Senate Bill Aims to Turn Shumlin’s Green-Energy Goal into Mandate

Former Gov. Peter Shumlin envisioned that one day Vermont would get 90 percent of its energy from renewable sources while cutting consumption by a third. Now lawmakers in the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee want to make that vision the law.

In 2015, Vermont passed a renewable portfolio standard requiring utilities to get an increasing percentage of energy from renewable sources by 2032, with the eventual goal of reaching 90 percent renewable by 2050.

While the legislation required utilities to have 75 percent renewable energy in their portfolios by 2032, the 90 percent renewable target was kept as an aspirational goal only — not law.

State Sen. Chris Bray wants to change that. The Addison Democrat and chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee introduced S.51 to codify Shumlin’s goal.

Critics of the bill say mandating 90 percent renewable energy and a one-third cut in consumption by 2050 would devastate Vermont’s economy.

“Vermont cannot afford to have its rates skyrocket in the name of renewable energy,” Ethan Allen Institute President Rob Roper told Vermont Watchdog.

Roper said serious consideration needs to be given to the the costs of such a law, especially for businesses.

In a commentary posted on EAI’s website, Roper calls S.51 the “Let’s Destroy the Economy Bill” and raises an important question:

If this bill become law, would it then become somehow illegal for an energy intensive businesses, such as a large manufacturing operations, to set up shop in Vermont if doing so would interfere with this objective? Or, is that a moot point given that any energy intensive business would have no interest whatsoever in coming into a State that forces it to purchase energy at rates that are multiple times what the market calls for?

Bray told Watchdog S.51 is a “planning bill” not meant to punish utilities if goals are missed. Instead, he sees the language as merely “clarifying agreed upon targets” for the state’s renewable portfolio standards.

Others see consequences if targets are missed.

Guy Page, an energy lobbyist and communications director of Page Communications, told Watchdog after testifying before Bray’s committee Friday that the bill seems to indicate more than mere recommendations. “It takes it to an increasingly coercive level,” he said.

Lisa Linowes, executive director of Wind Action, said if the targets in the draft were to be enforced, it could result in utilities and their customers paying more for higher-cost renewable energy.

“Before you codify what are very aggressive goals — what Shumlin had in place — you really should get the current RPS up and running,” Linowes said. “See how that works before jumping on something that is even more aggressive.”

Bray said that in addition to being a cornerstone policy of the previous governor’s administration, the ambitious goals were endorsed by current Gov. Phil Scott.

The only other state in the nation with a more demanding renewable portfolio standard is Hawaii. The Aloha State has to import all of its conventional fuels, such as coal and oil, but it has a goal of going 100 percent renewable by 2045.

Annette Smith, director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, a group opposed to industrial-scale renewables, said Bray’s bill is likely a political ploy to pressure Scott to fully embrace Shumlin’s energy policy.

“What they are doing is saying to the governor, ‘You say you support it, so we dare you to veto this bill,’” Smith said. “It’s not solving the problems that we have going on in Vermont, it just narrows our options rather than expands them and ignores the fact that technology is rapidly changing.”


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