Clean energy journalism for a cooler tomorrow

Vermont is on the cusp of mandating 100% clean electricity by 2035

The state’s Senate approved the measure this week, putting Vermont on track to be among the first states to fully decarbonize its power grid.
By Akielly Hu

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A solar panel array against a hill in the fall.
(John Greim/LightRocket/Getty Images)

Vermont state lawmakers just passed a measure that would require all utilities to provide 100 percent clean energy by 2035.

The bill would put the state on track to be among the first to fully decarbonize, outpaced only by Rhode Island, which requires utilities to provide all-renewable power by 2033. Advocates involved with the Vermont bill’s passage told Canary Media that the new standard would underpin parallel climate efforts, like the state’s bid to electrify its home heating sector.

The renewable energy standard will be the backbone of a clean electric grid that will enable us to cut costs, cut carbon, and create healthier homes and communities,” said Johanna Miller, energy and climate program director at the Vermont Natural Resources Council.

On May 7, the Vermont Senate approved the clean energy target via the first major update to the state’s renewable energy standard in nearly a decade. Passed by the state’s assembly earlier this year, the bill would require the state’s largest utility, Green Mountain Power, to reach that target by 2030, while giving smaller municipal utilities until 2035. Utilities previously were required to source 75 percent renewable electricity by 2032.

With its new standard, Vermont now joins 24 other states and territories, as well as the District of Columbia, that have introduced 100 percent renewable energy goals. Compared with other states, Vermont has set a particularly ambitious timeline — much of the state would need to comply in just six years due to the stricter rules for larger utilities.

The targets are far from an about-face for Vermont; nearly all the electricity it generates in-state has come from renewable sources since 2015. But Vermont imports over half its power, including some fossil-fuel-generated electricity.

The bill would ensure that utilities meet all their electricity needs by building and purchasing more power from renewable energy projects. By 2035, utilities would need to purchase 20 percent of their electricity from small, recently constructed in-state renewable power projects. Those will mostly turn out to be solar installations, advocates say. Green Mountain Power would need to source an additional 20 percent of its electricity from regional renewable projects; smaller utilities would need to source 10 percent.

Ben Edgerly Walsh, a climate and energy program director with the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, which lobbied for the bill’s passage, noted that the new standard would provide more clarity on what types of energy sources can be used to reach the renewables target. The legislation, for example, would exclude fossil-fuel plants that use carbon capture and storage, he said. It would also bar certain large hydropower projects from qualifying as new renewable energy,” required for utilities to comply with the mandate.

The measure would make Vermont one of the only states with a legislative commitment to the Biden administration’s stated goal of building a carbon-free power grid by 2035.

In 2018, D.C. updated its renewable portfolio standard to require 100 percent renewable electricity by 2032. And in 2022, Rhode Island similarly revised its standard to mandate 100 percent renewables by 2033. According to the Clean Energy States Alliance, a national membership organization of state energy agencies, 53 percent of the U.S. population now lives in a state or territory that has set a 100 percent clean energy target, though most are for later than 2035.

Warren Leon, executive director of the alliance, noted that these 100 percent renewable electricity targets typically come in two flavors: an executive order issued by the governor or a law passed by the state legislature. While executive orders are binding and have often resulted in significant climate action, as is the case in states like New Jersey, they can also be rescinded or changed once a new governor takes office. The legislation passed in Vermont, on the other hand, is not so easy to change and represents a greater commitment,” Leon told Canary Media.

But while Vermont’s bill passed overwhelmingly through both chambers, Republican Governor Phil Scott has expressed concerns about the cost of the measure. The bill passed with a veto-proof majority, and lawmakers are expected to override any veto issued by Scott — a move that has precedent. Last year, policymakers struck down the governor’s veto of a measure to clean up the state’s heating sector, which relies heavily on oil, propane, and other fossil fuels.

According to Miller, Edgerly Walsh, and other advocates involved with the bill, the collaboration between Vermont utilities, environmental groups, and lawmakers to craft the bill was key to its success. The partnership could provide a model for other utilities around the country as governments look to pursue more ambitious clean energy policies, Miller said.

It’s really important and exciting that our utilities have been partners in making that progress possible,” she said.

Akielly Hu is a freelance climate reporter and a former news and politics fellow at Grist.