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Burlington Receives Green Light from Governor for Carbon Pricing Framework

A photo of a home being built with a wooden frame

In 2018, the City of Burlington revealed one of the nation’s most ambitious climate change policies by creating the City’s Net Zero Energy by 2030 initiative.  Nearly one year later and in collaboration with Synapse Energy Economics and the Resource Systems Group, City officials presented the “Net Zero Energy Roadmap” to the leadership team at Burlington Electric Department projecting three future scenarios based on their research and analysis of the City’s current energy consumption.    

During this 2019 presentation, the mission statement of the program was defined as “reducing and eventually eliminating fossil fuel use from the heating and ground transportation sectors by the year 2030”.  Included in the executive summary were multiple bullet points highlighting the “paradigm shift” necessary in order for their ambitious goals to be met.  Both cultural and behavioral changes were highlighted including an increased focus and investment in public transportation, a rethinking of historic preservation efforts, as well as the “rapid and widespread electrification of space heating, water heating, and transportation to completely cease fossil fuel energy consumption.”

2021 Update to the Roadmap            

As part of a 2021 update to the Net Zero Energy Roadmap, officials reported a slight decrease in the City’s natural gas usage but not at the pace needed to reach the net zero goal by 2030.  In response to the findings of the report, the Mayor and City Council agreed that a suite of additional policies would need to be implemented in order to stay on track for the 2030 goal.  One such policy recommended would be to give the City the ability to regulate thermal energy systems on existing residential and commercial buildings that use fossil fuel heating sources. 

Before long however, it was found that this type of regulation on existing buildings was not allowable in accordance with the current City Charter.  Consequently, a change to the City Charter was proposed and on March 2nd, 2021, Burlington voters approved the amendment to allow for City regulation of existing residential and commercial buildings. 

Charter Change Approved

Over one year later, Governor Phil Scott signed the proposed charter change and sent it back to the City for further consideration.  The amended bill read…

“The City Council shall have power to regulate thermal energy systems in residential and commercial buildings, including assessing carbon impact or alternative compliance payments, for the purpose of reducing greenhouse gas emissions throughout the City. No assessment of carbon impact or alternative compliance payment shall be imposed unless previously authorized by a majority of the legal voters of the City voting on the question at an annual or special City meeting duly warned for that purpose.”

Now back in the hands of the municipal government, the City has requested that the Burlington Electric Department work in collaboration with relevant City officials/departments to develop a set of policy proposals to accelerate the decarbonization of buildings in Burlington.  The City Council has requested that BED’s proposals are delivered to the Council by no later than July 18th, 2022.  As was emphasized by Governor Scott, any and all proposed fees/policy changes would then be subjected to approval by Burlington residents with a majority approval necessary for changes to be enacted. 

Carbon Impact of Alternative Compliance Payments

As the City waits to hear back from BED on possible proposals, one carbon-cutting concept that has already been implemented globally is carbon pricing.  According to the United Nations Committee on Climate Change, the goal of Carbon Pricing is to create a fee / price signal that regulates and reduces GHG emissions while at the same time providing a strong financial case for shifting investments away from high-emission fossil-fuels based technology towards cleaner energy. 

Also known as carbon tax, the idea of “Carbon Pricing” was suggested to be the single most-effective policy change to combat global warming by experts & supporters of the United Nations Paris Agreement.  With the defined goal of “taxing carbon to fight climate change without undermining economic prosperity”, the theory of carbon pricing can be broken down into four key principles…

  1. Carbon emissions should be taxed across fossil fuels in proportion to carbon content, with the tax imposed “upstream” in the distribution chain.
  2. Carbon taxes should start low so individuals and institutions have time to adjust, but then rise substantially and briskly on a pre-set trajectory that imparts stable expectations to investors, consumers and governments.
  3. Some carbon tax revenue should be used to offset unfair burdens to lower-income households.
  4. Subsidies that reward extraction and use of carbon-intensive energy sources should be eliminated.

According to, there are currently 27 countries throughout the world that already have some form of carbon tax implemented.  Included are Argentina, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, Korea, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, the United Kingdom and all 27 countries in the European Union.  In the United States however, not a single state has adopted a similar strategy with Burlington Vermont being one of the pioneers in the country’s fight against fossil fuel heating sources.

Local Issues with the Local Experts

Since 1985, we’ve helped thousands of clients buy and sell real estate in Northwest Vermont.  Our goal is to provide you with the local insight, information and resources necessary to make your purchase and/or sale a comfortable, informed and enjoyable experience.  We will continue to update this ongoing story as new information is released…