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.