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Vermont lawmakers aim for boost in home-grown electricity  

Credit:  By Joel Banner Baird, Free Press Staff Writer, The Burlington Free Press, www.burlingtonfreepress.com 12 March 2011 ~~

The Vermont House will consider legislation next week designed to promote more locally produced, grid-connected electricity.

Provisions of the new legislation, which moved out of committee this week, would double current caps on energy that residents can sell back to the grid, House Natural Resources and Energy Committee Chairman Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, said Friday.

The bill is designed to encourage home- and community-scale generation of electricity – and to stimulate local energy businesses, Klein said.

Some of its goals would be funded by a proposed 55-cent-per-month surcharge on all electric utility bills in the state for three years, to help replenish the Clean Energy Development Fund. That fund has depended on payments from the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant since 2005, in an agreement that will sunset next year.

The new bill, co-sponsored by Klein and Rep. Margaret Cheney, D-Norwich, would increase the permitted size of ratepayers’ renewable-energy installations from 250 kilowatts to 500 kW, and would allow their contribution to a utility’s total peak power to double, from 2 percent to 4 percent.

That provision applies only to net-metered facilities, where customers generate power to offset their own use – and not to commercial power plants.

“It will put net metering within the reach of the average Vermonter,” Klein said. “It’s doable.”

Opponents of the bill will scrutinize that claim closely, Associated Industries of Vermont Vice President Bill Driscoll said Friday.

Driscoll, who has closely followed the bill’s progress on behalf of Vermont manufacturers, said the bill, H.56, would accelerate rate hikes and set a harmful precedent.

Although the proposed changes are relatively small, he added, they shift costs of renewable energy to ratepayers at a time when Vermont producers already face a high cost of doing business.

“The goalposts continue to move, and the costs continue to increase,” Driscoll said.

On average, a Vermont household requires about 700 watts (or 0.7 kW) in steady generating capacity – enough to keep seven 100-watt bulbs running constantly, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates.

Most renewable-energy sources such as wind and sunlight are intermittent and might never achieve that “base load;” the new bill proposes ways they might carve out a larger, more useful niche.

Klein described the net-metering portions of the bill – those that define how utilities’ credit their power-producing ratepayers – as the bill’s “cornerstone,” and one that has broad support.

The concept isn’t new. Net-metering agreements have been permitted in Vermont since 1998. Back then, the law capped generating capacity at 15 kW per customer; farms were allowed facilities of up to 150 kW.

During the past decade, utilities in the state have worked to promote localized energy production (or “distributed generation”) to reduce the need for costly transmission upgrades, and as a hedge against less-stable prices for energy on the open market.

Klein said Colchester-based Green Mountain Power, which awards its customers a 6-cent-per- kilowatt-hour premium for solar-generated electricity they contribute to the grid, inspired another provision of H.56 that will likely emerge from his committee today.

If the bill becomes law, all utilities in the state would have to sweeten rates for photovoltaic producers.

Why only solar?

Bang for the buck, answered Andrew Savage, director of communications for Williston-based AllEarth Renewables, a manufacturer of wind and solar generators.

“Solar arrays reach peak efficiency precisely at the same time demand on our grid is at its highest: in the summer,” he said. “It’s a time when utilities are a corresponding peak in price for their power.”

Other provisions of the bill evidently made less-compelling economic sense, and didn’t make it out of committee Friday.

Incentives for biomass-produced electricity faced opposition from groups who dispute advocates’ environmental claims, as well as those, like Driscoll, who question wood-chip plants’ effect on utility rates.

Source:  By Joel Banner Baird, Free Press Staff Writer, The Burlington Free Press, www.burlingtonfreepress.com 12 March 2011

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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