Legislative forecasts are a crap shoot at best, so rather than attempt to predict outcomes I will preview a few of the topics I expect the House Energy and Technology Committee to discuss in the coming term. This list is only on the energy front and does not include paramount topics like broadband internet expansion.
90 Percent Renewable by 2050 — The Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan calls for 90 percent of our energy to come from renewable sources by 2050. This not only includes electric generation, but thermal and transportation energy as well. However, goals are not laws; we can expect some robust debate about whether to write those goals into statute, giving them the full force and legal authority to mandate change. The concept sounds good, but we need to carefully weigh the impacts and try to foresee the unintended consequences.
Carbon Pricing — As a campaign wedge issue, carbon pricing has been vastly over-simplified. Worldwide, there are several existing carbon pricing systems with a number of different mechanisms. The overall objective is to decrease greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The controversy is over the best, fairest and most effective way to do that. The European Union has an existing and robust carbon market, and in North America we have the Western Climate Initiative with several member states.
Most debates center on either a cap & trade approach (emissions levels are set and companies can buy, sell, or trade the right to emit GHGs), or on taxation, which simply makes it more costly to pollute.
But those two options are not the whole discussion. Countless opportunities exist for reducing GHG emissions, including weatherizing our old housing stock, changing agricultural practices, changing what and how we drive, what and how we shop, and simply using a clothesline. Carbon sequestration is also a rapidly growing field (no pun intended) with unknown potential.
Energy Storage — The legislature will continue to monitor the rapidly evolving topic of energy storage and management. Energy storage (both grid-scale batteries and distributed storage, like home batteries and electric vehicles) will create new opportunities for renewable energy and for grid management (read “savings”). The legislature’s purview is to ensure that those savings benefit all Vermonters.
Net Metering — Vermont’s efforts to expand small-scale renewable energy, particularly solar, continues to be successful. Net metering is at the core of that success, but the system was really designed for end users to generate their own power rather than for merchants to sell the power (and renewable-energy credits) out of state. So we need to re-evaluate the successes and liabilities of the program.
VW Settlement Money — As part of its fraud settlement, Vermont is receiving $18.7 million from Volkswagen. There are many restrictions on how the money can be spent, but within those rules these are still policy decisions about how best to use that money.
The first round is being used to build out electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. This helps resolve the perpetual “chicken or egg” challenge that people won’t buy EVs until there is a reliable network of charging stations, but that network won’t develop until enough people buy EVs.
The next round of funding will involve electric school buses and electric mass-transit buses and their charging infrastructure.
Efficiency Vermont — As Efficiency Vermont turns 20, there is a lot to celebrate. There are also a lot of questions to ask. Should the utility’s mandate be expanded from its traditional electrical efficiency role to include thermal and transportation energy? Recognizing that the goal is both energy and program efficiency, there is potentially much “low hanging fruit” to gather in heating and transportation.
These are a few of the topics I think the Energy Committee will debate. Check back during the session next year for updates and additions in these pages.
Robin Chesnut-Tangerman serves on the House Energy and Technology Committee and is a residential building inspector. He and his wife live in Middletown Springs.