Montpelier – The state will not meet its renewable energy goals unless changes are made, according to a report released Wednesday by the Shumlin administration.
The new Total Energy Study, prepared by the Department of Public Service, made it clear that new policies are needed if the state intends to meet its goal of having 90 percent of its energy consumption fed by renewable power by 2050.
“Vermont cannot achieve the significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions targeted in the statewide goals, nor the associated economic and environmental benefits, without implementing new policies and technologies at scale,” the report states.
The study says a renewable portfolio standard would allow the state to nearly achieve its long-term goal. The RPS described in the report would require Vermont’s electric utilities to purchase renewable power and implement efficiency improvements. The report also analyzed a revenue-neutral carbon tax.
A coalition of environmental groups has announced a push for a carbon tax in 2015, but a key Democratic lawmaker says the state has not shown an appetite for such a tax.
Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, who chairs the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, plans to introduce RPS legislation next year. He said he would be surprised if the state does not pass a renewable portfolio standard this session, but a carbon tax seems unlikely.
He plans to propose an RPS that would offer certificates to utilities that create energy efficiency, by encouraging customers to weatherize their homes, for example.
The utilities could then trade these certificates with other power suppliers for money to reduce rates, much like renewable energy credits, or RECs, are traded for renewable energy generation.
No other state currently accepts credits generated through efficiency, but that could change as other states follow suit, Klein said.
“You create a market for it. If we make the requirement in-state first, I think it shows other states the value of of it. And therefore what may morph out of it is a regional marketplace,” he said.
The state’s renewable energy goals are intended to address the public health and safety threats posed by climate change, such as heat waves, heavy rain, flooding, diseases and pests, all of which are expected to increase in Vermont as temperatures warm, according to a University of Vermont study.
Studies by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that released a series of reports summarizing climate science, found that greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans who burn fossil fuels will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in climate.
Vermont, the second-smallest state in the nation, could eliminate all of its greenhouse gas emissions and make only a tiny immediate impact on the atmosphere.
But proponents of renewable energy policies say the state could persuade other states to follow its lead.
“Of course it has an impact,” Klein said. “It shows by example what you can do. And if you don’t show by example what you can do, nobody is going to do it. We started the first energy efficiency utility in the world. And now it’s commonplace.”
Klein said, however, that there are local impacts of renewable energy policies that cause discomfort.
The town of New Haven, Vt., recently voted against a solar farm proposal. Several towns last winter voted against a proposed wind farm on Seneca Mountain.
Both projects have sparked concerns about how developers site renewable energy projects.
Klein said one of his goals this session is to educate the public about the threats posed by climate change.
“I think going into this session it appears to me that we may have to spend some time reminding folks of why were doing things,” he said. “And that’s one of the reasons why, for example, we will be at least having robust discussion about what a carbon tax in the future will be. And certainly when you say the word ‘tax’ it gets people’s attention.”
Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases are the highest they have been in decades to millennia, according to the IPCC.
Much of human-caused climate change is “irreversible” for centuries, the scientists found, except “in the case of a large net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere over a sustained period.”
“I really want people to understand what we’re doing to ourselves,” Klein said “We’re basically killing ourselves.”
The Department of Public Service study found that implementing energy policies would grow the state’s economy and create jobs.
A carbon tax could result in an annual increase to Vermont’s gross state product of between $139 million and $363 million and a renewable portfolio standard could generate $123 million to $238 million, according to the report. These numbers represent an annual increase in the state’s total GSP of between 0.23 percent and 0.69 percent.
The report is not a recommendation by the administration for a new energy policy, but rather an analysis of ways to reach the state’s energy goals, officials said.
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