Mayor Miro Weinberger, City Departments, Hula, BHS Students, and Environmental Partners Promote New Climate Policies to Help City Pursue Net Zero Energy Goal

Highlight Town Meeting Day Ballot Item that Would Include Carbon Pollution Impact Fee

Burlington, VT – Mayor Miro Weinberger, leaders from Burlington Electric Department (BED) and Department of Permitting and Inspections (DPI), Hula developer Russ Scully, Burlington High School (BHS) students, and environmental partners today promoted ambitious, new climate policies that will help the City of Burlington pursue its bold Net Zero Energy goal. Specifically, they discussed policies outlined by BED and DPI in December 2022 that proposed requiring new construction to be fully renewable, and for large existing buildings and City buildings to use renewable heating and water heating systems when replacing older systems, starting in 2024. For buildings unable to meet the requirements, a carbon pollution impact fee would be applied. This proposed fee is subject to approval by Burlington voters on Town Meeting Day, March 7, 2023.

BHS seniors Chenoa, Vivian, and Finley share their hopes for the future and their support for building electrification to support fossil fuel reduction and move Burlington toward Net Zero Energy.

Mayor Weinberger stated from the Hula campus, “Last year, the federal government passed a historic piece of climate legislation intended to move the country off of fossil fuels, increase renewables, electrify everything and end the climate emergency. Now it is up to state and local governments to implement much of this transformative and critical vision.  With a ‘yes’ vote on this ballot item to create a science-based carbon pollution impact fee, combined with the aggressive local electrification incentives we have already created, Burlington will have a powerful combination of tools to make good on this critical effort and show other communities how to get to Net Zero.”

The new thermal heating policy proposal builds on Burlington’s recently enacted rental weatherization standards and requirements for renewable heating in new construction, and relies upon new authority granted by Burlington’s Thermal Energy Charter Change (passed by voters on Town Meeting Day 2021 and approved by the Vermont Legislature and Governor in 2022).

Proceeds from the proposed fee would support converting the City vehicle fleet from fossil fuel to electric and a new City fund to provide access to clean heating technologies for low-income Burlington households and renters. Additionally, existing buildings that pay the impact fee could receive a portion of the fee to pursue emissions reduction projects at their facilities. Existing residential buildings (including single-family, multi-family, rental, affordable housing, and condominiums), existing small business buildings, and all existing buildings less than 50,000 square feet would not be affected by the new policies.

“The policies outlined today are an important step forward toward reaching our City’s Net Zero Energy goal, including ensuring that new construction will be 100 percent renewable when it comes to heating and thermal energy use going forward,” stated Darren Springer, General Manager, Burlington Electric Department. “Burlington Electric was pleased to partner with our colleagues at the Department of Permitting and Inspections and at the Building Electrification Institute to research leading policies in other cities and to bring forward our best ideas to cost-effectively reduce fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions in buildings for Burlington. Importantly, the proposed carbon pollution impact fee would bolster BED’s existing enhanced incentives for low-income customers, by providing additional funding support for low-income residents to access clean heating technologies.”

“Permitting and Inspections looks forward to playing an important role in implementing these impactful climate policies,” stated Bill Ward, Director, Department of Permitting and Inspections. “The goals of assessing the carbon pollution impact fee at the time of permitting would be to level the playing field for renewable technologies and represent the full societal, health, and environmental cost of the carbon pollution of the fossil fuel system.”

Policy recommendations for new construction, large existing buildings, and City buildings can be reviewed in our slideshow presentation and Final Report on Thermal Charter Change.

Leading by Example at Hula

Opened during summer 2020, Hula is Burlington’s premier technology-driven co-working campus and business incubator located along the shores of Lake Champlain in Burlington’s South End. Hula serves as a model for the tremendous impact that a new construction building with renewable energy systems can have on lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Even before the mandatory renewable requirements, the Hula team, working with BED, redeveloped a former manufacturing facility that had been heated fully by natural gas for decades into a cutting-edge, highly energy efficient campus where all heating and cooling now is provided by electric ground-source heat pumps supplied by an open loop geothermal well system. The high energy performance also is driven by the great attention to detail on the thermal shell to prevent air leakage and provide insulation, a 93+ percent efficient energy recovery ventilation (ERV) system, optimization of the building energy management control system (BEMS), and a highly efficient LED lighting and controls system. Hula also serves to provide encouragement that it is possible to move toward decarbonizing our existing buildings.

“As a Burlington business owner and developer, I have the great opportunity and awesome responsibility to lead by example in the fight to keep our lake clean and our air breathable to protect our community now and into the future,” stated Hula developer and owner Russ Scully, who joined the event virtually while out of town. “Taking these steps will help ensure that our entrepreneurs and businesses can continue to innovate for a better tomorrow for Burlingtonians, Vermonters, and people all over the world.”

Hula was awarded the “Best of the Best” in Commercial Building Design & Construction at the 2022 Better Building by Design energy conference. During the award process and using actual monthly energy usage data, Hula’s building energy use intensity (EUI) was about 65 percent less than what Vermont’s energy efficiency code requires. 

Call to Action from Future Leaders

Chenoa Hunt, Finley O’Neill, and Vivian Vail, Burlington High School seniors who participated in the Burlington City and Lake Semester program, using the City as their classroom to explore people, places, problems, and possibilities of the Burlington community, added their student perspective, stating: “The Climate Crisis is real. As young adult activists, we care deeply about fighting climate change to preserve the environment for future generations. Hearing about these new renewable heating requirements is hopeful news, especially for Burlington students like us who will become the City’s future leaders. We are proud to live in a city that’s taking big steps today for a better tomorrow.”   

Support from Key Environmental Partners

For nearly three years, BED has worked intensively with the Building Electrification Institute (BEI), a nonprofit founded in 2018 that, according to the BEI website, “envisions a future where buildings are healthy, safe, resilient, and fossil fuel-free” and, therefore, “our air will be cleaner, housing will be more affordable, and our communities will be healthier.” BEI has assisted BED in analyzing policy proposals based on its experience and expertise in working with cities around the nation. Cristina Garcia and Caytie Campbell-Orrock, BEI Deputy Directors, who also joined the event virtually, stated: “BEI congratulates Burlington for joining an ambitious cohort of cities who are developing innovative policies to accelerate the transition to fossil fuel-free buildings. The proposed carbon pollution impact fee provides a tremendous opportunity to drive down emissions from large existing buildings, improve air quality for the community, and create new economic opportunities and jobs for Burlingtonians.”

Johanna Miller, Energy and Climate Action Program Director, Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC), stated: “With greenhouse gas emissions from the heating and thermal sector being the second largest source of emissions in Vermont, we must focus policy and initiatives on dramatically reducing these emissions to reach our state climate goals. VNRC has long advocated for carbon pricing and applauds Burlington’s leadership in calling for such an impact fee that includes as a focus on opportunities to provide clean heat technology funding to low-income Burlingtonians.”

Peter Sterling, Executive Director, Renewable Energy Vermont (REV), stated: “We appreciate Mayor Weinberger’s and BED’s continued pursuit of strategic electrification as a critical strategy for combatting climate change. While we support as a first choice the installation of renewable energy systems, we also recognize the positive impact that a carbon fee will have in Burlington. This effort, combined with BED’s commitment to maintaining a 100 percent renewable energy portfolio, should serve as a model in the fight against global warming.”

Paul Burns, Executive Director, Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), stated: “VPIRG supported Burlington’s rental weatherization standards and primary renewable heating systems in new construction ballot item back in 2021 and applauds the City’s continued progress today.”