Renewable Energy Standard (H.289) - April 19, 2024

Senator Bray announced on Friday morning that the Senate Natural Resources Committee was resuming its work on H.289, which increases the targets of the state’s Renewable Energy Standard (RES).

Annette Smith (Executive Director, Vermonters for a Clean Environment) spoke first, saying that she was part of the stakeholder advisory group regarding the RES and it was very valuable to get an insight into what went into the model, and they learned that the environmental health benefits are specific to the reduction in gallons of groundwater used at a fossil fuel plant.

She noted that there is a “real desire” to build renewables in the right locations, but there is little to no guidance in where to build them. She gave the example of Shaftsberry Solar, which would cover eighty-five acres of prime agricultural soils. The same development company has submitted advanced notice for a project that would cover about 125 acres in Fair Haven, almost entirely on agricultural soils. Just two nights ago, their 50 megawatt project was announced and would also cover agricultural lands.

Smith argued that there has not been any attention paid on the House side to the equitable buildout of distributed renewable energy, and the cost of building out all this distribution is not factored into the RES cost. She also contended that the group net metering program (which allows small “community” solar projects to sell power back to the grid at a premium rate) is being abused by developers. A new model for community solar is being developed by the Department of Public Service, and that's what Vermonters for a Clean Environment wants to see move forward.

Senator White countered that she thought it was a “false premise” to say that group net metering raised the amount that everyone else will have to pay. Senator MacDonald disagreed, saying that who owns the electricity makes all the difference in the world. The people who built the electricity generation sell it to “corporations who are going to make money shipping it and controlling it and marketing it up.”

Representative Sibilia spoke next, noting that they did not discuss net metering, but they know that there are less expensive ways to make renewable energy accessible to affordable home communities.

Most of her comments centered around responding to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) proposal for the RES that “did not tailor the renewable energy standard to each utility,” as she claimed. It was noted that the Administration came forward with its own proposal, but the House supported the stakeholder group's proposal (which Sibilia was on). She asked the Committee to refer to the March 26th fiscal note for the bill, as they felt that it “accurately reflects” what the fiscal impacts would be of the new standard that targets 100% renewable energy by 2030. The Committee preferred this modeling over the DNR estimate of $357-$867M.

She stated that this fiscal note told them that the potential cost over 10 years is $150-$450M. Her argument was that $50M energy efficiency charge (EEC) is the reason that the state went from the highest electric rates in New England twenty years ago to the lowest today.

NOTE: This likely has to do more with the dramatic reduction in the cost of solar panels and the opposing increase in natural gas that powers much of the New England grid. It is difficult to measure how much impact the EEC would have had in a vacuum.

She estimated the Energy Efficiency Charge cost $789M in the first 20 years, but the savings are 2.8B, so it was a “good investment.” The bill will help modernize the regulatory framework by tailoring it to each utility and doing so in agreement with industry and the environmental community, she argued.

Peter Sterling, an industry lobbyist for wind and solar developers, was last to testify. He noted the bill would reform the RES and include a cap on the size of new nuclear plants and would ban new coal-fired plants from the energy mix. He added that the Public Utility Commission (PUC) has “really clamped down” on Vermont's ability to have community solar, and this bill would eliminate offsite net metering, but it would not close the door for community solar (on site).

He claimed that there are “so many barriers being put up” for development. He felt that the PUC was being too deferential to “low value forests” and other lands when solar developments were being proposed.

Also highlighted was the fact that new wood or biomass electricity generation facilities must achieve 60% overall efficiency and 50% net life cycle greenhouse gas emissions reduction. Facilities placed into service before 2023 must also comply.

DISCLAIMER: Assistive Technologies used in the production of this report.

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