- Associated Press - Thursday, October 16, 2014

SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) - A member of the California Energy Commission who has worked to reduce his state’s dependence on fossil fuels through energy efficiency and alternative power said Thursday Vermont is creating an inspiring legacy of achievements that put the state in the forefront of renewable energy.

During a meeting of renewable energy officials in South Burlington, David Hochschild noted that even though Vermont is small, the state should take seriously its role as a pioneer in finding ways to save energy and produce energy without using fossil fuels.

“You don’t have to be a big state to make a big difference,” Hochschild said during the keynote address at the annual meeting of the group Renewable Energy Vermont, which represents the state’s alternative energy sector.

Hochschild said Vermont is a leader in health care reform, marriage equality, with the state being the first to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples, and the first to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the search for fossil fuels.

“My main message for you guys today is take the role of being a pioneer, being a laboratory for the ideas and policy future very serious. That’s how change happens. You get the model and it works and it spreads,” he said. “The roll you are playing is absolutely critical.”

The two-day conference at the Sheraton Hotel and Conference Center in South Burlington is celebrating Vermont’s renewable energy accomplishments that include having more solar jobs, per capita, than any other state in the country and that more than 30 percent of public school students study in buildings heated with wood.

Hochschild said California’s push for energy savings and renewable energy began in the mid-1970s when the state was in the midst of an energy crisis and the electric load was growing at a rate of 8 percent per year. One study commissioned by the California Legislature at the time recommended building 40 nuclear power plants.

Instead, the California Energy Commission was created to focus on efficiency and renewable energy. And the state implemented the first renewable energy standards.

In the mid-1970s electricity use in California was about average. Now the state uses about half the energy per capita as the rest of the country, he said.

There are a variety of innovative solar generating facilities across the state and homes, businesses and commercial buildings are all being made more energy efficient. Since 1980 the cost of solar panels has dropped 98 percent. Renewable energy has also helped create jobs and tax revenue.

“We’re making headway,” he said. “Sometimes these goals can feel audacious and impossible.”

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