(Re)Building a Green Economy in the Wake of COVID-19 

Person standing in field near mountain

If there’s a lesson that we can draw from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that early action is essential to tackling our most pressing societal challenges. This Earth Day, as Vermont looks to rebuild our economy in the wake of this crisis, we are urging state and federal officials to take this opportunity to rethink our society and develop a new model of prosperity— one that puts climate resiliency and a just, low-carbon transition at the center of our recovery efforts. 

We wouldn’t be starting from scratch. Vermont’s weatherization and efficiency programs have already saved low-income Vermonters on their utilities with retrofits, lightbulbs, and cold climate heat pumps, while growing the market for efficient products that keep us warm, save money, and reduce pollution. Meanwhile, our leadership in renewable energy development has drastically reduced greenhouse gas emissions from our electric sector and created thousands of well-paying jobs across the state. Still, more work is needed if we’re going to harness the full potential of decarbonizing our economy and in doing so address the three crises presently converging on our state— the COVID-19 pandemic, an economic recession, and the climate emergency. 

By making stronger investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and electrifying our transportation sector, we can drive economic growth in the Green Mountain State while putting Vermonters to work and further reducing our carbon footprint. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. 

In 2009, during the last recession, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) into law. This one-time federal stimulus included $90 billion in clean energy funding across four key areas—energy efficiency, the electric grid, transportation and clean energy. Vermont benefited from nearly $140 million in ARRA energy projects including: 

  • • $22 million in State Energy Program funds to expand the size and scope of the Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund (CEDF).
  • • $16.8 million in Weatherization Assistance Program funds to weatherize 1,600 homes for low-income families.
  • • $9.1 million to support the development of an electric battery production facilities at SBE, Inc. in Barre.
  • • $11.8 million in Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant funds to implement local energy efficiency programs.
  • • $68.9 million in Smart Grid Investment Grant Program funds.
  • • $11.9 million in clean energy manufacturing tax credits for GE Aviation in Rutland

These funds increased the pace and scale of energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy development in Vermont, with lasting economic and environmental benefits. By 2013, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program and State Energy Program alone had infused an average of $4.7 million per year into Vermont’s economy, saved our households and businesses over $1.8 million annually, created over 500 jobs, and cut our yearly emissions by 13,537 metric tons. 

When it comes to safeguarding our planet and shifting away from fossil fuels, VBSR’s triple bottom line of people, planet, and prosperity rings true. ARRA energy dollars served as a catalyst that propelled Vermont’s clean energy sector into the economic driver it is today—one that employs almost 18,900 workers, or about 6% of our overall workforce, with green, family supporting jobs. Looking ahead, our lawmakers should take Vermont’s experience under ARRA as a model for how strategic, win-win investments in clean energy can help us overcome the economic challenges before us and renew funding for the programs that made it the success that it was.  

Vermont’s business community has been deeply shaken by the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery will be a long, arduous journey. But today, Earth Day, we here at VBSR see hope and opportunity along the way. Hope that together we can rebuild our local economies stronger and more resilient than before and opportunity to step into a new clean energy future. 

Jordan Giaconia
Public Policy Manager