By John McClaughry
The Department of Public Service has just released its 2022 Comprehensive Energy Plan (CEP). Aside from the “stakeholders”, it’s probably fair to say that very few Vermonters – and very few of their legislators – will be able to penetrate the CEP’s acronym-ridden complexities.
Here are some of the informative nuggets contained in the 251-page document.
Like the Vermont Climate Council’s Climate Action Plan, the CEP is determined to drive down 80 % of today’s level of carbon dioxide emissions by persuading, subsidizing, or forcing Vermonters to use much less – or no – fossil fuel for electricity, vehicles and heating, until by 2050 90% of all energy use qualifies as renewable.
The CEP states that “the [electric] grid must continue to… reliably deliver the energy needed to customers every hour of the year – to and from exponentially more distributed, diverse, and variable resources (distributed solar, storage, electric vehicles, heat pumps, smart appliances), under increasing pressure from severe weather events and cyberattacks, while transitioning from fossil resources and remaining affordable.” That’s a sound operating principle.
Perhaps the key question is this: where will Vermont find the electricity required to power 279,000 light duty cars and trucks and install 300,000 electric heat pumps in homes and businesses by 2050 (VELCO’s estimates)?
The CEP foresees “at least half of Vermont’s future generating capacity being sited in-state, and in an electrified future being served almost if not entirely by renewables, equivalent to about 3,500 MW of additional solar panels, wind turbines, methane digesters, combined heat and power plants, and hydroelectric facilities than exist today.”
Making that happen will be quite challenging – and likely impossible – not to mention financing half a billion dollars of grid upgrades to collect and distribute that much new power.
Reducing current demand is essential: weatherizing 90,000 more households in the coming eight years and requiring building construction to meet energy efficiency standards. But the CEP acknowledges that there’s not nearly enough workforce to pull this off.
The CEP also favors Flexible Load Management of Distributed Energy Resources. That means that high demands on the electric grid can be met by reducing demand in your home, barn or business by sending unavoidable “controlled outage” signals through “dynamic, reactive control devices” (your smart meter).
The CEP expects that today’s 4,360 Electric Vehicles can be made to increase to 55,000 by 2035. EVs are steadily dropping in price, but not enough to reach that ambitious goal. The CEP recommends levying “feebates” – taxes on internal combustion vehicles to subsidize EVs enough that thousands of people will make the switch.
Gas and diesel vehicles provide around a third of the Transportation Fund revenues that pay for highway construction and maintenance. How will that be made up, when the motor fuel taxes disappear? To date the legislature has declined to require EVs to make equivalent contributions to the Transportation Fund, on the grounds that paying those taxes would dissuade people from buying thousands more EVs.
Subsidized EVs, the CEP reports, have “largely been concentrated in more affluent and urban areas”. The obvious remedy for this injustice would be to pay people in lower income and rural areas to buy EVs. But presumably those subsidies should not be directed to residents in rural areas, because that would run afoul of the CEP’s insistence on achieving “compact and mixed-use settlement” enforced by a “decision making framework”, a euphemism for the state land use controls recommended by the Vermont Climate Council’s Climate Action Plan.
Despite Gov. Scott’s repeated resistance to putting Vermont into the regressive Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI), his Department of Public Service, in the CEP, urges moving toward joining TCI – even though none of the 12 states originally involved still wants to go through with it. The appeal to the DPS planners, obviously, is that taxing motor fuel in an attempt to drive down carbon dioxide emissions can yield millions of tax dollars. Those funds will be needed to subsidize all those EVs, and pay off disadvantaged groups in the name of energy equity.
The CEP is also on board with the Climate Council’s plan for a Clean Heat Standard. This complicated scheme would force fossil fuel wholesalers and Vermont’s natural gas company to buy Public Utility Commission-created credits from parties that earned them by weatherizing buildings and installing heat pumps, pellet stoves, and the like.
The wholesalers would add the cost of the credits onto heating oil and propane distributed to homes and businesses. This is just the latest scheme to impose a carbon tax where the taxpayers can’t easily see who’s doing it.
The CEP is a competent and informative piece of work. It addresses the implications of the coming “90% renewable by 2050” crunch, and contains some useful ideas. What it doesn’t do is explain just who is expected to pay for this dramatic transformation.
John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute (www.ethanallen.org).
Thank you, John for keeping the heat on this issue.
Mainly due to our relatively sparse population, changes to our lifestyle habits in Northern New England are not going to contribute to any significant mitigation of climate change. We have abundant hydro power from Quebec and we certainly can transition toward electrification in transportation and heating from this renewable source. However, if we really want to make a significant dent in the fossil fuel consumption in the Northeast, it makes more sense to concentrate our efforts on the population centers of Southern New England and the NYC area. Making that abundant and renewable hydro Quebec power available there requires power lines, and to the proposals for making that happen, so far we in Northern New England have not just said no, we have said hell no. There have been 3 main proposals to bring renewable electricity south. The proposals for the necessary power line upgrades in Maine and New Hampshire have gone down in flames by referendum. These decisions have now put more light on a long-proposed high voltage DC corridor to NYC, with part of it submerged in Lake Champlain. This proposal has also faced serious opposition and the question is: will the people along that corridor
tolerate it for the sake of the planet?
Maybe it’s just the usual virtue signaling, but are we in Vermont really willing to saddle ourselves with serious land-use and building code mandates and restrictions for minimal returns toward carbon reduction or will we tolerate projects like major power line upgrades that will have real effects? It’s not just the major power corridors that will need beefing up either. If we transition to electric vehicles and heat pump home heating, ALL of our power line infrastructure will have to be upgraded. In a state where it took 20 years to build a Walmart and a landowner or two can prevent the installation of a badly needed cell phone tower for aesthetic reasons, how easy do we think it will be to get the necessary power distribution infrastructure built out…and dont we really need to build it out BEFORE we get everyone to buy an electric car and a home heat pump system?
Thanks for that informed and well argued comment, Mark. VELCO is projecting half a billion dollars in power line upgrades to handle this increased power load, just in Vermont.
A question……how much of all the current Vermont climate saviourism is linked up with, influenced by, funded by Vermont crony eniro-capitalism?