by Rob Roper
One of the favorite talking points supporters of the Clean Heat Standard, S.5, like to pull out is that it will at most only add pennies to the cost of a gallon of heating fuel. Those who call the program the “Unaffordable Heat Act” and claim the costs will be somewhere in the $0.70 to $4.00 range are fear mongers and have no evidence to back up these claims. Neither the former nor the latter is in the least bit true.
First a little background into what the Clean Heat Standard (CHS) is and does.
The CHS is a product of the 2020 Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) and the Climate Action Plan created under that law. The GWSA mandates that Vermont reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80% below by 2050. That’s the law; it’s non-negotiable. The CHS addresses the thermal sector (space/water heating and cooking) portion of that mandate.
S.5 itself states, “It is the intent of the General Assembly that the Clean Heat Standard be designed and implemented in a manner that achieves Vermont’s thermal sector greenhouse gas emissions reductions necessary to meet the requirements [quoted above from the GWSA]…” This, assuming passage, will be the law. It’s non-negotiable. Not subject to scaling back or slowing down. Dates and targets are what they are.
The Climate Action Plan states that in order to achieve those thermal sector emissions requirements, by 2030 120,000 homes need to be weatherized, 177,000 heat pumps need to be installed, 136,000 heat pump water heaters need to be installed, 15,000 homes need to switch to advanced wood heat systems, and 21,000 need to switch over to biofuels. The cost to do all of this work will be enormous – billions of dollars by 2030 – and, per the GWSA and S.5, this program’s scope not negotiable.
That’s what, in part, the Climate Action Plan says the Clean Heat Standard must subsidize. And, being non-negotiable, someone has to pay for all this, and those someones are those of us who currently and will continue to heat with oil, propane, natural gas and kerosene through the CHS “carbon credit” scheme.
The most conservative estimate of what all that activity will cost between 2026, when the CHS is expected to become fully operative, and the first GWSA benchmark in 2030 is $2 billion, put forward by Secretary of Natural Resources, Julie Moore. Moore also calculates that of that $2 billion, roughly $800 million will be covered by federal funds and individuals privately paying to voluntarily transition to the new technology. This leaves a $1.2 billion ($300 million per year) nut for the CHS program to cover.
“A few cents per gallon” will not come close to raising this much revenue.
How do we know this? Vermont already has a $0.02 excise tax on heating oil, kerosene and dyed diesel. It raises about $5 million per year. So, a per gallon surcharge on home heating fuels would have to raise about sixty times that amount to pay for the Clean Heat Standard mandates, or $1.20 per gallon. That’s just math, folks!
But supporters of the bill squeal that Oregon has a clean motor fuel standard and it only increased costs on gasoline by $0.07 per gallon! That’s the number we should be comparing to. Okay, let’s compare!
Oregon’s program is on motor fuels, not heating fuels, so there is already an apples to oranges dynamic happening here. But, to the extent it is useful to look at, at $0.07 per gallon, the Oregon standard, according to testimony taken on S.5, only raises about $50 million. That’s not the $300 million-ish Vermont would need to raise, which is six times more. So, 6 x $0.07 = $0.42 per gallon. Moreover, Oregon’s population is 4.25 million compared to Vermont’s 640,000, or 660% larger. That means to achieve the same amount of revenue, in rough numbers, each Vermonter would have to pay 6.6 times more than what each Oregonian would have to pay. So, $0.42 x 6.6 = $2.70 per gallon.
Now, these numbers are admittedly rough, but they are based on a realistic understanding of what the laws – GWSA and CHS – demand. Any intelligent gut check of what this project will end up costing Vermonters will tell you “mere pennies” per gallon is not going to come close to cutting it. Anybody who tries to convince you otherwise is selling you a bridge in Brooklyn.
The last bit of evidence that the Clean Heat Standard will cost a heck of a lot more than what its supporters are saying – and that they know it and are outright lying about it to their constituents – came in the form of the Harrison Amendment to S.5, which would have capped any impact the CHS might have on heating fuel prices at $0.20 per gallon.
As Rep. Jim Harrison (R-Chittenden) explained when presenting his amendment on the floor, “If you are comfortable that the price impact of S.5 will be minimal, then this amendment should be easy to support. On the other hand, if you believe it will be more and want the bill to pass to allow it to go higher, then you may want to reject this amendment.” The amendment failed 43-101, largely along party lines.
Rob Roper is a freelance writer with over twenty years experience in Vermont politics and policy.
CALL YOUR REPS. Yesterday the Senate voted 20-10 to override Governor Scott’s veto of S.5. The House will vote Thursday or Friday and appears to have enough votes to override despite thousands of calls and emails by constituents almost universally opposed to the legislation. To find and contact your Representative(s), go HERE. Even if they don’t listen, creating the record for future elections that they didn’t listen is every bit as important.
Media Note: Rob Roper will be on the WVMT’s The Morning Drive this coming Monday 7:00 am, AM620, FM96.3, or streaming HERE.