serve multiple counties, many communities can reap economic benefits from a singular green infrastructure development. Small businesses, restaurants and other enterprises will also be able to take advantage of these benefits, as an influx of workers increases cash flow in local communities.
Pursuing a path toward renewable, clean energy is something that not only positions our state well for the inevitable green era on the horizon, but can also help stimulate vital job creation and economic activity in every corner of Vermont.
We must prioritize investments in green infrastructure — the benefits are unmatched. Vermont deserves the opportunity to lead the nation into a greener and more sustainable future.
Note: Steve Patterson was a Secretary of Commerce for Gov. Howard Dean.