Middle class rate payers “screwed” by 55 cent electric bill tax

by Angela Chagnon

Rep. Tim Jerman (D-Essex) briefed the Republicans on the energy bill, H.56, during their weekly caucus on Tuesday. The most controversial part of the bill is a provision that will place a 55 cent hike on all ratepayer’s energy bills, with proceeds going to the Clean Energy Development Fund that is currently being funded by Vermont Yankee. Jerman claimed that the bill was needed to prevent the loss of jobs, and to create new jobs.

“The problem with the fund now, as you all know, the funding for that comes from Vermont Yankee now under the current agreement, which expires in 2012,” said Jerman. “All the money in the Clean Energy Development fund right now is spoken for, with projects going forward, and there’s a gap after that money is spoken for of–where’s money going to come from to continue doing these kinds of projects that the fund does?”

The 55 cent rate hike is supposed to sunset after 12 months. The bill defines a customer as “one meter”, so businesses with more than one meter will pay 55 cents more per meter. There is no long-term plan in place to keep the fund going.

Rep. Brian Savage (R-Swanton) talked about his proposed amendment, which was later voted down on the House floor, to strike the 55 cent rate hike. “We’re already paying too much for these funds that is on the backs of ratepayers,” he said. “That’s got to stop.” He expressed doubt that the rate hike would sunset, and predicted that it would be raised even higher in the future.

“As I understand it right now, to utilize renewable energy, we’re going to pay higher prices, we’re going to keep failing businesses, we’re going to prop them up, and we’re doing this to preserve jobs,” remarked Rep. Francis “Topper” McFaun (R-Barre Town). Is that what our energy policy is?”

“I think we’re trying to promote new businesses,” replied Jerman. “The problem [with renewable energy] is the cost is up front, for almost every form of it.” He said that the upfront costs had to be paid in order to access the “long-term goal” of “free fuel”.

Rep. William Johnson (R-Canaan) said that the bill would create a “direct cost shift from Vermont Yankee to the Vermont ratepayers.” He pointed out that since the state would pay the same rate hike for its meters, ratepayers were paying the increase twice–once on their own energy bill and again in taxes.

A provision in the bill would move the Clean Energy Development Fund back to its previous place with the Public Service Department.

Duncan Kilmartin (R-Newport) said that “no matter where you turn in this building, it’s the middle-class ratepayer that’s getting screwed, there’s no other word for it. The Public Service Department is funded by taxpayers and ratepayers. They turn around and in the wind projects, they have literally screwed the people they’re supposed to represent.”