Legislative preview: Energy proposals include 15 percent net metering cap, limits on “green energy sprawl” and efficiency program funding
Last year the House considered a moratorium on wind power development. The bill was later pared down from a three-year prohibition on wind generation plants to a review of the state’s permitting process. However, the fight over wind isn’t over in the Statehouse. The Senate is again considering proposals to limit the impact of wind projects on neighboring property owners. Rodgers said ridgeline development, such as Green Mountain Power’s Kingdom Community Wind project – a 63-megawatt wind farm – is damaging Vermont’s landscape and nearby property values. Adjacent property owners should be compensated for noise and visual pollution, he said. “I would really like to see the end of the green energy sprawl,” he said. Rodgers is introducing S.198, requiring wind power facilities to install radar-controlled lighting to reduce the visual impact of illumination required by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Lawmakers this session will consider legislation to lift net-metering caps, engage the public in the state’s energy siting process and require wind power operators to comply with new state regulations.
The Legislature, which reconvenes Tuesday, will take up legislation left over from the first half of the biennium and several new energy policy proposals worked up during summer committee meetings.
The top priority this session will be to reform the state’s stalled net-metering program, lawmakers say. But the Senate has sponsored a host of bills reforming the state’s energy siting policy, regulating wind power operations, increasing thermal efficiency funding, taxing natural gas infrastructure and sourcing funds for regional economic development and renewable energy infrastructure.
The House and Senate both have proposals to reform the state’s net-metering program. The House plans to raise the cap while the Senate counterpart proposes to remove the caps entirely.
The program, which allows residents and businesses to lower their energy bills by plugging rooftop-scale renewable energy projects into the grid – was stalled this year when all but the state’s largest utility, Green Mountain Power, hit the cap limiting the utilities’ total installed net-metering wattage at 4 percent of peak demand.
To exceed the cap requires authorization from the Public Service Board. Some utilities have successfully lifted the cap while others have stopped accepting applications.
The Legislative Council and the Department of Public Service are drafting the House version of a net metering bill, said Rep Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier.
Klein, who chairs the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, said the proposal includes a 15 percent cap for net-metering customers until 2017, when the Public Service Board overhauls the program.
“As soon as it’s signed into law, the doors are open to operate the way it was operating,” he said.
He said the bill was drafted in collaboration the programs chief stakeholders, including utilities, the energy industry and public advocacy groups. He said the proposal is not perfect but changes to the program will be expedited with the department’s support.
Sen. John Rodgers, D-Orleans, has sponsored a bill that would eliminate the caps altogether.
“I want to see power produced small and local and near the end user,” said Rodgers, a member of the Senate committee.
S.196, would remove the current caps on net-metering systems and require customers to pay a fixed monthly charge. The charge is designed to lift the burden of non-net-metering customers having to pay more to maintain and operate the grid, Rodgers said.
“I believe as it becomes more popular, the utilities and the non-net-metering customers are left holding the bag,” he said. “In my view, they [net-metering customers] need to be contributing in some level to the maintenance cost of the grid.”
Rodgers said the bill will be fleshed out when the session begins.
“The bill is really a starting point,” he said. “I think the details need to be hammered out with everybody in the room.”
Throughout the summer, a joint Committee on Natural Resources and Energy met to discuss expanding public involvement in the quasi-judicial Public Service Board’s Section 248 process, the state statute guiding energy generation and transmission siting procedures.
The Senate is introducing several bills that would increase public involvement in the certification of energy projects.
Sen. Bob Hartwell, D-Bennington, who chairs the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, says property owners and local residents now have little say in the energy regulatory process, even though the projects affect property values and the environment.
“First of all, there is virtually no public participation in this process,” Hartwell said. “It’s really intended to get democracy back into this process, which is clearly missing right now.”
Regional and town energy plans also need to be considered, he said.
S.201, would allow adjacent property owners and regional planners to participate in the board’s certification process, Hartwell said.
Last year, the Senate approved S.25, which would increase public participation in the board’s permitting process. AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, will host a news conference Monday advocating for the bill’s passage in the House.
Hartwell is sponsoring two other bills that would be moot if the House passes S.25, which was referred to the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development.
S.203 would create an independent Office of Energy Siting Counsel to represent residents and municipalities before the board. S.206 would provide a funding mechanism for interveners and create an office for a ratepayer advocate that would be overseen by a joint legislative Public Service Oversight Committee.
Last year the House considered a moratorium on wind power development. The bill was later pared down from a three-year prohibition on wind generation plants to a review of the state’s permitting process. However, the fight over wind isn’t over in the Statehouse. The Senate is again considering proposals to limit the impact of wind projects on neighboring property owners.
Rodgers said ridgeline development, such as Green Mountain Power’s Kingdom Community Wind project – a 63-megawatt wind farm – is damaging Vermont’s landscape and nearby property values. Adjacent property owners should be compensated for noise and visual pollution, he said.
“I would really like to see the end of the green energy sprawl,” he said.
Rodgers is introducing S.198, requiring wind power facilities to install radar-controlled lighting to reduce the visual impact of illumination required by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Hartwell wants to direct more money toward home heating efficiency programs.
S.202 would use the surplus from the state’s energy efficiency program to subsidize thermal efficiency projects. The state charges a fee on electricity consumption that goes to Efficiency Vermont, the state’s efficiency utility, which is designed to help subsidize home heating and electrical efficiency projects.
Hartwell said the state’s goal to retrofit 85,000 homes with thermal efficiency improvements by the year 2020 will require Efficiency Vermont to redirect its focus from electrical efficiency toward thermal efficiency.
The bill would allocate any money from the charge in excess of $45.9 million toward thermal efficiency.
“The motive is to push Efficiency Vermont over to the thermal side,” Hartwell said. “Some of their money is going to thermal efficiency, but not enough.”
Sen. Norm McAllister, R-Franklin, is sponsoring S.203, which would waive the energy efficiency charge for industrial ratepayers if they have invested or plan to invest in energy efficiency.
The Public Service Board recently approved Vermont Gas Systems’ proposal to build a 43-mile, $86.6 million natural gas pipeline that would connect existing infrastructure in Chittenden County to Addison County.
S.238 would set up a mechanism to tax natural gas pipelines. The lead sponsors on the bill are Sens. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden, and Chris Bray, D-Addison.
Revenue from the tax would go to the state’s Clean Energy Development Fund.
Vermont Gas has applied to the Public Service Board for the second phase of the pipeline expansion, which would connect Middlebury to the International Paper mill in Ticonderoga, N.Y. The second phase of the expansion would move the utility closer to completing its final proposed pipeline extension to Rutland, Vermont Gas officials have said.
Entergy, operator of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, agreed to pay $5.2 million to the Clean Energy Development Fund, half of which goes to Windham County. The tentative agreement came at the end of negotiations between the Entergy and the Shumlin administration.
But S.310 would require that 50 percent of the money currently in escrow be allocated to the Clean Energy Development Fund. There is about $5 million in the escrow fund, Hartwell said.
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