Lawmakers, citizens debate renewable energy’s future

BRISTOL — Renewable energy policy — particularly subsidies to firms that produce energy from renewable sources — was a point of debate among lawmakers and citizens at Monday’s legislative breakfast in Bristol. The event at the American Legion Hall also began with a moment of silence for the late Dr. Alan Ayer, who died suddenly on Friday, and was the husband of Sen. Claire Ayer (see story, Page 3A).
Drawing a good share of comments was the House-passed Renewable Energy Standard and Energy Transformation bill, known as RESET. The legislation would, among other things, require utilities to sell a certain percentage of their electricity as “renewable,” meaning it was produced by in-state wind turbines and solar farms. The bill would require utilities to obtain 75 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2032, according to language in bill H.40, which passed the House on March 10 by a tally of 121 to 24.
Rep. Warren Van Wyck, R-Ferrisburgh, was among those voting against the bill.
“I was in the minority and voted against it because I have very serious questions about the long-term cost effects on energy rates,” said Van Wyck, a member of the House Natural Resources & Energy Committee.
Weybridge resident Spence Putnam said he likes the bill and hopes it now earns a favorable vote in the Senate.
“I think it is very important for Vermont to stay at the forefront of developing alternatives to fossil fuel,” he said. “These measures are very important in the long term, in terms of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, which can improve the environment and also put dollars in the pockets of Vermonters.”
But Putnam added he was disappointed to see H.40 pass with a cap on the fee, assessed through Vermonters’ power bills, which help fund Efficiency Vermont, sometimes referred to as EV. Efficiency Vermont is a public utility that provides technical assistance, rebates and other financial incentives to help Vermont households and businesses reduce their energy costs with energy-efficient equipment, lighting, and approaches to construction and major renovation.
“Efficiency Vermont allows us to invest in energy efficiency in a way that is really important,” Putnam said.
Sen. Chris Bray, D-New Haven, said the cap on the Efficiency Vermont charge was an eleventh-hour addition to the energy bill as a way of garnering more support for the measure prior to the vote.
“One of my concerns … is that there was virtually no testimony taken (on the cap); it happened in one committee shortly before a vote,” Bray said. “We have in statute a process whereby utilities come before the Public Service Board for rate setting, and then we have an orderly and rational process to deliver those rates, and contracts follow. So to reach in, through statute, and change the current (EV) contract seems like a bad precedent.”
Bray is chairman of the Senate Natural Resources & Energy Committee. He said there is a good chance that the Efficiency Vermont cap would be removed in the Senate version of the bill.
Van Wyck said he believes the cap makes sense.
“When you look at the rates that Efficiency Vermont has gotten in the past few years, it’s been going up at 11 percent per year,” he said. “EV gets over $50 million a year from the ratepayers. What has been fixed is the rate.”
Van Wyck said some citizens believe that they would be better off keeping the money they are currently sending to Efficiency Vermont through their electric bills, and instead use it to make their own energy efficiency upgrades.
“I would just as soon have spent that money on a few new energy-efficient windows, but (Efficiency Vermont) has the money,” he said.
Van Wyck also suggested an independent audit of EV’s claim of saving $2 on energy costs for every $1 it spends.
Bray said  such audits are already being done.
“They don’t get to make claims without them being independently verified,” he said.
Van Wyck added he has heard complaints from Vermonters about having to pay a premium on their electric bills to help compensate solar array developers who are being credited as much as 30 cents per kilowatt hour for the renewable energy they manufacture.
“Vermont does not have a retail power market where you can say, ‘I want to buy my power from such-and-such a distributor,’” Van Wyck said. “So the rest of us are all paying for someone getting 30 cents per kilowatt hour.”
Next Monday’s legislative gathering will be a luncheon, not a breakfast. Gov. Peter Shumlin will be the featured speaker at the American Legion Hall in Vergennes, and is expected to take the podium from noon to 1 p.m. Legislative breakfast organizer Jim Morse of the Bridport Grange said lunch will be served at 11:40 a.m., and people should be seated by noon.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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