The pay-to-play corruption at the heart of Vermont’s renewable energy policy.
by Rob Roper
This past week’s discussion in the Renewable Energy Standard Working Group, charged with drafting legislation to be considered by the General Assembly during the 2024 legislative session, highlighted some serious problems with Vermont’s energy policies, both philosophical and practical. At its core, “renewable” energy in our state is a scam designed to enrich politically connected special interests.
In the first of several revealing topics of conversation within the group, Chris Pearson, a former senator from Burlington now works for the Sierra Club, went into detail about how the sale/trading of renewable energy credits (RECs) – basically an indulgences scheme that allows carbon emitters to pay to swap their “dirty” energy for someone else’ “clean” energy — is really just, to use his term, a “shell game” allowing certain actors both public and private to mislead the public.
“Vermonters will celebrate, ‘Hey, our grid is 100% renewable!’” said Pearson, “[But] as long as we maintain RECs this is a total fiction… Vermonters would be surprised to hear both the headline that our grid is 100% renewable and we’re burning fossil fuels into Vermont because it turns out on a spreadsheet somewhere we’re buying renewable attributes from somewhere else so we can keep the fossil fuels going to supplement our power. That is weird! That is strange and it lacks integrity….”
“At some point,” Pearson concluded, “we’ve got to end this fiction…. Just generally, I think we do ourselves and this debate a great disservice if we don’t at least try to acknowledge the shell game that goes on when we allow RECs.”
The argument in favor of the REC system is that it can be manipulated in such a way as to lower the electric bills for customers in, for example, Burlington by some estimates as much as 25%. These accounting gimmicks accomplish nothing from a genuine environmental standpoint, but it does provide cover to politicians, activists, and suppliers who want to appear to the public as if they’re actually doing something “green” without making their constituents or customers actually pay the price.
While Pearson’s protestations against RECs can be taken as a true believer’s sincere desire for honest accounting, the policy of getting rid of RECs has another motivating repercussion. If Vermont power suppliers are prohibited from buying RECs from other states, it will force them to purchase more – and require others to build more – renewable energy locally. And this is what a lot of big money donors from the Vermont renewable energy business sector are really after – laws that force Vermonters to buy more and more of their products despite a near total lack of actual demand for them.
To this point, Ken Nolan, General Manager of Vermont Public Power Supply Authority (VPPSA), described how the Renewable Energy Standard (“REZ”) creates this corrupt false market based on special interest politics and crony corporatism at the expense of consumers.
“VPPSA only buys power that has Vermont Tier 1 RECs attached to it. Before the REZ, we would buy what we call system power. It could be natural gas, oil, we didn’t care. Now that the REZ is in place, that contract has to say coming with Vermont Tier 1 RECs. Has to say it is supplying what we want for generation types and locations…. The policy decisions and the conversations that are happening are very directly pushing utilities to make certain decisions and avoid others…. The question is, who do we want to win? It’s what it comes back to. When you put solar or put a particular generation type that drives us to do business with the people who own those companies and pushes us away from folks who don’t own them.”
What Nolan is describing here – ie driving business to “the people who own those companies” — is the blatant pay-to-play political crony corruption that underlies our energy policy at the expense of Vermont citizens.
First of all, the fact that the question, “who do we want to win,” is even being asked by a group that is writing legislation should be a major red flag. It’s not government’s role to pick winners and losers in the marketplace. Those decisions belong to We the People.
But the question is being asked here and it does have an answer. Winners: wind and solar developers who are major donors to the Democrat and Progressive parties and their candidates. Losers: those who may supply better, cheaper, more reliable electricity but don’t support those politicians. Also losers: Vermonters who buy electricity.
The policy decisions and the conversations Nolan refers to are happening in this very committee, and are being driven by people with clear financial conflicts of interest and connections to “the people who own those companies”, as described in detail in my previous article, Conflicts of Interest in the Renewable Standards Working Group.
Rob Roper is a freelance writer with 20 years of experience in Vermont politics including three years service as chair of the Vermont Republican Party and nine years as President of the Ethan Allen Institute, Vermont’s free market think tank.