Victories for Energy Siting, Weatherization Funding, and Carbon Pollution Tax Progress
By Johanna Miller
There were several important victories for clean energy and climate action in the Vermont Legislature this past session, including an energy-siting bill that was saved in the last minute and enacted. Here’s a quick summary of three significant steps forward for Vermont’s 21st century energy transition this year.
Because of Vermont’s commitment to greater energy independence, thousands of homeowners, businesses, schools and municipalities now enjoy stable, affordable, renewable energy. The transition has not been without stumbling blocks and some controversy, however, as more solar projects in particular dot rooflines, roadways, fields and forest perimeters.
To foster more proactively planned distributed generation, lawmakers overwhelmingly passed S.230, the energy siting bill, in the waning days of the 2016 session. It suffered a gubernatorial veto however, when deeper, post-session legal analyses highlighted a few significant problems. One of the provisions that most triggered Governor Shumlin’s veto pen was an unintended by the legislature, but de-facto, moratorium on wind projects. On June 9, lawmakers fought hard to “fix” the unintended problems with the bill, moving through thick political machinations and ultimately passing a clean bill. With Governor Shumlin’s signature, that bill – S.260 – became law and it will:
- Require communities and regions to craft plans that will support the state’s efficiency and renewable energy goals – if they want substantial deference in regulatory proceedings before the Public Service Board. The bill strikes an important balance. It will give communities and regions greater say in what projects get built and where, while ensuring that communities and regions are partners in this needed evolution. The bill also requires that regional plans allow for all forms of renewable energy, thereby prohibiting regions from saying “no” to any particular form of technology, such as wind or solar.
- Create a one-year “preferred locations” pilot program to foster the development of renewable energy projects in the built environment. If fully implemented, this pilot could spur 2.5 MW of new renewable energy in locations such as commercial rooftops, gravel pits, landfills, etc. Half of the 2.5 MW could be used to foster solar on parking lots as solar canopies. Because it often costs more – sometimes far more – to develop on the built environment, this pilot will test how Vermont might align state incentives to actually get these types of projects built.
- Initiate a two-pronged process for the Public Service Board (PSB) to set short-term and long-term sound standards for wind. The bill charges the PSB to issue temporary sound standards (that would apply to projects proposed between enactment and July 2017). It also charges the PSB to set long-term rules related to sound thresholds that wind projects must meet to receive the required Certificate of Public Good. Those rules would be set through a thorough and participatory public rule-making process.
Low-Income Weatherization Funding
Vermont’s Weatherization program – funded by a small “Gross Receipts Tax” on liquid fossil fuels and electricity – has helped many lowincome Vermonters reduce their fuel burdens and further Vermont’s energy efficiency goals. The funding formula for it, however, hasn’t increased since it was instituted over 25 years ago – despite the opportunity it provides to save people money and create jobs. This year, lawmakers authorized a modest increase for Weatherization funding. Changes to the funding structure, applied to all sources except electricity, will infuse over $2.5 million more annually into this successful program, helping us cut into the current backlog of projects.
Carbon Pollution Tax
Two bills that would put a price on carbon pollution – H.412 and H.395 – were introduced this legislative biennium. There was never an expectation that either bill would actually be enacted this session, but lawmakers and proponents sought to gather input on how to shape any potential carbon pollution tax. The strategy was a success. This past session, members of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee heard from businesses, low-income advocates, faith leaders, and others about the need for a carbon pollution tax.
A growing coalition – Energy Independent Vermont – continues to work with Vermonters to shape and advance a state-based carbon pollution tax that would achieve each of the following goals:
- Grow jobs and the state’s economy,
- Reduce other taxes,
- Protect low- and middle-income Vermonters,
- Substantially reduce Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Find out more about Vermont’s effort to put a price on carbon pollution and get involved at www.energyindependentvt.org.
Learn more about or discuss any of these issues, bills or the recent legislative session by contacting VNRC’s Johanna Miller at jmiller@ vnrc.org or 802-223-2328 ext. 112.
Johanna Miller is the Energy Program Director for Vermont Natural Resources Council & VECAN.