MONTPELIER – Without a word of debate or even a roll call, the Senate voted Wednesday for a bill designed to encourage energy efficiency and renewable energy, along with an increase in the state’s tax on Vermont Yankee to pay for it.
The tax on Vermont Yankee’s electric generation would claim $25 million from the nuclear power plant’s owner, Entergy Corp., between 2009 and 2012. The House is expected to vote on the bill Friday, when it’s likely to face debate.
Though the tax is significantly less than a $37 million profits tax the Senate previously proposed, the company and the governor remain opposed to it.
“This is still a case of a deal not being a deal,” Entergy spokesman Brian Cosgrove said. “How do we know what’s next?”
David O’Brien, commissioner of the state Department of Public Service, called the tax “irresponsible,” and said it would hurt utility companies’ negotiations for electric rates with Entergy if the nuclear power plant is relicensed in 2012.
O’Brien wouldn’t say whether that means Gov. Jim Douglas would veto the bill, but he said the governor’s opposition is strong.
A House and Senate conference committee settled on the new tax rate at 5:25 p.m. Wednesday after a day of huddled closed-door meetings and last-minute appeals from opponents.
By 5:50 p.m., copies of the 85-page bill had been distributed on the Senate floor. Within 15 minutes, the Senate had suspended rules to take up the bill, heard highlights of the conference committee and passed the committee’s report by voice vote.
The vote caught several senators by surprise, as they had been in and out of session during the afternoon, rifling through a number of bills.
“I’m stunned,” said Sen. Douglas Racine, D-Chittenden, who tried to have the vote taken again. “There’s no roll call? Does anybody else have questions?”
Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, said he, too, was surprised no one called for a roll call or asked questions, but senators had been told the vote was coming.
Racine said he was looking over an unrelated conference committee report and didn’t realize the vote was taking place. “I felt we should have discussion on it,” he said.
“It took me by surprise,” said Sen. George Coppenrath, R-Caledonia. He said it probably would have passed even if there had been debate and a roll call, but he wasn’t aware that the vote was happening.
Racine had tried in an afternoon caucus to persuade senators to wait a day on the bill, but Shumlin was pushing for legislators to wrap up their business so they can adjourn for the year Friday.
The plan would tax Vermont Yankee’s power generation from a rate of $.00225 per kilowatt-hour in 2009, $.0025 in 2010 and $.003 in 2011. Wind power projects would be charged at the same rates.
That’s a rate wind developers sought and praised. “The wind energy property tax set in the bill is good for Vermont because it will encourage wind farm investments here, which the state needs to have a clean energy future,” said Adam Necrason, lobbyist for Renewable Energy Vermont.
Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Ann Cummings, D-Washington, said complaints that the tax changes a previous deal Entergy had agreed to with the state, don’t hold water. “We change tax policy all the time,” she said.
Supporters said the process of examining how much Vermont Yankee pays in taxes – about $4.5 million this year – shows the company wasn’t paying its share. “They’re being asked to put in their fair share of property tax, and they’re still crying foul,” said James Moore, energy policy coordinator for Vermont Public Interest Research Group.
O’Brien said the legislation doesn’t direct the money generated from the tax specifically to a fund to pay for energy efficiency, as legislators have suggested it will.
Shumlin said the money won’t be collected until 2009, but it will be targeted for an expanded energy-efficiency program with a goal of reducing the amount of heating fuel Vermonters use in their homes and businesses.
By Terri Hallenbeck
Free Press Staff Writer
10 May 2007
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding