Legislative Report - 2/20/11

The House Natural Resources and Energy Committee is still in the middle of revising H.56, the Vermont Energy Bill of 2011.  We continued to take testimony on the feasibility and benefits of several biomass energy projects that are being proposed.  Major factors are the efficiency of the plants, the net available low-grade wood above and beyond the amount currently being consumed by the existing Ryegate and McNeil plants, and the impact on electric rates overall.  Biomass plants are considered baseload generators, i.e. they are online continuously to feed power into the grid.  Therefore, they are desirable for their reliability.  They also contribute to creation of jobs in constructing and running the facility as well as in forestry.

H.155, Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Districts, is also under consideration.  This bill will allow municipalities to opt into the program via a popular vote and administer the program on their own or joined with other municipalities with the help of Efficiency Vermont.  PACE will allow municipalities to provide loans to homeowners for improving the energy efficiency of their homes and for installing renewable energy systems.  These loans would be associated with the property, and they would be repaid via the property tax bill.  If the property is sold, the loan repayment would be assumed by the buyer.  Because of objections from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with the original PACE legislation that could allow this lien to take precedence over mortgages, H.155 makes the PACE loan secondary to the primary mortgage and any pre-existing liens.  The effect of PACE is to amortize the up-front costs of energy improvements over a long period of time.

We are also taking testimony on H.19 and H.145, both of which address the problem of carryout bags in the waste stream.  H.19 would ban the use of plastic carryout bags altogether.  H.145 includes not only plastic bags but all disposable carryout bags, but proposes a $.10/bag fee at the checkout counter to encourage consumers to bring their own reusable bags as long as consumers continue to depend on the disposable bags.  Of this fee, $.09 would flow to Vermont’s general fund, and the retailer would keep $.01.

H.46, a bill which I co-sponsored and that describes the protocol schools must follow when a physician, advanced practice registered nurse, physician’s assistant, athletic trainer or physical therapist believes an athlete may have a concussion, was passed by the House and sent to the Senate. The bill proposes to ensure that a youth athlete suffering or suspected to be suffering from a concussion or other head injury does not participate in school athletic activities until the student has received an examination by and written permission to participate from a licensed health care provider trained in the evaluation and management of concussions and other head injuries.  State guidelines and instructional materials that educate coaches, youth athletes and their parents or guardians about the nature and risks of concussions and other head injuries will be developed as well.

I am continuing to hold Meet Your Representative sessions every second and fourth Monday of the month from to and from to at the Town office.  I invite you to stop by and share your thoughts and opinions about your concerns.  You can also contact me by phone at 425-3960 or email me at myantachka.dfa@gmail.com.

Legislative Report - 2/10/2011

Now that the Legislature has been in session for over a month, there have been about 200 bills introduced. Since the deadline for submitting bills is February 24, there will probably be hundreds more submitted. Since we can’t keep track of the details of all the bills that are introduced, many of which will not even be voted out of committee, we rely on our colleagues in other committees to evaluate, modify and recommend the bills in their purview, while we concentrate on legislation before our own committees. Bills that are controversial, or that have ardent opponents as well as supporters, will be debated on the House floor before they are voted on.

On the Natural Resources and Energy committee we have been working primarily on H.56, the Vermont Energy Bill of 2011. This bill addresses four major elements of Vermont’s energy policy: 1) the SPEED program and Renewable Portfolio Standard, 2) the Standard Offer Program, 3) the Net-Metering program, and 4) the funding mechanisms for encouraging renewable energy resources.

SPEED stands for Sustainably Priced Energy Enterprise Development. It sets the goals for the percentage of Vermont’s electrical energy production from renewable resources, such as efficiency improvements, wind, hydro, solar, farm methane and biomass, as well as limiting the impact on consumer prices as we transition to those technologies. In 2004 the SPEED program called for 20% of Vermont’s power needs to be met by qualified renewable energy resources. H.56 seeks to increase this goal to 33% from in-state production alone by 2021. The intent is to generate jobs in Vermont as well as to supply us with clean energy.

