Alternative Energy

Energy independence can only be achieved when a majority of our energy is produced from renewable, regional sources.  While much remains to be done, very significant progress has been made towards this goal through the development of alternative sources of energy.  Senator Leahy has long supported businesses, families, and industries acting as pioneers in the development and use of clean and renewable energy sources.  In Vermont, installing solar panels is becoming more commonplace at both the residential and industrial scale.  Home and business owners are also taking advantage of alternative sources of heating fuel, and they are moving towards more efficient private vehicles and expanded public transit options.  As Vermonters make individual decisions that bring our nation closer to reducing its dependence on fossil fuels, Senator Leahy will continue to support these actions in Congress.

Senator Leahy believes that we need to develop a diverse portfolio of alternative energy sources in order to secure our future as a nation much less dependent on fossil fuels.  This is why he signed on to a letter to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, urging strong funding for the Weatherization Assistance Program and the State Energy Program.  Both of these programs support the development of energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.  To view the full letter, please click here.  

Potential sources of alternative energy include wind, solar power, biofuels, hydropower, and other experimental sources.  To view more information about alternative fuels in Vermont, please visit the U.S. Department of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy website by clicking here.

Wind

The role of wind as a clean and renewable source of energy has greatly expanded during the past decade.  To encourage implementation of wind energy projects, Senator Leahy has supported the Production Tax Credit for wind.  This tax credit of 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour for the first ten years of facility operation has been a significant driver of wind power development.

The expansion of wind energy infrastructure on a commercial scale has been a source of fierce debate in Vermont.  Senator Leahy believes that federal support for the development of wind energy nationwide should continue, especially to level the playing field with fossil fuels, which have enjoyed federal subsidies for years.  Senator Leahy also understands that commercial scale developments of any sort, including wind turbines, need to be the subject of stringent review for compliance with local, state, and federal standards, with ample opportunity for citizen input.  There are many locations where large developments are simply incompatible with the natural and human environments.

Solar Power

The use of solar energy to provide electricity and to heat water in homes across Vermont continues to grow in popularity.  Many Vermonters utilize small-scale solar arrays to supplement other sources of energy in their homes.  While it might seem that Vermont lacks the duration and intensity of sunlight needed to generate solar power, our daylight hours are much longer during the summer (when the sun is strongest) than states further south, and net solar radiation on an annual basis is similar to Florida.  Federal renewable energy tax credits have played an important role in establishing the solar voltaic industry in the United States, and should continue as this sector grows.

Biofuels

Biomass is one of the greatest potential sources of alternative energy in Vermont.  The use of woodchips, wood pellets, biodiesel, and various crop residues are increasing, and Vermont is in a prime position to capitalize on these sources of energy.  In the past, Senator Leahy has secured direct grants for many Vermont biomass energy projects, and most recently, he has worked to see that the Farm Bill continues to support biomass energy projects.   

Hydropower

In the United States, approximately ten percent of the total electricity supply comes from hydroelectric sources.  Vermont has 84 operating hydroelectric plants, with a total generating capacity of 190 megawatts, and also draws a large portion of its energy portfolio from hydropower facilities operated by Hydro Quebec.    

The development of significant new hydroelectric dams in Vermont is unlikely, but Senator Leahy believes hydropower is one component of the alternative energy solution.  Technological innovation has allowed older dams, in some cases, to be retrofitted with turbines.  Senator Leahy also recognizes the negative impact hydroelectric dams have on river ecosystems.  For this reason, he supports strong permit oversight by communities, Vermont State agencies, and, where applicable, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Agricultural Methane Generation

Just a few years ago, using anaerobic digesters to extract methane from manure on Vermont dairy farms was purely experimental.  Now, with leaps in technology and strong support through federal renewable energy tax credits and cost sharing by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, agricultural methane is a commercially viable source of energy, and digesters are being put to use on many of Vermont’s largest farms as well as an increasing number of medium-sized farms.  Converting methane in manure is a significant achievement because it reduces a greenhouse gas, while the energy produced supplements farm income and offsets fuel costs.  In addition, nutrients, that may otherwise pollute surface waters, become easier to manage.  Senator Leahy has worked to ensure that the Farm Bill continues to provide cost sharing to farmers who wish to install agricultural methane digesters.

Ethanol

Over the course of the past several decades, ethanol, an agricultural byproduct, has become a common fuel additive.  Nearly all gasoline in the United States contains some percentage of ethanol.  Fuel ethanol is generally blended to reduce gasoline emissions, increase octane, and extend gasoline stock.

There is serious debate over the continued use of ethanol as a fuel additive.  Senator Leahy remains concerned about an increased dependence on ethanol and believes we must focus on renewable energy sources and crop byproducts that will not drive up the cost of food or compete with the livestock industry.  The market for ethanol fuel is heavily dependent on federal incentives and regulations, and there is already concern about our ability to keep up with the demand for increased crop production.