Campaign for Vermont: S.5 costs unknown, financing targets rural poor

by Ben Kinsley

The clean heat standard (which many have called a carbon tax) was undoubtedly the most controversial law passed during the 2023 legislative session. While its aim is a worthwhile reduction in carbon emissions from home heating, the mechanism employed raises the cost of heating fuels for households still using carbon-based fuels.

The Good:

  • Provides meaningful action on carbon reduction.
  • Recognizes the potential cost impacts on low and moderate income Vermonters.
  • Recognizes inherent equity issues present in the clean heat credit mechanism.
  • Requires a check-back with the legislature before the Clean Heat Standard is fully implemented.

The Bad:

  • The overall cost of the program is still unknown.
  • Certain portions of the Clean Heat Standard go into effect BEFORE the legislative check-back in 2025.
  • The financing mechanism chosen for this program is both regressive and unfairly targets rural Vermonters who have fewer options for fuel sources.
  • Incentives and investments in other areas have been shown to have both greater carbon and economic benefits.

While we agree with the goals of carbon reduction and the concept that Vermont should do its part to stem global carbon emissions, we also need to approach this issue with humanity and compassion. Too many Vermonters are dependent upon fossil fuels for heat and do not have an easy transition to some of the technologies considered by this legislation. For example, older houses often cannot be retrofit with better insulation or heat pumps because of their construction. And even if they can, it is almost always prohibitively expensive. Mobile homes also often cannot be retrofit.

Further to this point, heat pumps require a backup (fossil) fuel source for operation below freezing temperatures and in the event of power loss. This means you have to run two systems in parallel, you cannot simply swap one system for the other. Due to some of these complicating factors, in many cases shifting from a high-carbon fuel source to a low-carbon one may be the best option to reduce emissions, but the bill prohibits that. Our best strategies for thermal sector emissions might actually be in the biofuel and synthetic fuel space where carbon offsets exist in production as liquid fuels transport and store well and heat very efficiently. Some of these fuels may only require swapping out burners on existing furnaces. In case you missed it, we put out a policy brief on this topic in February.

Finally, the costs of this program are still unknown. This is perhaps the most concerning aspect of this legislation. While opponents have thrown out numbers ranging from $0.70 to $4.00 per gallon in additional costs, proponents of the Clean Heat Standard have be reluctant to do so. For us, just the fact that the legislature has chosen to move forward with putting this system in place without understanding its impact on Vermonters is concerning enough. Good government principles tell us that you study and issue, gather all the facts, then make a decision and move forward. This legislation reads more like a ready, shoot, aim scenario where we won’t know all the facts until after aspects of the system are already in place. Not a great way to go about public policy.

Bill summary as passed:


  • The Vermont Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) of 2020 requires Vermont to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to specific levels by 2025, 2030, and 2050. The Initial Vermont Climate Action Plan calls for the legislature to adopt legislation authorizing the Public Utility Commission to administer the Clean Heat Standard.
  • The Vermont Climate Council published the Initial Vermont Climate Action Plan on December 1, 2021, which noted that over one-third of Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2018 came from the thermal sector.
  • The Public Utility Commission (PUC) shall establish a clean heat standard compliance program for the thermal sector that requires obligated parties to retire a certain number of clean heat credits each calendar year.
  • Clean heat credits are a tradeable, nontangible commodity that represents the amount of greenhouse gas reduction attributable to a clean heat measure. A clean heat measure does not include switching from one fossil fuel use to another fossil fuel use.
  • Each entity that sells heating fuel into or in Vermont must register annually with the PUC.
  • The PUC will identify default delivery agents (DDAs) to deliver clean heat measures on behalf of obligated parties who pay the per-credit fee to the DDA.
  • Beginning in 2023, clean heat measures that are installed and provide emission reductions are creditable. The PUC may identify additional measures that qualify as installed measures.
  • Obligated parties shall retire at least 16% of their annual requirement from customers with low income.
  • If an obligated party fails to retire the required number of clean heat credits in a given year, the PUC will order the obligated party to make a noncompliance payment to the DDA.
  • The PUC may adopt rules to implement the Clean Heat Standard program, and may issue orders to implement the program both before and after final rules take effect. 
  • The PUC may revise its Clean Heat Standard rules, provided they properly notice of any proposed changes, allow for a 30-day comment period, respond to all comments received on the proposed change, and provide language assistance as requested.
  • The PUC shall establish a standard methodology for determining who owns clean heat credits. Clean heat credits are created for each year of the expected life of the installed measure, based on the lifecycle CO2 emissions savings of the clean heat measure.
  • The PUC shall review harmful consequences of the implementation of specific types of clean heat measures and shall set standards or limits to prevent those consequences.
  • The PUC is required to hold at least six public hearings or workshops to gather information and receive comments on the design and implementation of the Clean Heat Standard.
  • The PUC shall create an administrative system to register, sell, transfer, and trade clean heat credits to obligated parties (a marketplace).
  • The Technical Advisory Group (TAG) shall consist of up to 15 members appointed by the PUC and shall have expertise in measuring lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions, energy modeling and data analysis, clean heat measures and energy technologies, and other similar skillsets.
  • The Clean Heat Standard Equity Advisory Group will provide feedback to the PUC on strategies for engaging Vermonters with low income and moderate income in the public process for developing the Clean Heat Standard program, and will help identify actions needed to provide customers with better service and mitigate fuel price impacts.
  • The PUC shall submit final proposed rules to the legislature by January, 2025 for approval.
  • $825k is appropriated to the Department of Public Service for the purpose of carrying out implementation of the Clean Heat Standard, including marketing and public outreach for the PUC’s proposed rules. $900k is appropriated to the Department of Public Service from the General Fund in fiscal year 2024 for positions, consultants, and associated operating costs related to the Clean Heat Standard.

