We come from Vermont. We know our small state cannot reverse global warming on our own, but we can provide a model for America which helps lead our nation and the world to a more sustainable and secure energy future.
We see three major imperatives.
First, we must act to reverse global warming. The scientific consensus is clear that global warming is real, that it is caused by human activities and that it will only get worse if we do not take bold efforts now. At a time when many members of Congress do not even acknowledge that global warming is happening, in Vermont we are taking action. Vermont has more than 100 grassroots citizen-led town energy committees that are working with state agencies to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels and into energy efficiency and such clean sources of sustainable energy as solar, geothermal, biomass and wind.
Second, at a time when our nation is trying to recover from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, we must seize the opportunity of creating millions of new jobs by making our homes, buildings and appliances more energy efficient. We must also invest heavily in public transportation and rebuilding our rail system. Further, there are enormous economic opportunities not only in the installation of wind and solar projects, but in building these products here in the United States, not China.
We are proud that according to a recent U.S. Labor Department estimate, Vermont leads the nation in green jobs per capita. That's one reason Vermont's unemployment rate is among the lowest in the nation. From the well drillers who now see the installation of geothermal heat pumps as a new opportunity to expand their businesses, to loggers in the woods who are helping to keep our schools and homes warm, to our innovative solar and wind companies that compete nationally and even internationally, our small state is home to a burgeoning network of new green businesses. This did not happen by accident. We have put in place policies that support clean-technology businesses in Vermont.
Finally, we must grasp opportunities to lower energy and fuel bills by moving away from foreign oil toward energy independence. We know this from first-hand experience. We live in a state where roughly half our homes are heated with oil. We live in a region of the country where electricity prices exceed the national average. Of the $1 billion spent every year to heat our homes and buildings in Vermont, 80 percent of that money goes out of state and in some cases to other nations that may not have our best interests in mind. By comparison, 80 percent of what we invest in energy efficiency stays in Vermont to purchase local goods and services and create jobs.
The challenge is to turn these principles into practice.
Up-front costs pose a steep barrier to home owners and businesses converting to cleaner sources of energy or weatherizing homes and workplaces to make them more energy efficient. For an average working family, it is hard to come up with the $5,000 or $10,000 that might be needed to cut fuel bills by 25 to 50 percent. That's why we brought together energy providers, investors and consumers at a first-of-its-kind Clean Energy Investment Summit. Vermont's efforts to move forward with innovative financing tools like on-bill financing and Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) will provide more households and businesses access to energy efficiency and sustainable energy technologies.
We're already doing a lot of other things right. Our state is ranked No. 1 by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy in terms of energy efficiency policies. Our electric utilities sell less kilowatt-hours or power than they did a few years ago, saving consumers tens of millions of dollars. We also have been a leader in weatherization for low-income families, with about 15,000 homes weatherized in the last decade. That saves energy and money; about $916 per year per household. If every state over the next 10 years matched what Vermont accomplished over the last decade, our nation would need 390 fewer coal-burning plants and American consumers would save $170 billion. Further, we will soon be the first state in the country with near-universal smart meter coverage -- opening the opportunity for more gains in energy efficiency.
And we are making progress on sustainable energy. Maj. Gen. Michael Dubie of the Vermont National Guard recently discussed, with considerable pride, the 1.45 megawatt solar photovoltaic system which the Guard recently installed. This project, one of the largest military solar installations in the nation, is not just good for the environment; it is saving the Guard an estimated $250,000 a year in energy costs. Further, in a state where so many buildings heat with oil, 47 Vermont schools are saving money and protecting the environment by heating with biomass harvested right here in New England.
For the nation, like Vermont, moving forward aggressively in energy efficiency and sustainable energy is a win, win, win proposition. We protect our environment by cutting greenhouse gas emissions. We save homeowners and businesses money on their heating and cooling bills. And, in the middle of a recession, we create jobs here at home, not in Saudi Arabia or Iran.
Follow Sen. Bernie Sanders on Twitter: www.twitter.com/senatorsanders