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Vermont Public’s weekly dose of all things environment.

Out There: Cutting energy costs ✂️🔌

This is the web version of our email newsletter, Out There! Sign up to get our bi-weekly dose of all things environment — from creatures you might encounter on your next stroll, to a critical look at the state's energy transition, plus ways to take part in community science and a roundup of local outdoor events.

🌖 It’s Thursday, April 25. Here’s what’s on deck:

  • Getting forever chemicals out of drinking water
  • A proposed fee for EV drivers
  • Fire in the Green Mountains

But first,

Enter your email to sign up for Out There
Vermont Public's biweekly dose of all things environment.


Help insulating your home

A window, scissors, plastic wrap and hair dryer collaged together against a green plant background.
Photos: iStock, Collage: Sophie Stephens
Vermont Public
In Vermont, homes and buildings are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions — bigger than emissions from transportation, agriculture, electricity and industry.

If you heat your house with fuel oil or propane, monthly energy bills can easily run hundreds of dollars or more in the winter, even for a small home. That’s especially tough for renters, who account for about a quarter of housing units in Vermont. Many pay their own energy bills, offering little incentive for property owners to make costly investments in older, drafty homes like adding spray foam insulation or replacing windows.

Some good news: Pandemic-era federal aid brought nearly $60 million dollars for home weatherization and electrification projects to Vermont. Here are some of the programs that exist to help renters and property owners alike save on their energy bills:

💻 Afree calculator from a national nonprofit can help you figure out what state or federal assistance you might be eligible for around electrification and home weatherization based on your income, utility, zip code, and whether you’re a renter or homeowner.

💸 Property owners and renters below certain income levels can get many weatherization services for free, including an energy assessments and insulation work. That can cover $10,000 or more in home improvements, according to the state. To qualify, you need to make about $55,000 a year or less for a single-person household in most of Vermont, or under about $63,000 if you live in Chittenden, Franklin or Grand Isle counties.

💳 Several Vermont utilities are experimenting with “on-bill financing” that allows renters or homeowners to finance insulation and other weatherization projects through monthly payments on their gas or electric bill for up to 15 years. This is geared toward people with high heating bills who earn too much to qualify for free weatherization services.

🏘️ For larger, multi-unit buildings, a central Vermontnonprofit provides consultation and technical support for weatherization and efficiency upgrades, with extra financial assistance for projects where residents receive food, housing or fuel assistance.

🪟 A nonprofit provides people in Vermont and throughout New England with free window inserts that can be installed without screws or other hardware. They hold community builds throughout the state.

💡 The state’s efficiency utility offers free LED light bulbs for renters looking to save on energy costs and suggest adding weather-stripping to doors and windows and removing dust from heating systems and refrigerators. In the coming months, they’re considering a pilot program to give renters rebates on portable heat pumps, which slide straight into a window.

In other news

🪵 Wood paneling is back: Using pre-cut wood for walls, beams and ceilings in place of concrete and steel can help lower the labor costs and environmental impacts of new construction. The building method is called mass timber and has been popular in the Pacific Northwest and Europe for decades, but it’s just starting to gain traction in New England.

🧪✌️ Breaking up with forever chemicals: The feds have new standards for drinking water, requiring states to test for a host of toxic chemicals used since the 1940s to repel water, oil and heat. About 10% of public drinking water systems in Vermont will likely need treatment systems or to drill new wells under the requirements. The EPA has also said polluters of some of these chemicals are now on the hook to pay for some clean up efforts.

🚗⚡💰 $89 if you drive an EV: That’s the yearly fee state lawmakers are proposing to help fund electric vehicle charging infrastructure across the state as part of a big transportation bill. It’s modeled off similar fees in other states, and would impose a $44.50 fee for hybrids. The plan is projected to generate about $1.7 million a year, but it’s controversial.

🧑‍🚒⛰️🧨 Fire in the Greens: Dozens of acres have burned in Ripton, Warren and Pomfret in recent weeks. The fires are intentional — set by staff from the Green Mountain National Forest, with help from other firefighters in Vermont and across the country, to create edge habitat for wildlife like grassland birds, pollinators, and reptiles.

In your backyard

A drawing of a brown frog against a dark background, with text in a yellow box at the bottom.
Illustration: Laura Nakasaka / Notes compiled from Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas, Mary Holland and Vermont Center for Ecostudies
Vermont Public
Spring peepers can often be heard by ponds and marshes from March through July in Vermont, and sometimes on warm fall days.

Get out there

🐤 Join a bird walk to search for spring migrants:

  • Thursday, April 25 (today!) at 10 a.m. in Addison at the Dead Creek Wildlife Areaorganized by the Northern Vermont Feminist Bird Club. They’ll have field guides and loaner binoculars available and are suggesting a $10 donation.
  • Saturday, April 27 at 7:30 a.m. at the Birds of Vermont Museum in Huntington. All birding levels are welcome.
  • Saturday, April 27 at 7:30 a.m. at a birding hotspot in Hinsdale, NH organized by the Southern Vermont Audubon Society. Their walks are every Saturday morning through mid-May on a flat rail trail, open to all birding levels. No registration needed. 
  • Friday, May 3 at 7 a.m. at the North Branch Nature Center in Montpelier – they’ll supply binoculars if you want them, and will cover about half a mile.

🌳 Plant a native tree: Conservation districts around the state hold plant sales every year focused on native species and fruit trees (like sweet cherry, peach, pear and plum). Some also sell trout to stock ponds. Several deadlines have passed, but a few are still taking orders for a couple more days.

🦇🐢🐦🐛 Wildlife festival in Rockingham: There will be owls, hawks, and reptiles, and a slew of walks led by naturalists, including birding for kids, looking for turtles, bugs, plants, and pulling invasive species. Sunday, May 5 at Herricks Cove with programs running from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., plus a 7 a.m. bird walk. Suggested donation of $2/ person or $5/ family.

🐁🦌 Why Lyme disease has become so common: An ecologist from Dartmouth helps explain “an incredibly complicated story of ecology” about the spread of blacklegged ticks, also called deer ticks, in the northeast and what we still don’t understand about Lyme disease. That’s Tuesday, May 7 at 7 p.m. as part of the Suds & Science series in White River Junction.

Enter your email to sign up for Out There
Vermont Public's biweekly dose of all things environment.


Thank you for reading! Don’t hesitate to reach out, we'd love to hear from you. Just email us.

Credits: This week’s edition was put together by Lexi Krupp with editing from Brittany Patterson and lots of help from the Vermont Public team, including graphics by Laura Nakasaka and digital support from Sophie Stephens.

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