Utility managers imply Renewable Energy Standard is sacrificing climate goals to steer money to connected special interests
by Rob Roper
The Renewable Energy Standard Group committee met again on October 25 to hash out what next year’s laws regarding energy policy will be, and again utilities managers questioned the ulterior motives behind how some of the proposals seem to be favoring certain actors. And this crony favoritism, they say, will come not just at greater expense to electricity ratepayers, but also at the expense of the very climate-related goals the Standard is supposed to be about.
Bill Driscoll of Associated Industries of Vermont told the group, “In order to be achievable while minimizing costs and maximizing reliability [of electricity service], you really need to have as much flexibility as possible [in where you source generation]. You really need to have all the tools on the table…. The more you constrain that – in other words, ‘it doesn’t just have to be clean, it has to be renewable, or it has to be small renewable, or new renewable, or in-state’ – the more you’re going to introduce the risks of increased costs and also the potential for reliability issues without making a difference in the climate goals.”
While everyone in the room seemed on board with reaching a 100% clean energy goal for the state, not everyone seemed to be as interested in meeting those goals as quickly and as cost effectively as possible. Rather the agenda of some, the utilities managers strongly implied, was to steer purchasing, construction of new energy sources, subsidy dollars to “certain people” even if that means more cost to ratepayers and taxpayers while making meeting the state’s greenhouse gas reduction targets harder to meet.
As Driscoll concluded, “The concern is, the more you do that the less this is a climate policy and more… a policy that benefits a smaller and smaller group of interests in terms of developers…. In fact, if anything the more restrained you make it, it’s more expensive and more challenging to meet those climate goals.”
Ken Nolan of VPPSA had similar concerns, stating, “As we break down into tiers and say only certain resources qualify here or there, we’re actually picking winners and losers and we’re diverting technologies to certain technologies and certain people. That makes it more expensive and harder to manage, and significantly more overhead for the utilities to meet our compliance and the regulators to make sure we’re meeting our compliance.”
There’s a tendency in Vermont in the legislature for ‘command and control,’ said Nolan. “That we have to tell people what to do or they’re not going to do it. And I think we do a disservice to the ratepayers when we dive into the weeds and try to get very specific in how we define things versus, to some degree, relying on the market.” [Side note: ‘command and control’ government is another way of saying ‘authoritarianism.’]
Senator Chris Bray (D-Addison) questioned Nolan, “Is the current RES a command and control piece of legislation or is it creating a target and letting utilities choose their own path?”
“I would say Tier 1 is much more choose your own path,” replied Nolan. “Tier 2 is very specific. It has to be less than five megawatts, connected to the distribution system, built after 2015. If I’m GMP that probably not very onerous because I have a huge territory. But if I’m Orleans or Hyde Park… that’s pretty high bar. And it drives you to make certain decisions and work with certain people. And I don’t know that it brings any additional benefit to the climate conversation.”
Driscoll called out the group, “If this is going to be a portfolio that is intentionally designed to benefit specific technologies or scales of development, or whatnot, then I think we should be open about that.”
He’s exactly right, but this group is not going to be open about that. An easy and obvious question for any of the four elected lawmakers on the committee would be, “Who are the people we’re forcing you to work with?” but they’re not interested in that level of transparency.
As detailed in my earlier article on this topic, Conflicts of Interest in the Renewable Energy Standard Working Group, the members of VPIRG, The Sierra Club, The Conservation Law Foundation, and Renewable Energy Vermont all represent directly or indirectly the very “people” the law is steering resources to. It is a true scandal that legislators allow lobbyists for politically connected special interests (in many cases big donors to those legislators and/or their Party) to sit on these committees and write policy.
Nolan questioned, “How much command and control we really need versus simplifying this conversation and getting to the meat of what are we trying to accomplish. If it’s climate change and greenhouse gas reduction, then let’s talk about the resources that qualify for that and let the utilities figure it out.”
Of course, the problem for the special interests on the committee is that allowing the utilities to figure out on their own the most cost effective and reliable way to meet the clean energy goals of the state would likely mean bypassing the higher cost, less reliable products produced by their financial benefactors. And we can’t have that! Even if it means Vermonters pay more for our electricity, more likely to suffer blackouts, and we are less likely to meet the target dates for greenhouse gas reduction, which, by the way, puts taxpayers on the hook for multi-million dollar lawsuits that will be brought by some of the same special interest groups sitting on this committee writing the law.
This, folks, is your government at work.