Statehouse Headliners: VY settlement announced; green policies fail; carbon tax study bill survives

By Guy Page

The proposed decommissioning and site restoration of Vermont Yankee by as soon as 2026 will receive a public hearing before the Vermont Public Utilities Commission April 12 in Windham County.

The precise time and location are still to be determined. The date was determined after the March 2 announcement of a settlement of all decommissioning issues. The settlement includes seller Entergy, buyer NorthStar, four Vermont state agencies, two native American tribes, the Town of Vernon, a regional development group, and a longtime opponent of Vermont Yankee, the New England Coalition. Major resolved issues included the financial strength of the decommissioning plan, and background exposure levels even lower than levels permitted by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The agreement is notable for dedicating financial resources to improving the already robust financial strength of the NorthStar project. Some past Vermont Yankee settlement agreements, especially under the Shumlin administration, saw Vermont Yankee funding a host of local, county and statewide renewable energy programs. The March 2 settlement, however, focuses on satisfactory completion of the site decommissioning and restoration.

According to the March 6 Vermont Chronicle, several energy-related bills survived the March 2 crossover deadline and are eligible for further consideration by the 2018 Legislature, which returns to work today after Town Meeting Week. Here’s an expanded look at the bills and what they propose:

H.726 would make solar power more bee-friendly. It sets a voluntary pollinator-friendly standard for Vermont solar arrays. Based on a 2016 Minnesota law, it would encourage site owners to grow bee-friendly grasses under and around solar panels. This is a big deal to the VT Department of Agriculture, the UVM Gund Institute for Agricultural Economics, and Renewable Energy Vermont. As with many other renewable power practices, pollinator-friendliness is popular in Germany and adopting the standards would make Vermont the first in New England. H726 is scheduled for final approval by the House today, and then goes to the Senate.

H.763 would allocate $100,000 to study carbon taxation. The concept that a carbon taxation study is a good use of a hundred grand of taxpayer money is repugnant to many Vermonters, including Gov. Phil Scott, who has promised to veto any bill that crosses his desk and wonders why the Legislature wants to spend good money studying a bad idea. Rep. Dave Yacavone of Morrisville disagrees, telling the News & Citizen that “without a study to determine the value and pros and cons of special carbon pricing, no one really knows if it will work.” He suggests funding the study by slicing in half $200,000 ticketed for converting to cleaner woodstoves. H763 was approved by House Fish & Wildlife and has been sent to the House Appropriations Committee.

H.616 would subsidize elimination of oil and gas furnaces in favor of “biomass-led district heat.” District heat works best in cities (such as Montpelier, now) with a large, central thermal heat plant distributing steam heat to large numbers of nearby, surrounding customers. For several years Burlington, in pursuit of its zero-carbon goals, has discussed heating buildings with excess heat from its biomass-burning plant. Two of the three sponsors are Burlington representatives. H616 passed the House on Feb. 13 and is now in Senate Finance Committee.

H.831 invests $5 million in Vermont pension funds in state agency revolving loans to weatherize Vermont homes and businesses. The two-year investment beginning in 2019 would continue a practice begun several years ago. H831 is now in House Appropriations.

And speaking of Town Meeting, read what constituents of Rep. Mark Higley (Eden) told him last Tuesday:

1. No to $15 minimum wage! (Most talked about.) 2. Pass a budget and get out of Montpelier! 3. Stop with the crazy new inspection of vehicles! 4. Makes no sense to limit age of purchase to 21, for a firearm!

A 7th and 8th grade teacher told me this out in the hall of a town meeting: ‘I asked my class, how many of you have killed someone in a video game since yesterday? All raised their hands. I asked, how many of you have killed over 200 people in a video game since yesterday? Eight raised their hands.’

Report: state energy policies expensive, fail to reduce carbon

Vermont’s landmark energy policies are not solving the problems they were designed to solve, says a March 12 report from Vermonters for a Clean Environment.

Understanding Vermont Energy Policies describes how these state policies such as Renewable Energy Standard (RES), standard-offer program, net-metering, Act 174’s energy planning process, and Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) have raised energy costs while failing to reduce Vermonters’ carbon consumption.

“Most Vermonters would be stunned to know that we have actually seen an increase in carbon emissions due to our current energy policies,” said Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment (VCE). “From public discourse to date, it appears most Vermonters do not realize we get little renewable energy from our State’s wind and solar developments, while simultaneously costing ratepayers significantly more money.”

Rte. 15 commuter bus gets local funding, now needs more passengers

Cambridge Town Meeting voters approved $14,420 for their share of the Rte. 15 commuter bus that connects Lamoille County with the Chittenden County employment hub. Voters in Underhill and Jericho followed suit. In an effort to increase Cambridge daily ridership to a dozen, the bus will leave town earlier to deliver first shift workers at UVM Medical Center to Burlington by 7 a.m.

Balky utilities, reduced net-metering, Trump tariff spell 13 percent job loss for Vermont solar power

Solar panel tariffs imposed by the Trump administration will add between 7.5 percent and 12 percent to cost of installation, according to the February Green Energy Times. The article concedes that the paltry employment figures of 1,000 U.S. solar panel manufacturing jobs may increase as a result of the tariff, although installation jobs will likely decline. According to the March Vermont Business News Magazine, Vermont solar job employment is down 13 percent, or three times the national average – perhaps due to a reduction in net metering subsidies. Yet these subsidies remain high enough to scare off some local utilities. The March 8 News & Citizen reports that Hardwick Electric doesn’t support construction of a 150 kilowatt Norwich Solar project because it would be required to buy its power at twice the average price of the alternative.

Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership, Divestment Facts, the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare and the Church at Prison.

Image courtesy of Bruce Parker/TNR

5 thoughts on “Statehouse Headliners: VY settlement announced; green policies fail; carbon tax study bill survives

  1. Normally I find myself disagreeing with most of what Mt. Moses advocates, but with respect to his comment herewith, we are on the same page.

  2. Well at least Yacavone admits that no one knows if a carbon tax will work. Mr. Yacavone, would you please phone up Paul Burns of VSIRG, and let him know. No, that’s not a typo, the S is for SPECIAL.
    I can’t believe the legislature will spend $100,000 kicking this poor dead horse over and over.

    • No need to spend $100,000.00, just ask anyone who drives to work or heats their home in the winter Especially the retired or anyone who isn’t in a higher income bracket.

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