Author has over a decade of experience in public policy, government relations, and advocacy here in Vermont. He served two tours of duty as a staffer for CFV and then as executive director. After working for several public officials, lobbying firms, and non-profits, Ben started his own public policy research and development consulting firm in 2017.

Categories: Commentary, Legislation

19 replies »

  1. A number of years ago we moved into a different house. when we moved the fuel account was not processed properly so I spent the entire winter canning fuel. As an old cripple this was not amusing. On top of this the 7 year old boiler had logic board issues and needed to be rebooted every couple of days or it would run away and overheat the house. Since that model was no longer being produced and logic board not available. You guessed it new boiler. My solution I ripped out the old boiler and had a mason put in a Russian style heater. And I installed a wood cookstove on the second floor to cook and supplement heat on cold days.
    Subtract the cost of the boiler from the cost of Masonary work it was expensive but it paid for itself in the winter of ’21-’22 we went from 700 gallons of fuel to 4 chords for the winter. I cut my own wood so figure $25 a chord and no need for gym membership. Problem solved.
    Our power here is so unreliable that it would be suicide in the winter to rely on a heat pump or any heat source that required grid connect anyway.

  2. “Worthwhile reduction” in carbon emissions??? How so, Mr. Kinsley and would you please accurately & precisely estimate the reduction based on the 600,000 or so people who inhabit Vermont – and describe the impact such “reduction” will have upon the planet itself? Please of course take into account the fact that CHINA and INDIA alone spew by far the greatest amounts of noxious toxins & gases into the atmosphere every minute of every day and Communist China builds one new coal power plant in that country every week. Again, your figures as to what degree Vermont will be reducing “carbon” emissions worldwide by punishing citizens for using propane or oil to heat their trailers (as but one example)?

    Asking for a friend, but of course.

    • What does what’s happening in INDIA and COMMUNIST CHINA have to do with carbon emissions in Vermont?

      And before you launch yourself at me, I don’t personally give a rat’s patootie about carbon emissions other than the fact that my HVAC guy told me yesterday that I have about 5 years left on my gas furnace. S5 was conceived without any regard for rural, poor and elderly Vermonters on fixed incomes.

      Let’s hope that a Republican majority in our VT Congress will repeal this piece of $rap.

      • Lol! Where you playin’ next week, JayDee? Here it is nice & slow: The tiny state of Vermont, with the second smallest population in this nation, canNOT make any difference whatsoever in worldwide “climate change” when immensely populated nations pollute & spew toxins at alarming AND increasing rates. You see, Vermont is making you dip into your pocket in order to slow down global “climate change”. Get it yet?

        My, my, how you’re ready though to jump on the conservative bandwagon when these looney-tunes go for your wallet, I see.

  3. The entire premise of all this brobdignaggian bloviating BS based upon human contributions to climate change, “its aim is a worthwhile reduction in carbon emissions from home heating”, were literally blown out of the water last year. From the AP:

    “In January 2022, the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai undersea volcano in the South Pacific blew, sending more than 165 million tons of water, which is a heat-trapping greenhouse gas as vapor … The volcano also blasted 550,000 tons (500,000 metric tons) of sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere. That amount of water “is so absolutely crazy, absolutely ginormous,” said Holger Vomel, a stratospheric water vapor scientist.”

    PLEASE do your research. Water vapor is the largest contributor to trapping heat in the atmosphere, and now we have a whole lot more of it. Combine that with all the undersea volcanic venting, and you get the significant, real climate change we are now experiencing, which humanity had nothing to do with.

    The hysterical narrative of anthropogenic climate disruption has run its course. Public policy should reflect this reality.

    (Thanks to Jeff Childers for his coverage of these events.)

    • How about all the warm, moist hot air being belched out into our atmosphere by climate change deniers? Are all the plastic microns and flotsam in our oceans, fish and fresh water also a force of Nature?

      • Give a hoot, don’t pollute. There’s an oldie for ya.

