Read about our current projects below, or browse our archive of past projects.
The transportation sector is now the leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, emitting more carbon dioxide than even the power sector. The electrification of transportation—personal vehicles, mass transit, heavy-duty vehicles, and other forms—will play a major role in reducing emissions and combating climate change, as well as cleaning up harmful air pollution.
The Clean Transportation Team at the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School is working on accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles. As this transition is underway, policymakers at all levels of government are wrestling with critical questions and challenges: What can cities and towns do to help be prepared for the market shift to EVs? How can cities replace dirty diesel buses with zero emission vehicles? How do we incentivize smart charging behavior that benefits the grid and all electric customers? And most of all: How do we get more drivers to plug in?
Our researchers are working to address a number of these questions.
Our campus sustainability plan project provides staff support to the VLS Campus Sustainability Committee. On November 26th, 2012 Vermont Law School's President and Dean signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. As a signatory of this commitment, Vermont Law School is now taking necessary steps to implement a comprehensive plan towards climate neutrality. To develop this plan, VLS has established a Campus Sustainability Committee and retained the Institute for Energy and the Environment to assist the committee in developing and implementing the Law School’s Campus Sustainability Plan. In addition to providing support to the committee an IEE faculty member and a student research associate are members of the committee, along with representatives from Buildings and Grounds, the Campus Greening Committee, and the Office for Institutional Advancement. The committee has developed procedures for the VLS Green Revolving Loan Fund and approved building efficiency, solar energy, and electric vehicle charging projects which are all at various stages of implementation.
In an effort to support the economic health and viability of farms while also promoting their transition to renewable energy, the Institute for Energy and the Environment teamed up with the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS) at Vermont Law School to create the Farm and Energy Initiative (FEI). Directed by Assistant Professor and Staff Attorney Genevieve Byrne, the FEI researches energy strategies that improve efficiency, reduce energy consumption, and integrate the production of renewable energy like solar power into farming practices. In 2020 the FEI team launched a website (farmandenergyinitiative.org) that serves as an open-access resource for farmers, researchers, and policymakers to promote sustainable energy use in agriculture. The site includes resources related to three FEI projects: the Farmland Solar Policy Project, which helps policymakers balance the need for renewable energy with farmland preservation; the Biogas and Organic Waste Management Project, which promotes the economically viable and sustainable use of anaerobic digestion in agriculture; and the Healthy Soils Law Project, which helps state governments develop state policies supporting environmental stewardship in agriculture. The project is directed by Staff Attorney and Assistant Professor Genevieve Byrne, and funded with a grant from the National Agricultural Library, U.S. Department of Agriculture.
DESIGNING POLICY TOOLS FOR REGULATION OF ENERGY USE IN THE CANNABIS INDUSTRY
As the state-law legalization of marijuana expands, the cannabis industry consumes an ever-growing percentage of electricity. This significant increase in electric consumption, when not paired with renewable sources of energy, leads to increased reliance on fossil fuels, puts pressure on grid infrastructure, and undermines the achievement of climate and energy goals. Localities where cannabis is legal are already experiencing negative impacts tied to energy use by marijuana production facilities. and are seeking both technical and policy solutions to mitigate the impact to the grid of cannabis industry expansion. This research project examines energy use in the cannabis industry with the goal of finding policy-based strategies for increasing energy efficiency and renewable energy yse. The team will then create policy design tools to assist state and local lawmakers with regulating energy use in the cannabis industry.
How virtual power plants can advance electrification and mitigate infrastructure needs as we race to meet our climate challenges
This project and resultant paper will explore three contemporary case studies of how distributed energy resources have been aggregated into Virtual Power Plants (VPPs) to provide resilient, low carbon solutions for our climate challenge in a manner that can mitigate demands on our energy infrastructure. These recent case studies will analyze a variety of distributed energy resources, including home behind-the-meter batteries and electric vehicles, and how they can be aggregated to partcipate in wholesale electric markets to reduce the demand for larger utility scale resources. The case studies will build on research previously performed at the Institute for Energy and the Environment and published in Volume 6 of the San Diego Journal of Climate Energy Law. The research team will also apply the hands-on knowledge developed in the energy clinic to explore climate justice issues and how to best ensure that the benefits of the clean energy transition can be more equitably shared with low income and underserved communities. The cases will consider how FERC order 841 and 2222 will help remove the barriers to effective participation in regional markets and also explore the remaining conflicts with overlapping state and federal jurisdiction. We will also use these case studies to explore whether VPP resources allow states more effective opportunities to incent investments in instate clean and distributed resources without raising significant commerce clause concerns. The project will conclude with policy recommendations to promote the growth of VPPs in a manner than enhances electrification and promotes resiliences as we transition to a low carbon future.
REDUCING THE TIMELINE FOR EMISSIONS REDUCTIONS IN THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT VIA ENERGY EFFICIENCY AND ELECTRIFICATION
The project will focus on identifying how the amount of total time needed for delivery of emissions reductions can be reduced. All stages of program and project development will be examined, including policy, design, and implementation. The hypothesis for the Project is two-fold. First, that energy efficiency is still being done on the same timeline that it has always has, with no new emissions-focused examinations of where it can be reduced. Second, that in examining that timeline, the question of how to insert and embed electrification in energy efficiency efforts should be included. The thinking is that there are changes that can be made that would allow EE and Electrification efforts to be done "faster" which will lead to earlier emissions reductions than at present.
The project is funded by USDOE and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). The methodology of the project will be based in part on literature research, but the main vehicle for investigation will be interviews with actors involved in the timeline, including policymakers (State and Federal) utilities, technology companies, EE practitioners, and others.
Economic and environmental pressures on coal generation are causing a slew of earlier than planned retirements. The facilities are retireing before their planned retirement dates and before the cost of constructing and upgrading the facilities have been fully recovered. Many states have passed securitization laws that will allow utilities to recover the costs of their investments while taking the polluting facilities offline. Ensuring recovery of costs is only one element of the process. Securitization must consider the interests of ratepayers, particularly low- and moderate-income ratepayers. Securitization also offers an opportunity to invest in the communities that have been harmed by decades of pollution. This research project will study recently passed securitization laws through an energy justice lens to assess whether the laws are protecting ratepayers and if the laws fully address the past damages and future harms of coal-fired generation.