The Standard Offer program guarantees certain rates that utilities can charge for the power generated from in-state renewable energy plants of 2.2 megawatts (2.2 MW) or less that constitute qualifying small-power production facilities. For example, the new solar farm in Ferrisburgh produces 1 MW of power output. In addition, the standard offer limits the cost increases for ratepayers, i.e. consumers, to 1% per year (down from the 2% limit set in the current standard offer program), and the Public Service Board is authorized to allocate the percentage distribution of different types of renewable energy under the standard offer. The current standard offer limits qualifying projects statewide to 50 MW total to ensure that electric rate increases do not exceed the 2% limit.

Net-metering is the program that allows individuals or groups to be credited by utilities for electricity they generate from solar photovoltaic or wind generators. Such installations run the electric meters backward and lower the energy consumed from the electric grid. Net-metering also allows a utility to pay customers for the electricity they generate. H.56 will extend this program into the future.

The financial assistance required to kick-start renewable energy projects has been provided from the Clean Energy Development Fund (CEDF), which has been funded from an assessment on the power produced by Vermont Yankee. If VY closes in 2012, another source of funding for the CEDF will have to be found. H.56 proposes a monthly surcharge of $1.50 per meter for this purpose. In addition to the CEDF, H.56 proposes to set up a Renewable Energy Investment fund to provide start-up assistance to projects greater than 2.2 MW, through a voluntary surcharge of 0 to 5% on a customer’s bill.

There are other provisions in the bill as well, and, as always, the devil is in the details. We are continuing to work on H.56 to find the proper balance between encouraging renewable energy development, growing jobs and protecting consumers’ wallets. If you would like to contact me or see a copy of H.56, visit MikeYantachka.com or call me at 425-3960.

The Savvy Vermont Consumer -- From the VT Attorney General's Office

Information from Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) to assist all Vermonter’s to become savvy consumers!

Consumer Alert:
          Data Privacy: CAP is warning consumers with in-home wireless internet to protect themselves from internet snoops by ensuring that they have set the encryption on their system to require a password and to block outside “snoopers”.  Read more about the steps to take to protect your information at www.uvm.edu/consumer

Entitled to a Refund?
          DIRECTV:  Under the December 2010 settlement with DIRECTV, Vermont consumers may be eligible for a refund if they had a DIRECTV billing problem as a result of charges for service, including differences in advertising and actual billing for programs, cancellation fees, or extended contract charges.  The charge must have occurred after January 1, 2007 and not already been refunded.  To be eligible, consumers must file a Refund Request Form by June 9, 2011, if they have not previously filed a complaint with CAP.  Information and a Refund Request Form can be obtained by calling CAP at 800-649-2424.

CAP Monthly Motto:
“To save a dime, take the time, and check your monthly billing statements”
CAP has seen an increase in complaints of unauthorized charges being added to consumer’s monthly bills.  Unauthorized charges are appearing on telephone bills, fuel bills as well as credit card statements.  Savvy consumers review their billing statements regularly, even those they receive on line, to check for unauthorized charges and billing errors. Find unauthorized charges? Call CAP at 800-649-2424 or file a complaint at www.uvm.edu/consumer

Updates- Pyrofax
CAP received a number of complaints in December and January regarding a minimum usage fee assessed by Pyrofax. The company has agreed to refund any fees paid and does not have plans for an assessment in 2011.  Consumer Fraud Rule 111 places requirements on Vermont’s propane gas suppliers, including the disclosure of fees and adequate notice of fees. Consumers with questions about propane service fees, disconnections and refunds can contact CAP at 800-249-6464. NOTE: The price of propane gas or other heating fuels is not regulated.  

Consumer Information
          Considering buying a car, hiring a contractor, signing up with a debt settlement company, giving to a charity or wondering if a phone call, letter or email is a scam?  The CAP website has important information for consumers on all of these consumer topics and can answer consumer questions.  To access information or file a complaint go to: www.uvm.edu/consumer

CAP Monthly Top Complaint Areas:
1. Fuel    2. Motor Vehicles    3.  Credit  4.  Entertainment    5. Housing