Letter to the editor: Clean heat bill merits support

The Clean Heat Standard bill currently under consideration by the Vermont Senate (House bill 0715) is a really important step toward drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont, as required by the Global Warming Solutions Act. It is not perfect but should be passed by the Senate pretty much as already approved in the House.

It’s not a simple bill, and not everyone who has written op-eds or letters to the editor, or been quoted in news articles, understands it equally well.

Many people, including spokespeople for 350VT, have been upset about the list of clean heat measures that are eligible for clean heat credits. Indeed I have also been worried by the inclusion of “advanced wood appliances and systems” and “renewable natural gas” among the types of measures that are eligible.

The reason I am OK with the bill as it stands is that I think the clean heat credits available for these will be small to negligible. The amount of the credit available for any given type of measure will be determined by the Public Utility Commission, as advised by an appointed Clean Heat Standard Technical Advisory Group, in collaboration with an expert contractor. Each type of proposed clean heat measure has to be assessed on a life-cycle basis, as to how much net greenhouse gas reduction will result from its implementation. In a life-cycle analysis, greenhouse gas releases associated with mining, extracting, processing, shipping etc. the fuel in question are accounted for in addition to whatever release occurs at the point of use. Releases associated with building the equipment used to generate the heat are also accounted for — e.g., building and shipping solar panels or windmill blades, running the powered equipment used to harvest wood intended to be burned for heat, or turning tree trunks into wood pellets and shipping them.

I am pretty confident that once a proper life-cycle analysis is done, the amounts of any clean heat credits available for advanced wood heat or renewable natural gas projects will be small.

This won’t turn out the way I hope it will unless people like me, and various environmental organizations, and perhaps you, dear concerned reader, pay attention to the processes and outcomes of the technical analysis of projected greenhouse gas reductions from various proposed clean heat measures. It will look like a narrowly technical task but will have substantial real-world implications for our success in reducing climate-endangering pollutants, and you can be sure the commercial enterprises who stand to benefit or lose from the decisions will be watching the process carefully.

Richard Hopkins


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