MONTPELIER — With the state’s energy goal of 90 percent renewable energy by 2050 still in view, the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy plans to discuss net metering, electric cars, the costs of carbon, biofuels and more in the upcoming legislative session.
Among the many green-energy initiatives that could appear in committee is the the Essex Plan, a carbon tax proposal that would raise the cost of carbon-based fuels while subsidizing electric alternatives.
State Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison, the chairman of the committee, says he expects the plan to appear before lawmakers, but he’s not aware of who may become sponsors.
“I myself am not going to be a sponsor of the Essex bill, but I’ll be a little surprised if some member of the Senate doesn’t propose it in a bill form,” he told True North Reports.
He said while some have suggested a carbon tax would have little chance of success, he isn’t ruling anything out. “To me, every bill should get a fair hearing,” he said.
Common objections to a carbon tax include the possibility that elevated gasoline prices would cause Vermonters to cross state lines to fill up vehicles. Another objection is that individual states aren’t large enough to affect CO2 levels, meaning the plan would have a symbolic impact on the environment but a real impact on the economy.
Even so, Bray found other reasons to back the plan, including a 2013 MIT study that estimated 200,000 Americans die premature deaths each year from breathing air pollution. He gave an example of how that might factor in to the discussion.
“I don’t know if this is true, but if you added all the health care costs associated with diesel emissions, might it be cheaper to buy the electric bus rather than the diesel buses once you wrap in the health care expense?” he said.
Another item on the committee agenda is an “Act 148 deep dive,” which deals with solid waste and recycling. In 2020, household organic wastes will be required to be picked up by trash haulers.
“(Last session) we came up with a reasonable compromise that kept us moving forward, but I promised that we would come back to it early this session and figure out how this is working or not working, and why,” Bray said.
Not all of the haulers are thrilled about the new requirements. Some see it as an opportunity to do more business, but others don’t want to be forced to take on organic wastes.
Another bill is expected that will address shortcomings of the net metering program for renewable energy projects. In traditional net metering, the owners of the power project sell the excess energy back to the utilities at the market price. The new community energy program sells it back to the utility at the wholesale price.
The eventual goal of this program would be to add 250 megawatts of renewable energy to Vermont’s grid. Bray said it would be ideal for schools, hospitals, and other larger institutions to participate in these projects.
Another bill Bray anticipates for the committee would boost access to electric vehicles. For example, some lawmakers have discussed removing the purchase/use tax for the first $30,000 spent on electric vehicles. Nevertheless, owners of such vehicles may still be required to pay something toward the gas tax, which helps fund repairs of roads and bridges.
Another bill in the works would require Vermont fuel suppliers to report the percentage of biodiesel in their fuel mix, a requirement that might make it easier to identify a mix like B20 (20 percent biodiesel) at gas stations.