Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Natural Resources

First Advisor

Jon D. Erickson


There is broad consensus that a transition to renewable energy and a low-carbon economy is crucial for future development and prosperity, yet there are differing perspectives on how such a transition should be achieved. The overarching goal of this dissertation, which is comprised of three interrelated studies, is to analyze and compare energy futures scenarios to achieve a renewable energy transition and low-carbon economy in the State of Vermont. In the first study, an analysis is presented of the role of energy pricing regimes and economic policy in the context of pursuing a renewable energy transition in the State of Vermont. Through the development and application of a system dynamics model, results address the limits to technological substitution due to path dependence on nonrenewable energy. The role of complementary economic policy is also highlighted to shift from a goal of quantitative growth to qualitative development in order to decouple economic welfare from energy consumption.

In the second study, an analysis is presented of the impact of modeled energy transition scenarios to address energy development and land use trade-offs. Simulations with a spatio-temporal land cover change model find that Vermont could achieve a complete transition to renewable electricity using in-state resources through developing between 11,000 and 100,000 hectares of land for solar and wind, or up to four percent of state land area, including some environmentally sensitive land. This approach highlights the need for integration of energy policy and land use planning in order to mitigate potential energy-land use conflict.

In the final study, trade-offs between energy, economic, environmental, and social dimensions of Vermont's renewable energy transition are explored through the use of a multi-criteria decision analysis. Energy transition alternatives were designed to reveal trade-offs at the intersection of economic growth and carbon price policy. While there were no optimal pathways to achieving Vermont's energy transition, some energy transition alternatives achieve a more socially desirable balance of benefits and consequences. Navigating the trade-offs inherent in the ongoing energy transition will require an adaptive approach to policymaking that incorporates iterative planning, experimentation, and learning.



Number of Pages

297 p.