Included in my recent Green Mountain Power electricity bill was a $25.56 “energy efficiency charge” that of course I paid without question. I’ve paid this charge, not knowing much about it, for years.
However, after paying this most recent obligatory surcharge, I began to wonder more about exactly where this money goes and what programs and services it supports.
After my initial research I learned that the “energy efficiency charge” naturally goes to fund programs like Efficiency Vermont, which touts itself as “helping all Vermonters to reduce energy costs, strengthen the local economy, and protect the environment by making homes and businesses energy efficient.
Efficiency Vermont is operated by the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation “under and appointment by the Vermont Public Service Board.”
Efficiency Vermont also “provides technical assistance, rebates, and other financial incentives to help Vermont households and businesses reduce their energy costs with energy-efficient equipment, lighting, and approaches to construction and major renovation.”
I’ve also learned that these types of “extra charges” – or hidden fees as I like to refer to them – also go to help low-income Vermonters lower their energy costs through capital investments supporting energy conservation and lower-cost fuel technologies.
Additionally, and most surprising to me, is the sheer number of different government run and rate-payer funded energy-related programs, many of which appear to perform the same functions and provide very similar services.
Included in these programs are the Vermont Low Income Energy Assistance Program, the Vermont Weatherization Program and Efficiency Vermont. On the generation end of things, rate-payers also end up supporting the SPEED Program and the Clean Energy Development Fund, both of which help to support the development of smaller-scale, local, renewable energy projects.
Furthermore, the state affords such projects tax-supported assistance through solar energy and net metering tax credit offerings.
In total, all of these different programs and services require $100 million in funding each year – which we are all held accountable for, without choice, every month in our electricity bill.
That being said, I do not disagree that many of these programs offer legitimate, important services to help Vermonters use energy more efficiently, save money, protect the environment and also develop important Vermont-based, clean and sustainable generation projects.
However, I do question the need for such a wide array of like programs, each with their own, redundant administrative costs.
I really wonder if our state leaders close to these issues, particularly the Department of Public Service, shouldn’t look hard at consolidating these various organizations and programs in order to achieve cost savings, enhance program coordination and management and ultimately provide even greater value to those who rely on and benefit from their services.
Without a much lower cap or stopping point, I fear that Vermonters will continue to fall victim to rising energy efficiency costs generated by a web of programs and services that may themselves be the definition of inefficiency.