Legislative Report 2/21/2018 - Energy & Technology

The Energy & Technology Committee (E&T) on which I serve has three areas of responsibility over Vermont's infrastructure: energy, telecommunications, and information technology (IT). In the six weeks of this session, we've been pretty active in each of these areas.

The House has already passed two of our bills dealing with energy this session. H.410 extends Vermont's appliance efficiency standards. A similar bill enacted last year adopts the current federal appliance efficiency standards for Vermont if the current federal Environmental Protection Agency decides to rescind them. Those standards have saved consumers billions of dollars in energy costs and offset millions of tons of CO2 emissions. With H.410 Vermont will adopt additional standards for products like commercial kitchen items, air compressors, computers and computer monitors, and water appliances like faucets, showerheads and toilets. These include standards developed by the U.S. Department of Energy, those adopted by the Energy Star program and other industry standards that manufacturers have already adopted.

The second bill, H.616, authorizes the Burlington Electric Department to use the waste heat from the McNeil biomass electric generation facility for a district heat project that will pump hot water through highly efficient pipes to the UVM Medical Center, the UVM campus and the new Burlington Center redevelopment project. This project will not only increase the plant's efficiency but will offset greenhouse gas emissions by replacing fossil fuels used for heating.

E&T also voted to require that the Agency of Natural Resources use the $18.7M from the Volkswagen settlement solely for electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure and for conversion from fossil fuel vehicles to EVs as allowed under the terms of the settlement.

Again, two of our bills dealing with telecommunications were passed by the House. Both seek to get high speed broadband out to rural areas where population density is too low to justify private investment. H.581 specifies that Connectivity Initiative grants funded by the Vermont Universal Service Fund (USF) can only be used for new broadband infrastructure projects and not for ongoing operational expenses. H.582 would increase the USF fee from 2% today to 2.5% starting in 2018 and ending in 2022. While this will increase the cost of a $100 phone bill by 50 cents per month, it will raise $1.5M annually and will be allocated to the Connectivity Initiative to expand broadband in rural areas.

Information Technology
Last year the Agency of Digital Services (ADS) was created to consolidate the state government's IT infrastructure and services which were distributed throughout the agencies. Our committee has been reviewing the status of the reorganization and the IT projects the agency now oversees as well as the forward focus of the agency. To date, the reorganization is proceeding well with development personnel working in the same agencies and departments as before while reporting directly to ADS. The highest priority of ADS now is cybersecurity. In the last 12 months more than 4 million cyber attacks on state systems were detected. Plans are in place to partner with Norwich University to identify weaknesses and strengthen monitoring and remediation.

E&T has also been investigating steps the state can take to enforce net neutrality within our borders. Net neutrality is the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites. The recent decision by the Federal Communications Commission to reverse Obama administration rules ensuring net neutrality puts content providers in the position of having to pay tolls to allow users to access their products thereby disadvantaging smaller content providers. While the Governor recently issued an executive order requiring state agencies and departments to write net neutrality into contracts with ISPs, E&T will continue investigating this subject in hopes of developing even stronger net neutrality rules for consumer protection.

As always, I can be reached by phone (802-233-5238) or by email (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com).