Mid-Session Legislative Lowdown on Climate & Clean Energy

Mid-Session Legislative Lowdown on Climate & Clean Energy

On March 2, lawmakers passed a critical mid-session mark – crossover. Crossover is the deadline where all bills – except money bills, which get one more working week – need to move out of their committee of jurisdiction. If the jurisdictional committee doesn’t move a bill, it either needs to get a special exemption from the rules committee or be attached to a bill that is moving – or it dies for the year.

Below, you will find an update on what’s happening related to climate and clean-energy focused bills in the Vermont legislature this session, including brief summaries on where things stand on many bills – and, if needed – how you might help ensure we continue forward momentum this legislative session.

Please use this information to ask your lawmakers to lead on issues you care about most! And be sure to stay tuned in closely via a weekly Dispatch on Climate from the Statehouse.

AS OF MARCH 2, 2018 in the Vermont Legislature….

  • Carbon pricing study. The House Natural Resources, Fish & Wildlife Committee passed a bill (763) to undertake a comprehensive, independent analysis of how carbon pricing and other decarbonization strategies could work in Vermont. That bill would direct $100,000 to support the study. In their budget discussions, the House Appropriations Committee is considering whether to allocate the $100,000 for the analysis. There is a need for a robust independent economic analysis of various carbon pricing approaches; including an analysis of the bills that have been introduced recently in Vermont, as well as cap and invest and other market-based approaches. Such a broad, unbiased analysis is a recommendation of Governor Phil Scott’s Climate Action Commission, the Vermont Council on Rural Development’s Climate Economy Action Team and the Vermont Mayors Coalition. ACTION: Request House Appropriations Committee members, in particular, and all legislators in general, to support the allocation of $100,000 to undertake an impartial comprehensive analysis of market-based carbon reduction approaches.
  • The electric bill-reducing “ESSEX” carbon pricing plan. Lawmakers in both the House and Senate have introduced a bill modeled off of the innovative idea put forward by business, academic, low income and other advocates last November. This plan – the “Economy Strengthening Strategic Energy eXchange” – or ESSEX plan – would put a gradually rising price on heating and transportation fuels – the state’s two biggest GHG emitting sectors – and return all of that revenue to Vermonters by reducing their electric bills, helping to accelerate the transition to renewable electrification. The ESSEX Plan also provides additional financial relief to lower-income and rural Vermonters to offset the higher costs of heating fuel and gasoline. Senators Chris Pearson (Chittenden) and Alison Clarkson (Windsor) have introduced 284 – the Senate version of the policy concept. And Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas introduced a companion – H.791 – in the House. Though neither of these bills is anticipated to move this year, the hope is that there are a few more hearings this session on the policy and, importantly, the opportunity for a fair conversation and a full, impartial analysis of this creative, uniquely Vermont approach. Stay tuned as this conversation unfolds.
  • Expanding Opportunities for Businesses to Undertake Self-Managed Efficiency. House Energy & Technology advanced a bill – 739 – that creates a three year pilot program capped at $2 million dollars per year for Vermont businesses to undertake their own expanded energy efficiency programs – in partnership with but outside of the direct purview of Efficiency Vermont. It also would enable these businesses to focus far more on thermal efficiency than they have otherwise been able to in the past, as Efficiency Vermont’s statutory ability to offer thermal efficiency services is pretty limited. While there are understandable reasons to undertake such a business-focused pilot, when VNRC’s Energy Program Director Johanna Miller testified on the bill she urged lawmakers to consider a pilot of commensurate value that would expand thermal efficiency programs for residential customers as well. The bill now moves to the full House floor and, if passed as anticipated, will move on to Senate.
  • Appliance Efficiency Standards. 410 – a bill that would expand the number of products required to have efficiency standards (particularly products not currently covered at the Federal level) has passed the House. The bill would expand efficiency standards to air compressors, commercial dishwashers, computers and computer monitors, and more. Though standards are just one tool to advance Vermont’s efficiency and renewable energy goals, these additional standards alone will save Vermonters over $200 million in utility bills by 2035 and equate to removing nearly 6,000 cars from the roads per year by 2025. The bill now awaits action in the Senate.
  • Volkswagen Settlement Funding. Many lawmakers are interested in exerting their authority to help guide how the state uses the $18.7 million dollars from the VW settlement fund. To that end, the House Energy & Technology Committee articulated their interest in ensuring that – within the parameters of the settlement – the state uses these dollars for electric transportation projects (and explicitly not using these dollars for further fossil fuel investments). Read their letter here, but their request was that:
    • 15% of VW funds be dedicated to the purchase of light duty electric vehicle supply equipment that qualifies under Eligible Mitigation Action 9 in Appendix D-2 entitled “Light Duty Zero Emission Vehicle Supply Equipment”
    • the remainder of the monies be dedicated to the replacement of fossil fuel-powered vehicles with all-electric vehicles under allowable Eligible Mitigation Actions identified in Appendix D-2.

The conversation – and further action on this – will primarily take place in the Appropriations Committees. Stay tuned for ways you might help ensure Vermont doesn’t squander this opportunity to catalyze a 21st century clean electricity transportation system.

  • The Miscellaneous Energy Bill, 676, is aimed at breaking down the barriers to developing more solar projects on “preferred sites” like parking lots. While still a bit of a moving target, the bill is likely to move out of House Energy & Technology with provisions that would eliminate setback requirements for solar parking lot canopies, eliminate Agency of Natural Resources permit fees for rooftop solar (up to 500 kW) and seek to simplify future processes for community solar and small wind on working farms. The bill will likely need to go to the House Ways and Means committee, then to the full House floor and on to the Senate.
  • Prohibit New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure Project Development. Mary Sullivan (Burlington) introduced a bill – H.746 – that would effectively halt the development of new fossil fuel projects in Vermont. The bill got a hearing in the House Energy & Technology Committee earlier this session but did not get a vote prior to the crossover deadline, which means it’s unlikely to move this year – unless it’s attached to another bill.
  • Pollinator-friendly solar. The House Energy & Technology committee advanced a bill – 726 – that establishes a voluntary standard for pollinator-friendly habitat on sites hosting solar electric generation. The standard would require the establishment and maintenance of native perennial vegetation and foraging habitat that is beneficial to game birds, songbirds, and pollinators. A primary goal of the unanimously supported bill is to help foster and advance multi-beneficial projects. In this case, that is supporting more (and needed) pollinator-friendly plantings under or around solar arrays. The bill now moves to the House floor and then on to the Senate.
  • Incenting Advanced Wood Heat. In the multifaceted rural economic development bill – 276 – there is a provision that would exempt the purchase of advanced wood heating equipment and fuel from the state sales tax. This is intended to reduce the upfront cost of these systems. Recently, over three dozen organizations and businesses drafted a letter urging lawmakers to support this initiative. The bill is currently under consideration in the Senate. ACTION: Urge your senators to support advanced wood heating; a rural economic development and climate solution that can help support a working forest economy and help customers reduce and stabilize their heating costs.
  • Social Cost of Carbon. Senator Bray’s bill – 270 – would require the Joint Fiscal Office to prepare a fiscal note for any bill that proposes to cause an increase or decrease in consumption of electric, thermal, or transportation energy, thereby helping to quantify the external costs related to fossil fuel use. The bill had hearings in Senate Government Operations but it’s unlikely to move this session.