Toby Talbot / AP Photo People gather in front of a bank of solar panels on Friday in East Montpelier, where Gov. Peter Shumlin signed three bills relating to energy.
EAST MONTPELIER — Standing next to an array of solar panels and across the road from a small hydroelectric dam, Gov. Peter Shumlin signed legislation Friday designed to boost development of renewable energy in the state.
Shumlin signed three energy-related bills whose highlights include:
n Promoting development of small power dams and solar, wind and biomass projects in part by requiring utilities to pay for renewable power more than they would for nuclear, large hydroelectric or power generated by burning fossil fuels.
n Setting a new flat property tax rate of 4 cents per kilowatt of capacity for small solar-electric projects. Solar developers had complained that variability of local tax rates applied to the projects was hurting their ability to get financing.
n Establishing a new pilot project in Chittenden county to promote “community-supported biomass” heating. One aim is to get more recipients of low-income home heating assistance to switch to wood pellet heating, which currently costs about half as much as oil.
n Allowing customers to opt out of having wireless “smart” electric meters installed and barring utilities from charging fees to let customers keep their traditional meters. Some people have raised health and privacy concerns over the new meters.
Shumlin has long been a supporter of addressing climate change and adding jobs in Vermont by promoting the renewable energy industry. He said that among the goals of the legislation were “to ensure that we leave our children and our grandchildren a livable Vermont and a livable planet, to help us get off our addiction to oil and ensure that we have a strong jobs future.”
One thing the legislation does not do, which earlier drafts of one of the bills called for, is to set up a new renewable portfolio standard — a requirement that Vermont utilities get a set percentage of their power from renewable sources. Such a standard, which is used in several states, has been hotly opposed by Vermont business groups whose leaders say it would drive up electric rates.
Instead of setting a minimum amount of renewable power the utilities must buy, the bill calls for an expansion of a “standard offer” program in which the power companies are required to pay prices set by the state Public Service Board for power from renewable energy generators. For example, solar power developers currently can charge the utilities 24 cents per kilowatt-hour for the electricity they make, which solar industry officials say they need to cover their costs and make a profit. By contrast, larger traditional generators like nuclear and natural gas-fired plants are charging well less than 10 cents per kilowatt-hour when selling power at wholesale to the retail electric companies.
Vermont’s utilities currently are required to buy no more than 50 megawatts of standard-offer renewable power — about a 20th of the state’s power demand. One of the bills Shumlin signed Friday calls for expanding that cap to 127.5 megawatts over the next 10 years.MORE IN Vermont NewsMONTPELIER — Ask Peter Shumlin to track the origins of his fiscal policy, and he’ll tell you... Full StoryPLAINFIELD — Goddard College summoned up a bit of its past while keeping an eye on the future... Full StoryPLAINFIELD — Goddard College summoned up a bit of its past while keeping an eye on the... Full Story
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