Central Vermont Public Service has received the Vermont Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence for its first-in-the-nation switch to biodegradable oil.

Last June, CVPS switched from fossil-based chainsaw bar and chain oil to oil made from animal fat, removing thousands of gallons of traditional oil annually from Vermont ’s environment. CVPS was the first electric utility in the nation to make the switch.

“Every gallon of bar and chain oil ultimately ends up in the fields and forests,” CVPS spokesman Steve Costello said. “Our action essentially removed 5,000 gallons of fossil-based oil from Vermont’s environment over the past year, and will continue to do so every year going forward. That’s a benefit to Vermont plants, birds, animals and amphibians.”

Starting June 1, 2010, dozens of CVPS-contracted tree-trimming crews were required to use the new biodegradable chain and bar oil. The product, GreenOil, is produced by Green Earth Technologies, which has developed a series of new oils as alternatives to fossil fuels. CVPS uses seven different tree companies and typically has up to 55 tree crews working statewide at any given time.

Between 1,200 and 1,400 miles of distribution and transmission lines are cleared per year. Bar oil is automatically fed from a chainsaw to lubricate the chain, but it ultimately flies off into the environment. The new oil begins to break down almost immediately in the environment, as bacteria feed on the natural animal product.

“Petroleum-based chain oil takes years to breaks down,” said CVPS Forestry Manager Duane Dickinson, who accepted the award on behalf of the company at a Statehouse ceremony. “GreenOil, the product we use, breaks down in a matter of days, and there is no chance of contamination of water sources or the food chain.”

The new oil costs a little more than regular oil, but Dickinson said it was worth a couple of extra dollars per gallon. “The minor added cost is worth protecting the lands and waters of the state of Vermont ,” Dickinson said. “At CVPS, our forestry vegetation management program is designed to maintain reliable electrical service in environmentally responsible ways. Today’s award is one more sign that we are on the right track.”

CVPS’s Forestry Department has earned numerous awards and honors over the years. CVPS has won the National Arbor Day Foundation Tree Line USA Award every year since 2003. It won the 2005 National Wild Turkey Federation National Land Stewardship Award, and CVPS is a charter member of the National Wild Turkey Federation Energy to Wildlife Program.

The Vermont Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence is the second won by the CVPS Forestry Department, which also received the award in 2003 after it slashed herbicide usage.