Mark and Sara Borkowski live with their two young daughters in a century-old, fifteen-hundred-square-foot house in Rutland, Vermont. Mark drives a school bus, and Sara works as a special-ed teacher; the cost of heating and cooling their house through the year consumes a large fraction of their combined income. Last summer, however, persuaded by Green Mountain Power, the main electric utility in Vermont, the Borkowskis decided to give their home an energy makeover. In the course of several days, coördinated teams of contractors stuffed the house with new insulation, put in a heat pump for the hot water, and installed two air-source heat pumps to warm the home. They also switched all the light bulbs to L.E.D.s and put a small solar array on the slate roof of the garage.
The Borkowskis paid for the improvements, but the utility financed the charges through their electric bill, which fell the very first month. Before the makeover, from October of 2013 to January of 2014, the Borkowskis used thirty-four hundred and eleven kilowatt-hours of electricity and three hundred and twenty-five gallons of fuel oil. From October of 2014 to January of 2015, they used twenty-eight hundred and fifty-six kilowatt-hours of electricity and no oil at all. The Borkowskis reduced the footprint of their house by eighty-eight per cent in a matter of days, and at no net cost.
This New Yorker piece is just one of many examples of the fact that renewable energy is now a practical option for ordinary people. I think it’s also validation in the faith in free markets to solve problems like energy access and distribution rather than top down bureaucracies.
Tesla, SolarCity, and companies like them are doing more than most policy makers ever could have done. But as the piece points out, a crucial role for utilities and policy makers lies in helping us finance the shift to renewable infrastructure.