House votes in favor of energy bill 99-39

by Angela Chagnon

During the debate on the House floor regarding H.56, Heidi Schuermann (R-Stowe) asked why the rate increase had to take place on passage of the bill if Vermont Yankee is expected to continue paying into the Clean Energy fund until 2012, per contract with the state.

Adam Greshin (I-Warren) took the question and said that Entergy will send in just over $3 million in 2012. “The encumbrances on the fund and anticipated solar tax credits to pay out and other expenses will amount to a $1.9 million deficit,” he continued. “So it’s the $1.9 million deficit that we are attempting to close.”

“If we in fact know, and knew, how much Vermont Yankee pays into the Clean Energy Development Fund, why would we be spending additional monies in tax credits, or tax expenditures as your committee likes to call them, if we know exactly how much that Clean Energy Development Fund has and we have additional ARRA money?” Schuermann countered.

Greshin responded that nobody knew exactly how much they were going to spend in a year. He said that the fund was meant to “create incentives” and “incent development of solar industries”, and that it was “both a policy as well as an uncertainty as to how much of these credits will be used that led to the deficit that we’re trying to fill.”

Margaret Cheney (D-Norwich) spoke up, saying that it was “not deficit spending, but rather committed funds. They would not be paid out if they were not there.” She continued, “The point of raising this money is that we have no extra money because of our commitments already made to pay for small-scale residential projects.”

Cynthia Browning (D-Arlington) said that the rate hike “functions like a tax in that the government is removing up to $2.35 million from the private and public sectors and dedicating it to a particular purpose. I support the purpose of the Clean Energy Development Fund, but during a recession it’s not a good idea to raise broad-based taxes. Even if the exact tax from each person were not too large, it’s still not a good idea.”

Browning suggested that the “committee look harder for other possible ways to finance the Clean Energy Development fund.” She further said that she planned to introduce an amendment to raise the rate to $1.00 per meter, but make the extra charge voluntary “so that someone could choose whether they could afford and whether they wish to support these projects, or whether it was too much for them to undertake.”

Minority Leader Don Turner (R-Milton) brought up the fact that a fiscal note of the bill did not mention what the bill would cost taxpayers, “municipalities, non-profits and so on.”

Schuermann pointed out that another bill that had a cost of $30,000 had been postponed because it had been sent to Appropriations. She argued that the Energy bill should have been sent to the Appropriations committee because it would cost the state about $35,000 in new charges due to the rate hike. Her motion was voted down.

After some further discussion, the bill was voted favorably 99 to 39, with the third reading scheduled for Wednesday. Republicans who voted for the bill included Patti Komline (Dorset), Oliver Olsen (Jamaica) and Kurt Wright (Burlington).

In explaining his ‘No’ vote, Gary Reis (R-St. Johnsbury) said, “We’ve listened to many claims that various additional costs will be minimal or inconsequential. I guess a few extra kernels, from the ratepayers’ perspective, don’t matter much when you’re being stoned to death with popcorn.”