On his way back from a meeting of Canadian and New England officials in Quebec City, Gov. James Douglas said by telephone Monday the group agreed to pursue increased use of renewable, more-efficient energy and cleaner transportation.
But Douglas also said that Vermont should move cautiously on several of the proposals outlined in the group’s recommendations.
For instance, although the New England governors and Eastern Canadian premiers recommended unifying renewable portfolio standards laws across the region, Douglas said it may be premature for Vermont to enact such a law itself.
Vermont passed a law in the last Legislative session pushing utilities to meet increases in power use through new renewable power projects. However, unlike a renewable portfolio standard, Vermont’s statute does not require the purchase of “green credits” from such renewable projects unless those goals are not met.
Several other states, including Connecticut and Massachusetts, have laws setting up markets for selling green credits, and some lawmakers would like Vermont to follow suit.
“We have done well and will continue to do well to develop our renewable portfolio without a specific Legislative mandate,” Douglas said.
“I think it may be premature,” to pass such a law in Vermont, he added.
Vermont has been a leader in energy efficiency as well, something that participants in the Quebec City meeting urged as a solution to environmental and energy policy concerns.
Efficiency Vermont, which uses a surcharge on power bills to fund statewide efficiency measures, was the first “efficiency utility” of its kind in the country.
“Vermont obviously is a leader in that as was noted by some other jurisdictions,” at the meeting, Douglas said. But an idea to expand the efficiency program to heating oil and other fuels should be carefully considered before it is established, the governor said. That’s because it would likely be financed through a surcharge which would make fuel more expensive, even if a case could be made it would save money in the long run.
“We do need to consider efficiency strategies for fuels beyond electricity,” Douglas said.
“We have to be careful “¦ we have low-income constituents who have to be considered when we talk about adding to the cost of a gallon of gasoline or heating fuel.”
“I strongly resisted the gas tax increase last year,” Douglas said. “We don’t want to add to the burden of the cost of living in Vermont.”
One topic at the meeting, the results of which will be discussed at this summer’s full meeting of the New England governors and Eastern Canadian premiers, was whether the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative should be expanded to include Canadian provinces, Douglas said. Vermont was the first state to sign on to that agreement among Northeastern states to lower the greenhouse gas production from their power supplies.
Quebec is also the source of about a third of Vermont’s electricity. The long-term contracts between the massive series of Hydro-Quebec dams and Vermont’s utilities are set to begin expiring within the next decade, but Douglas said the relationship between the state and the power generating system will likely continue in some form.
“There is no question Hydro-Quebec has been an important part of our success in having the lowest greenhouse gas emissions per capita of any state and preventing increases in electric rates that have been quite prominent in other states in the region,” Douglas said. “They have a role to play in our energy future.”
There are also other possibilities for purchasing power from Canada, and perhaps selling it back North in the winter, when Canadians use the bulk of their electricity. Power use in Vermont and the rest of New England peaks in the summer months.
Douglas said that he remains opposed personally to the development of most large-scale wind projects along the state’s ridgelines. But regulators will enforce the criteria and statutes that exist independently of his feelings about the projects, Douglas said.
“I don’t believe the pain is worth the gain in many of these proposed projects,” he said. “I respect that process, regardless of my personal view.”
“I think it would make a dramatic difference in our pristine ridgelines,” Douglas added. “I am not persuaded it should be a large-scale strategy for our energy future.”
By Louis Porter
Vermont Press Bureau
15 February 2007