While the Legislature fell short on implementing really far-reaching clean energy policy this past legislative session — primarily because they failed to enact a mandatory “renewable portfolio standard” in Vermont — the state did take several, important steps forward to help Vermonters transition to local, renewable energy sources. Below is a short summary of the primary energy bills of the 2012 legislative session.
Despite the fact that both the most recent Comprehensive Energy Plan and a Public Service Board report both support the enactment of a renewable portfolio standard, lawmakers stripped this important component from this year’s main energy bill during their last days under the Golden Dome. While this set Vermont back in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and move toward a clean energy portfolio the bill — H.468/S.214 — did include other important components, including an expansion of Vermont’s community-scale renewable energy “standard offer” program.
The standard offer program guarantees renewable energy developers predictable, competitive prices for their small, clean energy projects. The annual allocation of standard offer pricing for renewables is intended to help create consistency in the market and drive down the cost of these local, renewable energy projects over the long run. The legislation sets a cap of 127.5 MW on the standard offer pricing, (which includes the 50 MW allocation from 2009). In the first three years of the program the annual allocation will be 5 MW, for the next three years the annual allocation will be 7.5 MW and for the last four years the allocation will be 10 MW annually. Importantly, projects that mitigate transmission or distribution constraints on the grid do not count toward the 127.5 MW program cap. That provides an incentive for developers to locate projects in places where the projects can alleviate the need for new transmission and distribution upgrades. This provision also means that there is virtually no limit on the amount of clean, local energy that can be developed from projects providing sufficient benefits to the strained electric grid.
The bill also:
- Requires the Public Service Board to further study an RPS, including consideration of a system that rewards efficiency;
- Requires the state to consider greenhouse gas impacts and efficiency when reviewing proposals for electricity generating biomass energy projects;
- Calls on the Department of Public Service to study how to move Vermont toward a “total energy standard,” a standard that includes targets for increasing the use of renewable fuels for heating and transportation, not just for electricity generation;
- Allows Vermont electricity customers to opt-out of Smart Grid wireless technology at no cost to them;
- Authorizes a community-supported biomass demonstration project in Chittenden County.
This bill makes it simpler and more affordable for Vermonters to build renewable energy projects for their homes and businesses. For instance, the bill makes it easier for homeowners with projects under 10 kW in size to get a “certificate of public good” and requires utilities calculating credits for solar net metering systems to do so based on the standard residential energy rate charged to the majority of its residential customers.
This measure sets a predictable, stable, low tax rate for solar energy projects, and exempts residential solar systems of 10 kW in capacity or less from taxation.
In a historic move, the Vermont passed a prohibition on hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) for natural gas – a non-renewable resource – in Vermont. This practice forces a mixture of chemicals, water and sand into bedrock to create fissures and release natural gas. The practice has been blamed for contaminated groundwater in other states. With two-thirds of Vermonters getting their drinking water from groundwater sources, lawmakers took a courageous and proactive step when they made Vermont the first state in the nation to ban this dirty and dangerous process.