Sen. Bray seeks to put teeth in renewable energy target

MONTPELIER — It was six years ago that then-Gov. Peter Shumlin recommended the state satisfy 90 percent of it energy needs through renewable sources by the year 2050.
Sen. Chris Bray, D-New Haven, is spearheading a bill that he hopes will make Shumlin’s goal a reality.
Bray, chairman of the Senate Natural Resources & Energy Committee, is the lead sponsor of S.51, which would pace the 90-percent goal in statute. It also proposes to establish additional supporting goals, and to require that state plans affecting energy be tailored to achieve the objective of 90-percent renewables by 2050.
“People might be surprised by this, but the goal started in 2011,” Bray said in a recent phone interview. “We are in our sixth year, already. But what we haven’t done is committed to it. And for the Legislature, the way we make commitments is we make them in black and white and we make them in statute. So the opportunity here is to be clear and intentional about making this commitment, and then figuring out the best path to getting to a higher level of renewable energy by 2050.”
The so-called “Consolidated Clean Energy Planning and Economic Opportunity Act” would require, among other things, that the state:
•  Make an effort to produce 25 percent of its energy through renewable energy sources by 2025 — particularly from its farms and forests.
•  By 2025, derive from renewables 10 percent of all energy consumed for transportation purposes; and 30 percent of all energy consumed in buildings, including heating and cooling.
•  By the year 2035, supply 40 percent of all energy consumed in Vermont from renewable sources.
•  By 2050, reduce the total energy consumed in Vermont by at least one-third below the total energy consumed in the state in 2015.
The bill also calls upon Vermont’s long-range energy, transportation and agriculture/forestry plans reflect the goal of 90 percent renewables by 2050, and provide regular updates on their progress in hitting that benchmark.
A full text of S.51 can be found with this story online at addisonindependent.com.
Bray said the bill, as currently framed, does not include specific sanctions for missing the 90-percent goal.
“This is state-level planning,” Bray said, adding the bill would not force citizens to make sure 90 percent of their own household or business energy is derived from renewable energy sources. At the same time, however, the department’s recommendations to the state could include promotion of small, rooftop solar projects that citizens could be encouraged to invest in.
“It’s not about requiring people to do it,” Bray said. “The exciting thing to me is we are really identifying opportunities.”
Rather, Bray said the bill directs state agencies — with the help of the Vermont Department of Public Service (DPS) — to look at ways to boost their renewable energy sources with the 2050 goal ultimately in mind.
“From my point of view, the only way you successfully execute a large, complex task is to engage in steady, ongoing planning and re-planning as you learn,” Bray said. “So that’s what the bill lays out. How we would organize ourselves across state government and across the many ways we use energy, to come up with a plan and a way to evaluate our progress, and to continue to learn as things change, so that we do this in the most cost-effective and beneficial way.”
Bray likened the S.51 process to a “journey.”
“The goal is 33 years ahead of us,” he said. “So we can do it, in an organized way and in a manner that benefits Vermonters both economically and environmentally. But it is a big task.”
Bray acknowledged getting assistance from the DPS would be key to making S.51 successful.
“We have taken testimony during the past 10 days to learn more about what the DPS does already, as full-time planners on energy issues,” Bray said. “The idea is to streamline the bill and rely more on an existing planning and analysis project, and that we would ask the DPS — as part of their regular work — to bring to us annual assessments of how we are doing on energy in all of the sectors I am mentioning: electric, thermal, heating and cooling, and transportation. Then we could ask them also to make recommendations about work the Legislature ought to be undertaking.”
Bray does not believe S.51 would place pressure on Green Mountain Power  and the state’s utilities, which he said have already made considerable strides on the renewable energy front while keeping electricity rates stable for consumers.
“We’ve made an awful lot of progress without having any kind of negative impact on how (GMP) is operating as a business,” Bray said. “The priorities for electricity are well-established.”
Kristin Carlson, spokesperson for GMP, provided an update on how the state’s largest utility is increasing its renewable energy portfolio.
“As far as the 90 percent by 2050, GMP is committed to achieving that goal sooner and in a cost-effective way for customers,” Carlson said through an email response. “GMP is laser-focused on driving down costs while ramping up renewable energy for customers, and has had three bill decreases in the last four years, with rates now frozen until 2018. By law, at the end of this year, all utilities need to be 55 percent renewable. GMP will meet this goal.”
Making more progress toward the 2050 energy goal would further boost the renewables industry in Vermont, according to Bray. He likened the possible impact to that experienced by the farm/food industries in wake of the Farm to Plate legislation passed in 2009. Bray also championed that bill.
Farm to Plate has been responsible for more than 6,000 jobs in the farm/food sector since the bill was passed, according to Bray.
“For me, it’s about learning what we did in Farm to Plate and saying, ‘How can we carry over the very same philosophy and strategy to the energy side of Vermont?’” Bray said. “Let’s grow our own energy.”
Bray acknowledged not all of the testimony he has received on S.51 has been positive.
Some have voiced concern about whether the state is on a realistic track to achieve 90 percent renewables by 2050.
Others have noted the rapid evolution of renewable energy technology, thus potentially creating a moving target as the menu and costs of various renewables change.
Bray believes S.51 has enough flexibility to address those concerns.
“The bill carefully avoids picking any particular technology, but says, ‘Let’s rely on a continual process of planning and assessing and adjusting the plan,’” Bray said.
At this point, Bray believes the bill has garnered interest and some questions. The bill will likely undergo some revisions before it is considered by the full Senate — if it advances that far.
“Frankly, there is more work to do before a proposal is strong enough for a committee vote and then (a floor vote),” Bray said. “My goal is that we will vote it out by crossover.”
Crossover is the point at which bills must be passed out of legislative committees in order to be considered by the full House or Senate this session.
Bray said there is a possibility a complementary bill to S.51 will be introduced in the House.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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