23 business organizations raise red flags about Comprehensive Energy Plan

by Rob Roper

Montpelier – A collection of twenty-three business and labor interests represented by Bill Driscoll of Associated Industries of Vermont, Guy Page of the Vermont Energy Partnership and Matt Cota of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association aired their grievances at the State House regarding the state’s energy plan. The group also offered constructive suggestions about how to use an energy plan to get the economy moving and businesses hiring again.

“The thing that brings us together, the common theme,” said Driscoll in his opening remarks at the press conference, “is concern for the economy, and recognition that energy truly is the lifeblood of businesses and jobs in this state.”

But, Driscoll went on describing the actual contents of the state’s comprehensive energy plan, “There seems to be a heavy focus on climate change, renewable energy and efficiency to a degree that they become goals in and of themselves and lose their context in terms of balancing the benefits we will actually get from the policies versus the cost that the economy and working Vermonters will bear in order to support them.”

This was a diplomatic way of pointing out that in Vermont energy policy has become a social issue rather than an economic one. It’s more about controlling behaviors and manipulating attitudes than it is about simply figuring out the best way to meet the state’s demand for heat, transportation, and power. The extreme imbalance between ideology and practicality is severely hurting Vermonters.

Writing in the group’s press release, James Stewart of the Rutland Economic Development Corporation argues that, “maintaining affordable power for our manufacturers is critical to retaining and growing middle class jobs for working Vermonters.” His observation on the heels of a recent analysis by USA Today of the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for 2006 to 2010 shows that in greater Burlington, a progressive Mecca, the middle class is shrinking faster than nearly anywhere else in the country. (Free Press, 11/6/11 )

Since Vermont already has one of the cleanest energy portfolios in the country, Driscoll suggested that perhaps state policy at this point should focus more on reducing costs, and urged the legislature to explicitly recognize that energy policy is fundamentally and economic policy.

Guy Page, speaking on behalf of what he described as the ninety plus members of the Vermont Energy Partnership representing tens of thousands of Vermonters, was more blunt. “This plan will take Vermont backwards in energy reliability, affordability and environmental impact, particularly in the short term…. This translates into fewer good paying jobs, higher monthly fuel bills, more fossil fuel emissions and more loss of wildlife habitat.”

Matt Cota was also to the point. “The plan is full of contradictions. How are we supposed to get to 90 percent renewables when, as the plan calls for, they want 11 billion cubic feet of natural gas burned in the state of Vermont?”

“One of the ways they want to get to 90 percent renewables in the transportation sector is by moving us to electric cars…” Said Cota. “Of course you have to increase your power to power all those vehicles. That’s another contradiction in the plan that wants to build a natural gas power plant – a fossil fuel power plant – to power the electric cars. How is that changing the dynamic here?”

Cota was also extremely concerned about what he described as a $14 million heat tax on Vermonters in the state plan. “The Comprehensive Energy Plan claims there is a need to find ‘a stable resource of funds’ to create a statewide thermal efficiency program. One of the recommendations in an independent report referenced in the CEP is to more than triple the existing tax on heating fuel, propane and off-road diesel – an increase in the gross receipts tax from 0.5% to 1.75%…. This amounts to a $14 million heat tax on Vermont homeowners and businesses.”

Highlights of the suggestions by the coalition to the legislature include:

  • Minimizing the cost of energy – electric rates, heating and transportation fuel costs – should be the primary goal and criteria for the Plan and its recommendations.
  • Vermont should not adopt any new renewable energy mandates.
  • The climate and related environmental advantages of nuclear power should be recognized on par with renewable power.
  • Transportation fuel policies, including fuel content standards and CAFE standards, should not be inconsistent with national policies or increase the cost of doing business to Vermont employers.
  • The final version of the plan should be postponed pending resolution of the legal proceedings regarding continued operation of Vermont Yankee.
  • The final version of the plan should include credible and thorough cost and economic impact forecasts associated with all of the major elements of the plan, including rate and statewide job impacts of renewable energy and energy efficiency programs and policies.

Unfortunately, given the present ideological makeup of the legislature, these common sense suggestions recall old similes about requests to bears regarding toilets.