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Burlington Mayor hosts Net Zero Town Hall

Burlington's Net Zero Energy sign
Pat Bradley/WAMC
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Photo of Burlington Net Zero poster

The co-founder of Rewiring America, a group that is working on policy and practical applications to electrify all energy sectors, was the key speaker during a recent virtual town hall hosted by the mayor of Burlington, Vermont to promote the city’s Net Zero Energy efforts.

The city of Burlington is moving aggressively to stop using all fossil fuels before mid-century. Among the most recent actions was the approval by voters of a $20 million revenue bond to finance improvements to the city’s electric grid and fund investments and incentives to meet a Net Zero Energy Goal. Mayor Miro Weinberger noted efforts have been on-going and accelerating since the 1980’s.

“We actually consume today as a community less electricity than we did in 1989. In 2014 Burlington became the first city to source 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy sources and led to us setting a new goal in 2016 which is clearly our most ambitious goal yet to become a Net Zero Energy city by 2030. Which essentially means that we will stop using fossil fuels to power our vehicles and our buildings and that we will do that through electrifying everything essentially.”

The Democrat says last year’s data indicates the city is on track to meet the Net Zero Energy goals. The town hall was intended to raise the profile of the city’s efforts and how residents can make the transition to electrification. Co-founder and chief scientist of Rewiring America Saul Griffith, awarded a MacArthur “Genius Grant” in 2007, said work at the individual level is crucial.

“Close to two-thirds of our emissions around the world happen in households and small businesses with the things that we do every day. Households, small businesses and communities we need to do first and we need to do fast.”

Griffith says along with vehicles, home heating systems, including water and space heaters, and kitchen appliances must be electrified. He added that individuals should be planning for such changes.

“Not that you have to go out tomorrow and buy an electric vehicle but you need to be planning now that when the gasoline car that you bought a few years ago retires you need to replace it with electric. Next time you replace your water heater, you need to be ready to replace it with a heat pump. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. We need to be on a perfect 100 percent replacement schedule to hit these targets.”

Using charts and graphs Griffith outlined how electrification of households will result in halving energy use and reduced costs. But to meet the Net Zero goal he said all households must be involved.

“The problem ultimately is going to be a credit access problem. Will people be able to afford the electric vehicles? Will people be able to afford the heat pumps and the solar cells? I won’t purport to having all of the answers. We have teams at Rewiring America thinking about this every day. This won’t happen without regulatory work getting done. This won’t happen without financial innovation and probably won’t happen without public-private partnerships between cities and states and financing institutions.”

Mayor Weinberger is a founding member of Rewiring America’s Mayors and Municipal Leaders for Electrification Coalition.

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