Gov. Jim Douglas on Wednesday signed into law a bill aimed at promoting renewable energy like solar and wind power, as well as new efficiency measures devoted to reducing Vermonters’ use of oil and other heating fuels.
‘Help Vermonters save money’
The bill, dubbed the “energy efficiency and affordability act,” will “help Vermonters better manage their heating resources, protect our environment and save money,” Douglas told scores of lawmakers, administration officials, energy advocates and others who filled his Statehouse office for the bill-signing ceremony.
The signing came 10 months after Douglas vetoed legislation with similar goals in part because he didn’t like that its efficiency programs would have been paid for with a new tax on the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.
Douglas, who also objected to how last year’s bill would have structured the efficiency programs, called agreement on the new version “perhaps the best example so far this year of the progress we can make when everyone’s point of view is respected and receives reasonable consideration.”
The bill calls for the Department of Public Service to hold a series of “stakeholder workshops” beginning this spring to come up with a request for proposals, basically a work order for a contractor or contractors who would administer the new efficiency programs.
By next year, those programs should be up and running, providing Vermonters with grants and other financing to add new insulation, tighter windows and the like to their homes – measures the bill’s supporters say could cut heating bills by 20 to 40 percent and reduce greenhouse gas emissions tied to global warming.
In addition, the bill allows for new tax credits designed to promote renewable energy, which advocates said would be timely given the uncertainty over whether federal tax credits designed to promote installations of solar power will be renewed this year.
And among a broad range of other measures, it allows an expansion of “net metering,” in which people who make their own power can ship any extra onto their utility grid, lowering their electric bills in the process.
In contrast to the vitriol that surrounded the governor’s veto of energy legislation last year, Wednesday’s bill-signing was a cause for praise from the governor for lawmakers and members of his staff who worked on the bill.
David O’Brien, commissioner of the Department of Public Service, singled out his deputy, Richard Smith, and Rep. Robert Dostis, D-Waterbury and chairman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, as playing key roles in this year’s compromise.
Much of the compromise centered on how much money would be spent on efficiency efforts, where the money would come from, and who would implement the efficiency programs.
Douglas promised $1.6 million toward the efficiency programs in his budget; an additional $2.4 million – bringing the total to $4 million – is expected to come from a new multistate system designed to allow states with low carbon-dioxide emissions, like Vermont, to sell off allowances to other states struggling to reach carbon reduction targets.
In addition, Efficiency Vermont, the statewide electric conservation program, is being allowed to expand into heating efficiency. It will use money from payments it is to get for its electrical efficiency efforts from the regional dispatch agency ISO-New England to expand into heating efficiency.
By Dave Gram
20 March 2008
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