        But common sense & efficacious environmental laws aren’t good enough: Enjoy the extra buck or four added onto your propane and/or fuel oil price per gallon soon courtesy of your Democrat legislators……

        Instead of a Christmas Club Account at your bank next year, go for the Punishment Tax Account. Save up!

      • If you are referring to me as a climate change denier, please read more carefully. Climate changes, of course. It is ANTHROPOGENIC climate change that is, or should be, subject to reasoned scrutiny.

        Even if anthropogenic climate change were a real thing, the natural forces within the earth as well as outside the earth, e.g. our sun, are orders of magnitude greater than effects attributed to humanity. This has just been amply demonstrated by the undersea volcanic activity and this year’s spike in ocean temperatures.

        Yes, plastic and microplastics are a problem. A big problem. As are atrazine, neonicotinoids, glyphosate, GMO’s, decreasing biodiversity, and nuclear waste, to name a few. It is unfortunate that the urge to maintain a habitable planet has been hijacked by hysteria over CO2, which, as a prerequisite for photosynthesis, is also known as “plant food”, demonstrated through the fossil record to coincide with a super abundance of planetary flora at 660 ppm.

        But keep those straw men coming.

      • People who comment here mostly see your comments as uninformed. Just now you proved it by not realizing that comparing the size of the state of Vermont with 640K people to the size of the country of China with a population of 1,425,616,013 (that’s one billion 425 million 616 thousand). Now, using these facts how can you possibly believe that punishing Vermonters with a carbon tax will do anything to the earth’s climate? It is getting to be fun pointing out how a former self proclaimed liberal jumps over here to straighten us so-called right wingers out. Liberal logic equals no logic at all. Don’t hold back, exposing liberal thoughts demonstrates the liberal’s lack of critical thinking and their reliance on fake science without ever questioning the party talking points. PS, the earth is round and revolves within our planets atmosphere.

      • I don’t deny climate change. I just deny anthropogenic climate change as stated above by Tyler Austin.

  4. Vermont isn’t alone participating in this hysterical narrative.

    Nothing says they’re full of it like chopping down millions of trees to combat climate change.
    In Scotland, “Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon, a member of the ruling left-wing Scottish National Party (SNP).estimated that 15.7 million trees had been cut down since 2000 on land currently managed by Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS). To meet the goals of the climate agenda, the equivalent of more than 1,700 trees were felled per day to to facilitate wind farm development…..“Not only are millions of [carbon-dioxide] absorbing trees being felled for turbines, hundreds of thousands of acres of ancient carbon-holding peat are being dug up too,” commented activist Lyndsey Ward.

    “Many more trees will have been sacrificed and peat lost as remote wind factories are connected to a grid that cannot cope with them.” … “No information has yet been provided regarding any trees that were “replanted,” however.”(

  5. Yeah, sticking it to working Vermonters, who are already one of the smallest contributors to atmospheric carbon, is really going to fix the issue. Never mind that the idea of carbon definitively causing global warming is an entirely debatable proposition. But assuming that it isn’t, how is Vermont, contributing 0.01% of the world’s carbon, going to change anything? All these heat pumps, all these electric cars, all these rare Earth LED’s… it’s pure, unadulterated, virtue signaling emotionalism, inflicted on the rest of us by some seriously cynical huxters. If you honestly believe that carbon is wrecking the planet, you’d better be prepared to kill off billions of people in India, Indonesia and China, because that’s what’s going to happen if you stop all this carbon coming from the places that actually produce it. Leave me and my already high heating bill out of it. Who gets all that extra money, anyway?

  6. It is a scam. Tell them to stuff it.

    Scientist admits the ‘overwhelming consensus’ on the climate change crisis is ‘manufactured’

    The researchers quickly figured out that the way to get funded was to make alarmist claims about “man-made climate change.”

    This is how “manufactured consensus” happens.

  7. Carbon reduction is a scam.

    Scientist admits the ‘overwhelming consensus’ on the climate change crisis is ‘manufactured’

    The researchers quickly figured out that the way to get funded was to make alarmist claims about “man-made climate change.”

    This is how “manufactured consensus” happens.

  8. Has anyone considered how S5 will affect those living in border town up and down the Connecticut River, along the Massachusetts border along with the New York state border? All of the fossil fuel used for heating in eastern Essex county Vermont is supplied from New Hampshire dealers. Will those dealers sign up with the state of Vermont, collect the new tax dollars and then send them onto Montpelier or will they cease supplying fossil fuels to Vermont users? If that were to happen the nearest fuel suppliers would be in Derby or St Johnsbury. So the price of the fuel would go up due to transportation costs along with the future S5 tax. So much for choice in a very rural Essex county Vermont as well as other border towns.

  9. Folks, don’t let people (like “JayDee”) or bots get you all in a twist. Don’t respond. Ignore. When you ignore attention seeking eejits long enough, they go away. They are not worth your time and effort.

  10. How does “Provides meaningful action on carbon reduction” meet criteria to end up in the “Pro” list? And how in the world did that statement pass editing?