by Don Keelan
The Battenkill Valley Health Center, in a recent letter to its Friends, noted, “ We hope this letter finds you and your loved ones healthy and well during what continues to be an incredibly difficult time for our state and nation.”
The phrase holds situational awareness that is unknown to many within the Legislature. With some of the legislation being considered and adopted, it is as if the legislative body doesn’t know the anxiety, despair, and stress taking place throughout Vermont. Let’s just keep creating new laws is its mantra.
A perfect example is the recent time-consuming debate over whether the doctrine of qualified immunity for police officers should be removed and substituted with laws that would hold a police officer/trooper personally responsible for all actions taken while on duty. This legislation comes when almost every police department and state police barrack face a critical staffing problem. The Department of Corrections is also experiencing a severe corrections officer shortage.
Fortunately, the legislation took so much valuable time it did not pass the Senate as intended. Instead, a study and research commission was adopted. Meanwhile, the VSP is down in trooper strength from 333 to 268.
Great fanfare sounded in the House of Representatives when the Clean Heat Standard was approved 96 to 44 and moved to the Senate. H-715 has two main goals: give authority to the State on how one is to heat one’s home after 2025 and add a disguised tax to non-compliant homeowner fuel bills. The bill also directs the Vermont Public Service Commission to develop charges assigned to fuel dealers (who don’t earn enough credits) and, ultimately, passed on to their customers.
A significant part of the CHS legislation is to create over 3,500 new jobs a year for folks installing heat pumps, oil furnace conversions to biofuels, and weatherizing homes. Worthwhile goals in less stressful times, but now is not the time.
There isn’t any industry, state or local government, retail/tourist, or healthcare service sector that is not desperate for employees; many cannot stay open full-time for business.
We don’t need more mandates from Montpelier but a creative and constructive solution to bring about the goals of State greenhouse-gas emissions reductions.
Create a Pro-forma test case locale, ON PAPER, to demonstrate how heat pumps, biofuels, wood/pellet devices, charging stations, and electric vehicle implementation would work if adopted today. Furthermore, a study would reveal what happens to the small fuel dealers. Will they be available to deliver their product during the transition?
The locale for this model should be Arlington, Vermont. Its demographics, housing stock, manufacturing base, and electric grid system would be ideal for testing the mandate practicalities.
What would it cost to bring the town’s 900 homes into compliance with heating and cooling and the use of EVs by all of its residents? Add the town’s existing gas stations conversion and required EV charging stations to this model. Presently, the stations serve hundreds of customers daily. Each consumer takes five minutes or so to fill up. What would a 30-minute or three-hour recharging have on customer volume/traffic/wait times?
Arlington’s electric grid system most likely would need upgrading with assurances that blackouts would not occur during high demand for heat pumps or EV charging.
We need to test the ideas (mandates) in a contained area, perhaps in a computer-based study, before they are required throughout Vermont. Better to find out in advance if heat pumps will work as suggested in all kinds of weather and if a town’s upgraded electric system can handle the required loads. Will wait times at recharging stations be unacceptable? What is the cost to the state, local government, residents, and businesses?
What we don’t need is additional stress emanating from Montpelier.
The author is a U.S. Marine (retired), CPA, and columnist living in Arlington, VT.