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On Tuesday, 180 lawmakers will converge on the Statehouse after a seven month hiatus for Round 2 of the 2011-2012 biennium. Judging from interviews with committee chairs, the upcoming session will be fast and furious. Lawmakers have an impressive array of complicated issues to address in four short months, and there is little expectation that the session will drag past the first week in May (this is an election year after all).
Long-term recovery plans post-Irene will figure prominently on the docket. Expect to see lively debate on proposals for the new state psychiatric hospital, the state office complex, a reordering of transportation priorities, and legislation to address property losses, flood insurance issues, municipal borrowing and tax abatements. (The latter is already in motion; lawmakers are expected to forgive about $2 million to $4 million in property taxes to the state Education Fund in the first few weeks of the session.)
There are a number of old business items that must pass through the belly of the snake no matter what. The biggie here is the budget (the 2013 gap between revenues and expenditures is $75 million, plus $25 million worth of budget adjustments for fiscal year 2012); closely followed by the miscellaneous tax bill, the fee bill and the capital bill. The latter will earmark how much money the state will borrow to pay for new state offices and the replacement for the Vermont State Hospital.
Gabrielle Stebbins: "Renewable Energy Vermont will push for a tax on the dry-cask storage of nuclear waste to keep the Clean Energy Development Fund going."
Free Press: Gov. Peter Shumlin and the Legislature have put renewable energy very, very high on their agendas. How is Vermont doing at encouraging and implementing renewable electrical energy sources?
Stebbins: Vermont is one of the national leaders in transforming how we use energy. Renewable sources already supply 50 percent of our electricity, so we're on a great path, but of course we have much more to do.
Free Press: But much of the energy we use isn't electrical energy, it is fuel to heat our homes and power our cars ...
Stebbins: Certainly that's true. Electricity is only one-third of our energy demand. The other two-thirds are for heating our buildings and travel purposes. Both of these sectors require multi-steps to address. We need to keep up the great work that our efficiency utilities and weatherization agencies provide, which can save considerably and helps us meet the remaining heating needs with Vermont's wood resources. We are ready to lead in this direction. One study recently estimated that if only one-fifth of Vermont buildings transferred from traditional fuel to biomass fuels used in modern, efficient boilers, it could create about 7,000 stable local energy jobs.
Vermont considers renewable energy law
The Vermont Legislature is considering a proposal to enact a renewable portfolio standard, a law requiring utilities to source a specified percentage of their electricity from eligible renewable resources. If enacted, Bill S-170 (72-page PDF) could change Vermont's energy landscape.
Today, Vermont is the only New England state not to have a statutory renewable portfolio standard, or RPS. Instead, Vermont's approach to renewable energy has focused on SPEED, or the Sustainably Priced Energy Enterprise Development Program. SPEED's goal is that by 2012, at least 10% of the state's 2005-era electric load be served by new sources of renewable energy, or 20% of total load by 2017. To further that goal, SPEED created incentives such as a feed-in tariff designed to encourage new renewable development. Unlike true RPS programs in other states, the Vermont program's targets are not strictly binding.
Bill S-170 would take Vermont away from the goal-based model and toward a firm renewable energy mandate. The bill would create a two-tiered RPS, with a "tier one" for projects coming into service during 2005-2012 and a "tier two" for projects coming online in 2013 and later. The bill would require utilities to source power from new renewable resources in each of these categories, plus additional power from existing renewable facilities. In 2013, utilities would have to source 40% of their power from existing renewable resources, plus 10% more from "tier one" new resources. Over time, the requirement would grow; by 2025, utilities would have to add in 40% from "tier two" resources, adding up to environmental attributes representing 90% of total annual retail sales.