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City Council passes resolution to switch Burlington buildings away from fossil fuels

Published: May. 9, 2022 at 5:51 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The Burlington City Council fully supported a resolution that would get the ball rolling on the city’s goal of net-zero decarbonized buildings by 2030.

This comes after Gov. Phil Scott approved a charter change allowing the city to regulate heating systems.

Interests like the Burlington Electric Department will be tasked with looking at how to make policies to mandate the decarbonization of the city’s largest commercial buildings and municipal buildings.

“There’s so much on the line, there’s so much at stake and Burlington has a chance to be a leader and show the way for other communities,” said Jack Hanson, P-Burlington City Council.

Burlington has some policies that call for renewable heating in new construction, but Hanson says the city needs to push its largest buildings toward decarbonization-- and fast.

“We really want to make sure that they understand that they need to plan for a fossil-free future and that they need to budget for a fossil-free future, but also through Burlington Electric Department there are really strong incentives available to help them do that,” Hanson said.

The City Council is considering crafting policies to retrofit all of Burlington’s buildings to reduce their carbon output. That would involve technology like cold climate heat pumps that run on electricity.

The current technology isn’t quite there to run cold climate heat pumps exclusively without a fossil fuel backup in all the buildings in the city, but Hanson says it’s important to have an aggressive goal to reach net-zero by 2030.

But not everyone shares that view.

Vermont realtors call those goals unrealistic and say such policies will add to the price of new construction during a housing crisis.

They say decarbonization is coming but it isn’t likely to happen by 2030.

“To make a hard and fast rule that we are going to be net-zero by 2030 just doesn’t feel that, A) it’s possible, but B) that it is approaching the solutions in a realistic fashion,” said Peter Tucker, the director of public policy for the Vermont Association of Realtors.

While Burlington is at the forefront of crafting policies like these, the city is also closely mirroring what the state’s Public Utilities Commission is working on with new building energy standards.

Matt Musgrave of the Vermont Association of General Contractors says 40% of emissions come from the heating sector.

“They have a similar goal to get to net-zero buildings for new buildings by 2030, the state is not going as far as having that similar requirement that existing buildings will be there,” Musgrave said.

Hanson stresses that these policies haven’t been crafted yet and says anyone with strong feelings on these issues should bring their ideas to the table.

If the resolution passes Tuesday night, a report about suggested policies will go to City Council in July.

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