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Vermont House votes to pursue renewable energy

MONTPELIER – With summer temperatures in Vermont on the first day of spring, House members gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a bill to address climate change.

“We see its evidence everywhere and we see it at an ever increasing rate,” Rep. Margaret Cheney said on the House floor while the thermometer reached 75 degrees outside.

The Norwich Democrat described a bill that sets a goal that Vermont get 75 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2032. It calls for a renewable portfolio standard, in which the state’s utilities would be required to get increasing amounts of the power they sell from green sources over the next 20 years.

The measure received preliminary approval on a voice vote. It is up for final House approval Wednesday before moving to the Senate.

Cheney said the bill is not ambitious enough for some environmentalists, but said the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, of which she is vice chairwoman, tried to balance environmental and economic concerns.

“Very sensitive”

“We are very sensitive to the impact on electric rates and the need to keep prices stable,” she said.

To move toward that goal, the bill would allow utilities to get renewable power in a number of ways. They could build wind-powered, solar, or biomass projects of their own; they could buy power from independent developers of such projects;
or they could buy renewable energy credits to support projects from which they are not directly getting power.

Another alternative would be for the companies to make payments – the amount to be set by the state Public Service Board – to the state’s Clean Energy Development Fund, which is used to provide tax breaks and other incentives for developers of renewable energy projects.

The House action drew mixed reviews.

“This bill isn’t everything we’d hoped for, but it’s a big step in the right direction and it will help to ensure a positive legacy of clean energy for our children and grandchildren,” said Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

William Driscoll, vice president of the manufacturers’ group Associated Industries of Vermont, took a dimmer view.

He cited an estimate from the state Department of Public Service, which represents the public on energy issues before the state Public Service Board, that the bill would raise electric rates by 4.5 percent.

He said that could hurt the competitiveness of Vermont companies, especially large commercial and industrial users of electricity.

He also estimated the measure would reduce Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions by just 2 percent, saying it does not address greenhouse gas emissions by vehicles.

“That’s a very expensive burden on ratepayers for a very small reduction in carbon,” he said.

Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier and chairman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, called the bill “a solid balance between moving forward with a sustainable energy future to create jobs, strengthen the grid, and most of all, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while keeping in mind the need to have rates that don’t disrupt our economy.”