Voters to weigh in on potential Burlington fossil fuel fee

Published: Feb. 24, 2021 at 11:55 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 25, 2021 at 4:55 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A Burlington ballot item could eventually allow the city to impose a fee on owners of buildings that use fossil fuels for heat.

In the Queen City, 95% of all buildings are heated using natural gas according to a report by Burlington Electric. If Question 3 is approved, the charter change would also need to be approved by the Legislature. If lawmakers approve it, the decision goes back to Burlington voters for another vote on the actual fee.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger and councilors say this is part of Burlington’s roadmap to become a net-zero energy city by 2030. Data from the Vermont Department of Public Service shows natural gas is cheaper per unit than electricity, but prices vary depending on a number of factors like overall energy efficiency or insulation of a given home or unit.

At Burlington Electric, general manager Darren Springer says this potential tax would focus on new construction, and existing buildings could be incorporated in the future. He anticipates potential incentives for homeowners to make the switch to electricity.

“What we are looking at is making sure that in Burlington we are taking account of those carbon costs, making sure as a utility we have strong incentives to help people move toward renewable heating and cooling and trying to move toward this net-zero future,” he said.

Vermont Gas has a long history of working with Burlington Electric to reduce their carbon footprint and help people weatherize homes to make them more efficient. The company believes this charter change will give Burlington more tools to reach the city’s net-zero goal but they are worried about a potential fee.

“If they were adding a broad-based fee on thermal energy imposed by the city, we believe that fees would impact the affordability of home heating, especially for our most vulnerable customers. We know there are better ways to achieve our shared goals and we want to explore them with the city,” said Beth Parent, the communications manager for Vermont Gas Systems.

The group Opportunity Vermont opposes what they call the “Burner Ban.” The group’s Alex Farrell says the charter change is too vague and could end up with unintended consequences, like banning certain types of fuel. There’s also concern that if the Legislature allows the charter change, it could be adopted in other Vermont communities.

“Addressing the climate crisis is critical. We need to do that and it will have a positive impact if we do that. All that we are asking the voters of Burlington to do is just to be very thoughtful how we do this and don’t jump into things that don’t necessarily have a clear path forward,” Farrell said.

A “yes” vote on this charter change on the Burlington ballot would send this measure to Vermont lawmakers to approve or deny.

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