Our Work

VNRC, Partners Comment on State’s Draft Energy Plan

September 2008

Vermont is statutorily mandated to create a ‘Comprehensive Energy Plan’ that guides how the state will meet its energy needs for the next 10 years and into the future. Their charge is to make: “recommendations for state implementation actions, regulation, legislation, and other public and private action to carry out the comprehensive energy plan.” The state is currently updating the 1998 plan and taking public comments on its draft, found here.

VNRC joined other statewide groups to submit joint comments on the plan, below.

Comments on the 2009 Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan

Submitted by the Conservation Law Foundation, Vermont Businesses for

Social Responsibility, Vermont Natural Resources Council and VPIRG

September 2008

General Observations and Comments

The state’s Comprehensive Energy Plan (CEP) serves as the guiding framework for mapping out how Vermont will meet its energy needs for the next 10 years and beyond. It is an essential tool, meant to inform and shape policy and decision making from the highest levels of government to the grassroots.

Vermont’s leading state-based environmental, public interest and mission-driven business organizations have joined together to submit overarching comments on the 2009 plan. In the event there were more of an open process and substantive opportunity for shaping the plan, CLF, VBSR, VNRC and VPIRG would welcome the chance to outline more specific, solutions-oriented strategies and recommendations. However, the state has fallen far short in providing organizations like ours, and interested Vermonters in general, such an opportunity. The state’s very limited outreach and effort to solicit public comments on this important document undermines Vermont’s ability to meet the energy and climate change challenges confronting us with the vision, urgency and innovation required.

At this crucial time – with energy prices skyrocketing, renewal questions pending with the state’s two largest electricity suppliers and more – the state needs a solid framework upon which to make difficult, timely and important decisions. This plan could and should do that. Unfortunately, the current draft of the CEP represents a squandered opportunity for addressing Vermont’s pressing energy challenges. Rather than presenting a bold – or even a clear – vision for the future, the draft is an inventory of existing trends and programs and a hodge-podge of possible opportunities to expand those programs pending further study.  In very few instances, the plan identifies new or innovative approaches for addressing the state’s energy needs, but rarely presents a path for realizing those ideas.

For example:

•    The draft does not provide a clear direction for meeting the energy challenges facing the state.  30 VSA Chapter 5 §202b requires that the plan include “recommendations for state implementation actions, regulation, legislation, and other public and private action to carry out the comprehensive energy plan.”  In far too many instances, the draft serves as a plan to plan, with important issues and challenges being met by calls for further study rather than action.  Rarely are specific implementation actions, regulations or legislation identified.  As presently drafted, the CEP completely fails this legislative requirement.

•    The draft fails to provide a coordinated approach for state government to address Vermont’s energy needs. 30 VSA Chapter 5 §202b requires that “(t)he department of public service, in conjunction with other state agencies designated by the governor, shall prepare a comprehensive state energy plan covering at least a 20-year period.”  There is little indication that other agencies were involved with the development of this plan, and the recommendations, such as they are, fail to identify how various state agencies will coordinate their actions in addressing the wide range of issues relevant to Vermont’s energy future.  This is especially true with regard to topics outside of the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Service, such as land use and transportation.

•    At a time that the state needs to be moving forward more quickly and decisively than ever, the draft CEP reflects a step backward from the 1998 CEP – which was actually more detailed with regard to public policies and specific with regard to recommendations.

•    The draft plan lacks any specific goals with which to set priorities, choose between policy options, or provide guidance to private businesses, citizens, or state agencies as to what Vermont’s energy future could – or should – look like.

•    Recommendations are presented as being implemented within the near-term (0-5 years), mid-term (5-10 year) or long-term (10 years+).  Such an implementation schedule fails to meet the urgency facing Vermont, and passes many important decisions off onto future policy makers.  As stated above, the CEP is directed by statute to propose “state implementation actions, regulation, legislation, and other public and private action to carry out the comprehensive energy plan.”  The lackadaisical approach to implementation inherent in this plan is unacceptable.

In addition to these general topic areas, the sections of the plan that outline specific strategies for various energy related opportunities fail to meet the needs of Vermonters. These failings are summarized below.

SPECIFIC OBSERVATIONS AND COMMENTS

Electricity:

The 1998 CEP stated: “When Vermont Yankee and other New England nuclear plants’ licenses expire early in the next century or if these plants retire prematurely, renewable sources such as wood and wind energy need to be ready to replace this generation in order to keep greenhouse gas emissions from growing dramatically.” The sate Legislature has tried to facilitate progress through supporting increased investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy. However, there has been little progress on the development of in-state renewable energy generation at a scale that comes close to replacing Yankee, despite the opportunities to do so over the past 10 years.  In addition:

•    Despite the potential for commercial scale wind energy in Vermont and the barriers to permitting commercial facilities (both briefly described in the CEP), the only related recommendation included in the CEP is to “(actively facilitate the framework of local, Vermont-scale wind project development consistent with statutory framework.”  A little clarification of what this means may lie in the sub-recommendation that “as resources permit, ANR and PSD should foster a predictable and environmentally sound process for locating wind by identifying areas likely to meet … permitting requirements.”  Again, no implementation action or legislation, not even a plan for a plan, only a notion that “as resources permit,” the state will identify suitable locations.  This stands in stark contrast to the state of Maine, who undertook a one-year process of not only identifying appropriate locations for commercial scale wind facilities, but followed up with legislation setting a goal for 2,000 MW of wind energy by 2015 and 3,000 MW by 2020.

