Guest editorial: H.289 – Good intentions on renewables but one big flaw

The Vermont General Assembly — in attempt to move the state to 100% renewable energy — is making changes to how the state’s utilities buy energy. Within the next couple of weeks, the Senate Natural Resources Committee will consider H. 289, a bill to require the state’s utilities to buy 100% renewable energy.

This is known as the Renewable Energy Standard law. States around Vermont have been updating their own laws in this area and Vermont is following suit as we all take part in the transformation from a fossil fuel economy to a one powered by renewables.

The bill has already passed the House and has strong support from utilities and the environmental community.

As someone who has spent his life promoting and building the renewable energy system in Vermont, I am in complete agreement that 100% renewable energy is a must.

However, there is a major flaw in H.289 that threatens Vermont renewable energy jobs and the ability of Vermonters to participate in the benefits of community solar power projects. The bill eliminates a tried and true mechanism called “group net metering.” It sounds wonky, but group net metering is the only meaningful way in which Vermont customers who do not have their own solar sites can have direct access to solar energy.

Elimination of this mechanism will drive Vermont solar companies out of state to New York and other nearby states. It will stall in-state development of solar and take away the benefits of solar to affordable housing developers, schools and others.

Imagine a housing developer building a project. They want to power the project with solar energy. But the roof isn’t big enough to hold enough solar panels to do the job.

Group net metering allows the developer to partner with a Vermont solar company to build a solar project elsewhere in the state and buy the energy from that project at a discount. H.289 would eliminate that program.

With so much going on in the world and the H.289 bill over 40 pages long, we are concerned that many Vermonters, and perhaps even some of our conscientious legislators, have missed this very negative part of the bill. More than anything else, the transformation to renewable energy requires that projects of all types and sizes be built. We need all kinds of projects, not just the speculative utility-based projects outside Vermont.

H.289 takes away one of Vermont’s most successful programs and replaces it with nothing. While utilities have expressed cost-related concerns about your direct access to Vermont-generated solar, net metering rates have in fact come down for newer projects and are fully regulated by the Vermont Public Utility Commission.

This is a critical issue for our Vermont energy future.

I sent a letter to the Chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee (to read it, head online totinyurl.com/blittersdorf-bray-letter). It has been a decades-long effort to secure your direct right to purchase solar energy to meet your needs. I hope you will join me and contact your Vermont Senators today. Their contact information can be found online at Vermont Legislative Senate Contacts.

Vermont needs a community-based solar energy program for everyone. I sincerely hope the Senate Natural Resources committee will amend the bill to preserve group net metering before passing the overall legislation. H. 289 has the right goals. But getting rid of community based solar programs is not the way to go.

Editor’s note: Dave Blittersdorf is the president of All Earth Renewables in Bristol.

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