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Vermont Electric Cooperative is helping to eliminate the consumption of an estimated 1.5 million gallons of fossil fuel by providing incentives for its consumer-members to switch to electricity on everything from cars to cooktops.
More than 3,500 of the co-op’s roughly 33,000 members have so far participated in the co-op’s Energy Transformation Program that encourages people to embrace beneficial electrification and reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and that number is increasing.
The incentive program provides bill credits to members who buy a variety of electric-powered products, including electric vehicles and EV chargers, heat pumps, pellet stoves, heat pump water heaters, lawnmowers and induction cooktops. Members earn credits ranging from $500 for fully electric vehicles to $50 for residential mowers.
The co-op also offers a monthly ChargeItUp drawing for members who buy or already own an electric-powered device that replaces a product powered by fossil fuel. Winners get a one-time bill credit of $100.
Since 2017, VEC has paid nearly $1.5 million in bill credits to members who participate in the Energy Transformation Program, says Lisa Morris, the co-op’s energy services planner. In return, Morris says, the co-op expects to gain nearly $9 million in additional sales of electricity over the lifetime of the electric-powered products bought by its members.
[image-caption title="Vermont%20Electric%20Cooperative%20CEO%20Rebecca%20Towne%20at%20an%20electric%20vehicle%20charging%20station.%20The%20co-op%20provides%20bill%20credits%20to%20members%20who%20drive%20electric%20vehicles%20or%20purchase%20other%20electric-powered%20products.%20(Photo%20courtesy%20Vermont%20Electric%20Cooperative)" description="%20" image="%2Fremagazine%2Farticles%2FPublishingImages%2FCEO%20Rebecca%20Towne%20of%20Vermont%20Electric%20Cooperative-1.jpg" /]
That helps keep rates affordable for all co-op members, whether they participate in the program or not, says CEO Rebecca Towne.
So far, the most popular incentives are for heat pumps and EVs, with a total of nearly 400 hybrid and fully electric vehicles enrolled. Most of Vermont’s carbon dioxide emissions are related to heating and transportation, Towne says.
“In Vermont, we have a lot of folks focused on climate change and sustainability,” she says. “Many of our members want to know, ‘What can we do? How can we make that energy transformation ourselves?’ For people who are part of our Energy Transformation Program, they feel like they’re doing what they can to mitigate carbon emissions. They’re very happy to participate.”
Under Vermont law, electric utilities must receive 75% of their power from renewable sources by 2032. The co-op has set much more ambitious goals, working toward 100% carbon-free power (including nuclear) by 2023 and 100% renewable power (without nuclear) by 2030. The co-op is currently 76% carbon-free and 59% renewable.
VEC gets its power from hydro, its biggest source, and from wind, solar, farm methane, wood, nuclear, natural gas and oil. It recently began using a utility-scale battery to store energy in Hinesburg and has plans to launch other battery storage projects soon.
The incentive program for members is a key part of the co-op’s energy transition, Towne says.
“We’re saving our members money while we take on the challenge of making this change,” she says. “For some devices, like batteries and EV chargers, there is additional value when the member allows the co-op to manage the device, helping to mitigate load during peak times. It’s a win-win for the member, the grid and for the carbon profile of Vermont.”
VEC member Chi Nguyen has gone electric in a big way, spurred in part by the incentives. She drives a 2019 electric Hyundai Kona and has purchased an electric-powered lawnmower, chainsaw, weed wacker, branch trimmer, pole saw and more.
Nguyen, who lives in Montgomery, Vermont, works in Burlington as an architect with a focus on sustainable environments.
“For me, it’s practice what you preach,” she says. “Going electric is not going to be the total answer to the issues we have with pollution. But it’s a change in the right direction. And the incentives help make it all feel more affordable.”
Steve Peery, a co-op member and computer programmer who lives in Bolton, gets a $64-a-month bill credit from VEC for allowing the co-op to tap into his home battery storage system, which stores power from his solar panels.
The co-op announced last fall that it was launching the home battery storage incentive to save the co-op on power supply costs and support member resiliency. Since then, about two dozen batteries have been enrolled in the program.
Peery says he will recoup more than half the $15,000 total cost of his batteries over the 10-year co-op incentive program. He bought the batteries two years ago because he sometimes loses power during snowstorms at his home at the end of a dirt road on the outskirts of town.
“When the co-op offered this program, it just made total sense for us to participate,” he says. “It puts the batteries to good use when they’re just sitting there. Twice a month, the co-op uses the batteries to reduce their load during peak, which helps keep their costs down. We save money, and so do our neighbors. We all win.”
Does your small or medium-sized co-op have an innovative program or unique solution to share? Send Thinking Big ideas to Erin Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org.