MONTPELIER -- The Shumlin administration Monday released a report trumpeting job growth in the state's renewable and energy efficiency sector.

Employment in Vermont's clean energy sector grew 3.4 percent in the past year, according a report prepared for the Department of Public Service. State officials say the growth is the result of state policies that finance renewable energy projects and subsidize energy efficient appliances.

"This is not only about moving from oil to other ways of powering the future for our planet, it's also about growing jobs and economic opportunities for Vermonters," Gov. Peter Shumlin said at a news conference at a Blodgett Supply Co. distribution center in Montpelier.

Gov. Peter Shumlin on Monday announced a report highlighting job growth in Vermont s renewable energy and efficiency sector at a news conference at a
Gov. Peter Shumlin on Monday announced a report highlighting job growth in Vermont s renewable energy and efficiency sector at a news conference at a Blodgett Supply Co. distribution center in Montpelier. (Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger)

Shumlin promoted Vermont's second-lowest unemployment rate in the country by pointing to the 15,000 workers in the clean energy sector as an example of the industry's impact on job creation. An additional 1,832 workers are expected be hired in the industry over the next year, the report states.

Blodgett Supply Co., a distributor of appliances, has partnered with Efficiency Vermont, the state's energy efficiency utility, to subsidize efficient circulator pumps, water boilers, heat pumps and the like.

"Technology is expensive," said David Benway, vice president of sales for Blodgett. "And without incentives, it's very difficult to move that type of product out into the field."

Efficiency Vermont raises money to subsidize the technology through a fee placed on electric customers' utility bills. Benway said this subsidy has nearly cut the cost of their energy efficient appliances in half. They now cost contractors about the same as conventional appliances, he said.

"Today, because of the incentives, we can get these upstream and out and into the field at virtually the same cost to the end user," he said, pointing to several energy efficient water heaters placed near a loading dock inside the distribution center. "And yet they have this great efficiency."

Renewable Power Generation

The state has several incentive programs to help finance renewable energy projects, including the Standard Offer program that offers long-term prices for renewable power, and the Clean Energy Development Fund that offers rebates for solar installations. But as the industry continues to grow, these incentives have scaled back dramatically, industry experts say.

Andrew Savage, of Vermont solar panel manufacturer AllEarth Renewables, said this is an indication that the solar industry is now standing on its own.

"Business is taking over and there are natural economics making these things work. Any project you see going in that's mid-sized in Vermont now is Vermont-subsidy free," he said. However, he said the federal solar tax credit still lends support to these projects.

Renewable Power Consumption

Monday's news conference was the first stop in the governor's "Solar Summer Tour," which is designed to highlight state policies that have created jobs and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The department's report says Vermont has more than quadrupled its solar power generation since 2011 and now totals more than 60 megawatts.

But the report does not say how much of this energy is consumed by Vermonters. And critics of the state's renewable energy policies say much of this power is sold out of state in the form of renewable energy credits.

"The unfortunate problem is that Vermont has the most fundamentally flawed renewable energy program in the country," said Kevin Jones, deputy director of the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School.

Vermont's renewable energy incentive program allows developers and utilities to sell Vermont's rights to renewable power generated in the state to out-of-state utilities seeking to meet their own greenhouse gas reduction mandates.

As a result, Vermonters purchase cheaper, generic power from the region's electric grid. The majority of this power comes from fossil fuel and nuclear power generators, Jones said.

"Vermont is actually continuing to support fossil fuel development and is not reducing its greenhouse gas emission as a result of these programs," Jones said. "Vermont's greenhouse gas emissions, from an accounting standpoint, do grow every time Vermont puts forward a new project under the SPEED or Standard Offer program."