by Mark Higley
The bill would repeal the 23 member Vermont Climate Council and the Climate Action Plan (CAP) and revert to goals in the Comprehensive Energy Plan (CEP). It would remove a provision that, any person may sue and a prevailing plaintiff shall be awarded reasonable costs and attorney’s fees, when not meeting our bench marks in the CAP. It would also repeal the rules adopted by the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR), following California’s Clean Cars Standards. We would still have to follow the EPA’s Clean Air Act. Since adoption of the GWSA in 2020, we have been through a pandemic, a war which has effected fuel costs, and a possible recession, all effecting affordability issues for all Vermonters. Our work force is lacking numbers, here and across the country, slowing our ability to accomplish what’s needed for reaching these benchmarks.
I was serving on the Energy and Technology Committee when the GWSA passed nine to two. It then went on to the House and Senate where it passed and was then vetoed by the Governor. The Legislature overrode the Governor’s veto. He believed the structure was an unconstitutional separation of powers.
The Comprehensive Energy Plan, updated every 6 years, was just updated in 2022. The CEP covers all energy sectors (electric, thermal, and transportation), and it sets new goals for each sector. In the Electric Sector: meet 100% of energy needs from carbon-free resources by 2032, with at least 75% from renewable energy. In the Transportation Sector: meet 10% of energy needs from renewable energy by 2025, and 45% by 2040. In the Thermal Sector: meet 30% of energy needs from renewable energy by 2025, and 70% by 2042. Last year alone the state spent $215M on climate change initiatives in its 2023 budget.
As a builder and hobby farm owner, I have certainly seen the effects of our changing climate. I believe we need to take a step back and really consider how these proposals will effect Vermonters in the coming years. The GWSA has locked us into achieving benchmarks rather than goals. The 23 member Climate Council was appointed by the Speaker of the House, Senate Committee on Committees and members of the Administration. This unelected committtee has the charge of how best to meet these carbon reduction benchmarks.
The Climate Council’s initial support was for the Transportation Climate Initiative TCI, which was a cap and trade (gas tax) proposal, which fell apart after many New England states decided not to join. More recently ANR has adopted rules following California’s Clean Car Standards. This proposal stipulates no new internal combustion engine vehicles will be sold in Vermont by 2035. Even if you purchase a vehicle outside Vermont you would not be able to register that vehicle here. Now, there is the second attempt in passing the Clean Heat Standard, Senate Bill S.5, being called the Affordable Heat Act (tax on fuel oil, propane, kerosene). The new version still lacked “details on costs and impacts” and delegated outsized policymaking authority to the three-member Public Utilities Commission. ANR Secretary has estimated S.5 at a cost of seventy cents a gallon, and Ethan Allen Institute estimated as much as four dollars a gallon.
We receive an annual report from the Climate Council every January. They stated “the current plan and suite of actions does not add up to achieving the requirements of the GWSA”. The Biomass subcommittee recommends not approving the McNeil biomass plant’s heat recovery proposal, and also recommends the closure of both it and the Ryegate biomass facility over time. This would be a loss of a market for Vermont’s low grade forest products. The McNeil plant burns 76 wet tons or 30 cords of wood an hour, and Ryegate burns 250,000 tons of chips per year. They have also recommended banning gas cook stoves by 2035.
This short sited effort to electrify with prescriptive remedies, doesn’t allow for innovation of options for the future. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has just certified NuScale Power’s small modular reactor. Each 50 MW module leverages natural processes, such as convection and gravity, to passively cool the reactor without additional water, power, or even operator action. Vermont Gas Systems (VGS) is looking at a hydrogen pilot program with GlobalFoundries to heat its Essex Jct. facility. This technology and others, if considered, could save our ridge lines from wind and our fields from solar.
I’m realistic enough to know H.74 will not be considered in today’s political majority in Montpelier. However, I will not stop in advocating for a balance in what Vermonters can achieve and afford in efforts to reduce our green house gas emissions. In closing, a quote from William Nordhaus, co-recipient of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economics, that requiring “deep reductions in living standards” to chase climate goals would amount to “burning down the village to save it.”
The author is a Lowell resident and Republican member of the Vermont House of Representatives.