Legislative Review: Energy policy shift could be costly

As I knocked on hundreds of doors this past summer and fall, I heard from residents many concerns about high property taxes, the high cost of living in Vermont, excessive regulations on businesses, the need for more good-paying jobs, especially for young people, and the water quality of Lake Champlain. What I did not hear was a concern about reducing carbon dioxide emissions nor the desire to cover additional dozens of acres of farmland with black solar panels (the result of bill H.702, Act 99 of 2014, which I had voted against also). I do support wind and solar power in a competitive marketplace. I do not support subsidies that allow out-of-state developers to earn great profits (see Independent article “Backers see solar as money maker,” Feb. 2) while disfiguring the rural landscape that so many cherish in this county and state.
This year I serve on the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, which has been working on bill H.40, “An act relating to establishing a renewable energy standard and energy transformation program.” The primary driver of this bill is to continue to allow Vermont utilities to receive about $50 million per year from other Northeastern states by selling the renewable attributes of Vermont energy. Vermont’s current renewable energy program, called SPEED, has been viewed by other states as unacceptable due to the double-counting of renewable attributes, therefore, it must be discontinued. In its place Vermont must establish a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) that other states will accept. With an acceptable RPS, there would not be rate increases of 6 percent or 20 percent. While a simple bill could have dismantled the double-counting, the H. 40 bill is quite complex. Most of the bill is a laundry list of renewable energy requirements (total and distributed) and fossil fuel reduction goals that will certainly lead to more expensive electric rates, more economic malaise (solar jobs are a flash-in-the-pan — read about Spain’s solar debacle on the Web), more bureaucrats at the electric utilities and the Vermont Department of Public Service shuffling papers and more farm fields covered with black solar panels. Therefore, I voted against it in committee.
I’ve attended two economic forums since the Legislature has convened. Various manufacturing businesses emphasized that they compete globally. Even an economic powerhouse like Germany is not immune to the effects of excessive renewables: “Electricity prices in Germany are already among the highest in the world. The price of industrial electricity has risen about 37 percent since 2005, according to the Federation of German Industries. The price in the United States has fallen by 4 percent over about the same time. The rise in energy prices has already cost Germany $52 billion in net exports and could prove even more damaging if steps are not taken to keep prices in check, according to the IHS study” (The New York Times, March 19, 2014). Note that Vermont’s rates remain among the highest in this country.
Many Vermont businesses that bring money into the state’s economy must compete regionally, nationally and globally. However, Vermont must not cripple its economy via excessive electric rates in a quixotic attempt to solve a global carbon dioxide issue.

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