•    Endemic of how the Draft Comprehensive Plan was written Recommendation 6, and many like it, simply instruct the board or utilities to follow the law: “Regulators and the SPEED Facilitator should work with Vermont electric utilities to fulfill their statutory responsibilities…” The Plan takes hundreds of pages laying out Vermont’s electric industry history and then provides no vision or coherent strategy for how the state should move forward with the further development of the renewable energy industry in Vermont.

•    In stark contrast, the prolific caveats in the plan associated with renewable energy such as “as resources permit” and “the department should monitor” or suggestions that “utilities should explore” the Department lays out the concrete objective to support “marketing and development efforts” for Vermont Gas System – the state’s sole provider of natural gas at retail.  The state should not be providing any material support to a well-financed, established fossil fuel company without offering comparable support to developers attempting to bring renewable energy to Vermont.

Efficiency:

State law requires that all reasonably cost-effective electric efficiency measures are captured.  Despite obstacles, the Public Service Board has increased the state’s electric energy efficiency budget in order to reduce electricity bills and protect the environment.  Similarly, the Legislature proposed, and the Governor signed, building efficiency goals to reduce heating fuel needs by 25% for 20% of Vermonters, which would save $1.5 billion dollars by 2017.  Nowhere in the draft plan does the state anticipate meeting these statutory goals or lay out a road map for doing so.  Further:

•    Only one of the 67 recommendations in the draft plan addresses electric energy efficiency and in that recommendation the plan fails to support increasing funding for electric energy efficiency, the cleanest and lowest cost supply option available to Vermont.

•    Similarly, the plan does not support increasing financial resources available for Vermonters to reduce their home or business heating needs through building efficiency efforts.

•    The plan even fails to fully support basic time of sale energy disclosure requirements.  Instead of “as resources permit,” the Department should create a task force to consider the policy.

Transportation and Land Use:

Transportation is the biggest contributor of global warming pollution in Vermont, with over 40 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions attributable to motor vehicles.  At the same time, Vermont’s bridges and roads are quickly deteriorating, calling into question the state’s ability to maintain the roadways we have.  Therefore, the state needs to not only improve the efficiency of the public and private motor vehicle fleet – as called for in the draft CEP – but to also shift away from our over-reliance on the single occupancy vehicle.

•    The draft CEP gives tepid support to increasing transit services in the state “if practicable.”  Given both the reality of climate change (acknowledged in the CEP) and peak oil (not acknowledged in the CEP), much bolder action is needed to shift our reliance away from our reliance on single occupancy automobiles than is offered in the draft.  For example, the state should:

o    Follow the Action Plan of the New England Governors & Eastern Canadian Premiers and provide a transportation & energy plan with a primary focus on reducing vehicle miles traveled  — giving people opportunities to drive less.  That plan sets a specific target doubling the overall public and alternative transport mode ridership from current levels by 2020.

o    Redirect VTrans spending away from funding for new highway capacity and expensive highways to nowhere (i.e., Circumferential Highway) and toward bridge and road maintenance and public transit, rail and bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

o    Restore support for the state’s bicycle and pedestrian program, in conjunction with development policies that discourage sprawl and promote smart growth.

o    Create a statewide ‘Public Transportation Authority’ (or other proven delivery model) to ensure inter-modal efficiency and implementation of a 50-year transportation plan.

o    Require that energy use and climate change impact be evaluated as part of all VTrans planning activities.

•    The plan recognizes the relationship between land use patterns, transportation options, and energy use in a single discussion on the merits of mixed use development and pitfalls of sprawl.  Despite this direct correlation, the plan falls far short of offering any recommendation regarding how to discourage the dispersed development patterns (i.e. sprawl) that is occurring throughout the state, and only provides continued support for voluntary planning programs that, at present, are failing to meet their intended purpose of fostering smart growth as an alternative to sprawl.

•    Also regarding land use, the CEP fails to address other aspects of development patterns, impacts on natural resources (e.g., primary agricultural soils) and the implications of losing those resources to sprawl and how that might effect the state’s food supply and energy resources

 

COMMENT ON THE PLAN:

Let the Department of Public Service know your thoughts on the plan by attending one of the five public hearings they are holding across Vermont. Or, submit written comments to the DPS.

Public hearings on the plan are scheduled from 7 to 10 p.m. on the following dates:

  • Sept. 25: St. Johnsbury. Father Lively Center (481 Summer Street, across from St. Johns Church)
  • Oct. 1: Randolph. Old Dorm Lounge at Vermont Technical College
  • Oct. 8: Rutland. Alderman’s Chambers
  • Oct. 15: Bennington. Public Library, Rotary Room
  • Oct. 22: Winooski. Senior Center (123 Barlow St., across from St. Stevens Church)

Submit written comments to:

David Lamont

VT Dept. of Public Service

120 State Street

Montpelier, VT  05602

Or, comment online at:

http://www.vermontsenergyfuture.info/
For more information or to download and read the draft Comprehensive Energy Plan visit the Public Service Department’s Web site publicservice.vermont.gov.

The draft plan is scheduled to be finalized and presented to the Legislature by Jan. 15.