The Douglas administration released a draft plan Tuesday to help shape Vermont’s energy future. Critics immediately lambasted the 267-page document as inadequate to reduce the state’s dependence on petroleum, to increase energy efficiency or to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The plan, drafted by the state Public Service Department, calls for continued reliance on electricity from Hydro Quebec and Vermont Yankee while utilities find more diverse, preferably in-state, sources of renewable power.
It also foresees Vermonters buying more efficient, less-polluting cars and trucks, particularly plug-in hybrid vehicles after 2010. Plug-in hybrids are recharged by plugging them into a wall outlet, where they draw power from the electric grid.
“Affordable and reliable electricity is the backbone of economic growth,” Public Service Commissioner David O’Brien said in a statement. He added that the plan “incorporates the tenets of Gov. Douglas’s energy policy: affordability, reliability and environmental responsibility.”
James Moore, energy advocate at the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, had a different view.
“There’s no action in the action plan,” he said. “A comprehensive plan should lay out exactly where we want to get to and how we are going to get there. This doesn’t do either of those things.”
Avoiding new mandates
The energy plan, last updated in 2001, was released at a time when the state is facing a number of challenges.
Vermont obtains two-thirds of its electricity from Hydro-Quebec and Vermont Yankee. Yankee contracts – and the plant’s operating license – expire in 2012. Hydro-Quebec contracts expire in 2016.
Meanwhile, crude oil prices have topped $130 barrel, a blow to a state where many people commute long distances to work and depend on fuel oil to heat their homes.
The draft plan released Tuesday assesses this energy situation. It calls for a continuation of many existing state policies, while others among the 150 action recommendations call for additional study or for the state to “encourage” changes by utilities and consumers.
For example, the plan says the state should “encourage more renewable energy investments through established incentives and programs” and “continue to foster sound investment in electric energy efficiency programs” for which Vermont is well-known.
The plan does not call for any new mandates on utilities, businesses or consumers, nor does it call for expansion of investment in electrical energy efficiency in homes and businesses.
It anticipates a move by consumers to vehicles powered in part by electricity from the power grid. It says the state should “encourage” that technology and “encourage” utilities to research the effects on their systems of many plug-in vehicles.
At Green Mountain Power, the Colchester-based utility, chief operating officer Mary Powell said she liked what she saw in the plan, particularly its examination of energy used in transportation and its lack of mandates.
“We agree with the overarching goals,” she said. “One thing we like is it gives us a flexible platform to implement our ideas about the best way to fulfill our customers’ energy needs.”
At Central Vermont Public Service Corp. in Rutland, president Robert Young said the energy plan mirrors his company’s view of Vermont’s energy future.
“While we want Vermont Yankee and Hydro-Quebec in our energy portfolio, we don’t want them at as heavy a concentration as they are now,” he said.
Both were enthusiastic about the plan’s support for energy efficiency and plug-in hybrids. Young said as energy prices rise, additional investment in energy efficiency “may be a cost-effective solution.”
At VPIRG, Moore said he was disappointed that, after the plan lays out Vermont’s energy challenges, it does not proceed to make meaningful recommendations to cope with those issues.
He was particularly critical of what he described as the plan’s failure to expand investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy.
“This so-called plan does little to nothing to increase energy efficiency, wind or hydro here in Vermont,” he said. He noted that more than 80 percent of the public comments gathered at workshops by the department expressed a strong desire for increased funding for energy efficiency.
Instead, he said, the action plan calls only for continued evaluation of Vermont’s investments in electrical energy efficiency and implementation of a new law expanding those programs to home heating fuel.
“The administration can say energy efficiency is a good thing, but if it isn’t going to fund it, it doesn’t do Vermonters much good,” he said.
At the Conservation Law Foundation, attorney Sandra Levine said she had reviewed the plan only briefly. She, too, said she was disappointed in the energy efficiency provisions.
“It doesn’t suggest expanding energy efficiency in any meaningful way, even though with rapidly rising fuel costs and electricity costs around the region, every dollar we invest in efficiency is more than $3 saved down the road,” she said.
She and Moore also questioned what they see as a disconnect between the plan’s call for reducing the number of vehicle miles traveled by Vermont, and the Douglas administration’s support of new roads like the Circumferential Highway.
Moore said he could also see the draft energy plan as a “glass half full.”
“The Department of Public Service has put in a lot of time and energy in coming up with this document. It clearly needs a lot of work, but it gives Vermonters an opportunity to be heard, and I hope they take it,” he said.
Proposed energy actions
The Douglas administration’s draft Comprehensive Energy Plan released Tuesday recommends what it describes as more than 150 action steps. Some highlights:
Energy efficiency: Evaluate cost-effectiveness of electric energy efficiency programs. Implement an all-fuels energy efficiency program as mandated by the Legislature.
Hydroelectric power: If they have time, state agencies should identify the best sites for new hydro. Environmental regulators should better integrate state and federal permitting for small, low-impact projects. The state should work with utilities to increase power production at existing hydro plants.
Wind power: If they have the resources, state agencies should identify sites most likely to meet permitting requirements and develop better guidelines for towns and individuals interested in developing community wind projects. Utilities should buy into regional and international wind projects.
Nuclear power: Utilities should negotiate new contracts with Vermont Yankee beyond 2012, assuming the plant is relicensed. Over time, utilities should reduce their dependence on Vermont Yankee by diversifying their energy sources, with emphasis on clean, renewable generation.
Natural gas: State should encourage residents to switch from electricity, fuel oil and propane to natural gas where it is available.
Wood power: State should consider pre-approving wood electric generation sites around Vermont to encourage private development of those plants.
Transportation: Continue to support stringent fuel economy and low-emission standards. Encourage plug-in hybrid vehicle technology.
Learn more, speak up TO READ: The draft of Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan 2009 can be found at http://publicservice.vermont.gov/
TO SPEAK OUT: Five meetings will be held around Vermont this summer to gather public reaction to the plan. A schedule will be announced in coming weeks.
By Candace Page
Free Press Staff Writer
28 May 2008
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