Senator Bray introduced the bill, decrying all the “misinformation” in public debate. A vote for the bill means you’re willing to explore saving your constituents $6B, he claimed. He believes if legislators vote no, they’re endorsing the status quo, which is unaffordable. He insisted this bill is in the best interests of Vermonters. The public narrative around this bill is simply wrong, he continued, “we need to step out of the whirlwind of propaganda. We need to follow the GWSA law.”
NOTE: The claim of $6B in savings refers to an estimate that if the increase in global temperatures were held to the 1.5 degrees agreed to in the Paris Climate Accords. There is no evidence that S.5 will contribute meaningfully towards this goal.
The bill, as modified by the Appropriations Committee, allows us to bring forward our best thinking and still comply with the Global Warming Solutions Act, he said. He pointed to fossil fuel prices currently being at historically high levels. By switching to electricity, he believes, we can offer stable and controllable prices for home heating.
He pointed to Vermont having the highest per capita CO2 emissions in New England, saying that “we’re not as green as we think we are.” He blasted oil companies, saying that “fear and misinformation” are holding us back.
Pivoting back to the bill, as amended, it would set the legislature on a two year path to address public concerns. As he put it, they are now agreeing to a “full stop” after the development of the plan. A new legislature in 2025 will then have to vote on the plan (and pass it) in order to move forward. The Plan will be developed by the PUC working with the Department of Public Service (DPS).
After his opening remarks, Bray did a quick run through of the bill. The main points being that with the new amendment from the Appropriations Committee the bill will now take the time to study the details of how the rules governing a Clean Heat Standard will be structured, how much the program will cost, and how it will impact the overall economy as well as different demographic and economic subsets of the population.
Senator Kitchel spoke for the for Appropriations Committee. She shared that are 11 specific points of amendment. She acknowledged there are lots of concerns about the bill. To address those concerns there is now a “check back” that requires a future legislature to vote on any rules before they can go into effect.
The timeline for PUC to submit its recommendation for rules is 2025. Nothing will happen before that. All S.5 now does is, according to her, allow for the “study of the Clean Heat Standard concept.” Statements have been made that this bill will cause fuel bills to go up, but this bill (as amended) will not do that.
She also reminded Senators that the amendment also provides funding for a “potential” study. She explained that the “potential study” would discover what the potential is for a policy to achieve. Will determine if our goals are in line with current technology/resources. The PUC will do the study. Total appropriation for the PUC now $900,000.
Bray thanked the Appropriations Committee and called on all Senators will support this, “no matter what your position on the previous bill language.” His Committee, Senate Natural Resources, reviewed the amendments and approved 5-0-0.
Senator Brock noted that the bill, as amended, places restrictions on rulemaking, but it doesn’t do anything regarding the prescriptions and trajectory of a Clean Heat Standard in the underlying bill. Kitchel agreed “that is true, but…. We are clearly dealing with the rulemaking.” She thinks this is enough of a safeguard, Brock does not.
Senator Watson spoke in favor of the bill, attacking oil company profits, and doesn’t like the fact that Vermonters who buy fossil fuels are contributing to those profits. Wood pellets and bio-fuels are cheaper and less volatile price-wise. The upfront costs to switching is a barrier, and S.5 addresses this by subsidizing those costs for low and middle income households.
NOTE: The mechanism for doing this is effectively taxing those who continue heating with fossil fuels. This will most likely disproportionately be low and middle income Vermonters.
Senator Starr asked what fuels will be affected by passage of this bill. Bray responded that no fuels will be affected. It’s a plan that will be brought before a future legislature, but this bill doesn’t affect fuels (today). We’re creating a plan, he claimed, not implementing a plan. But the fuels “under examination” include oil, propane, natural gas, coal, and kerosene.
Starr questioned why the data being collection of tax records only pertains to heating fuels for homes and businesses. Bray noted that heating fuels are already subjected to a sales tax and collecting this more detailed data would help the PUC develop their plan.
Starr was not convinced. He warned Senators that "we’re voting on a pig in a poke." He believes the Legislature should do the study and then, if it says it’s feasible, we should consider writing a bill.
Senator White spoke out, saying her “generation doesn’t have time!!!”
Senator Wrenner spoke in opposition to the bill, saying that she understands the “need to save the planet. But we don’t need government intervention. Vermonters should be trusted to make their next move.” She told a personal story of having an energy evaluation done, which determined that installing a heat pump won’t save her any money. She believes this “study” is going to waste a lot of money ($1.75M) on government that could be used to buy heat pumps. She Compared S.5 to the fiasco that was childcare over-regulation, leading to a 27% decline in the number of providers. She believes the state is going to lose small fuel dealers, causing a supply crisis. Wrenner noted that her no vote is a “nod to representative government” given the feedback she received from her constituents.
Senator Cummings spoke in favor of the bill. She claimed to have spent hours reassuring seniors that they are not going to immediately raise the cost of their fuel oil by $0.70/gallon.
NOTE: shortly, but not immediately.
She continued to say that they want to get people to change what fuel they use, and this is going to cost money. She wondered how people on fixed incomes would pay for this. She is voting for the bill because it is “going to get us some numbers – tell us what it is going to cost and what the impact is going to be.” She believes that until we have the data, we’re having a debate on speculation.
Senator MacDonald also spoke in favor of the bill, saying “we wouldn’t be here today if there was a solution that was simple and inexpensive.” He believes they have no time to waste, and legislators should, “tell our constituents they’re going to be in for a rough ride” and in the meantime they should buy some warm clothing.
Senator Ingalls asked for an explanation of the cost sharing for low and middle-income Vermonters. Bray responded that those details don’t exist yet. The bill, as amended, will develop a detailed plan for a Clean Heat Standard (CHS), and the next legislature will have to evaluate the plan and vote on it.
Ingalls was unconvinced, saying that should a CHS pass, it is “going to hammer low and middle-income people.” He doesn’t believe you can make fuel dealers pay more and expect that cost not to be passed along to consumers. There isn’t enough labor to do the work of installing heat pumps. If this passes, I want to apologize to all the Vermonters who contacted me and asked us not to pass this bill. He views this is a “politically created crisis, not a natural disaster or war.”
Kitchel reminded Senators that the bill, as amended, does not increase the cost of fuel oil. They are examining a concept. She urged them to consider the amended bill, not the original language of S.5.
Senator McCormack spoke in support of the bill. He argued that Vermonters are struggling to pay fuel bills now. Fossil fuels are the problem. The bill aims to get Vermonters off fossil fuels. Global Warming is the underlying issue here.
Bray shared that he has “enjoyed the discussion”, but wanted to remind people that we have a precedent with Efficiency Vermont. While we spent a lot on that program, we have saved more. He continued that “the bill, as modified, means we won’t start a Clean Heat Standard until it has been thoroughly studied.”
Brock questioned if this is really “just a study,” or if it was something more than a study. He pointed out that Bray seems to be “saying two different things – one to the public (in a newspaper article) and one here.” He read from a newspaper article where Bray was quoted as saying that it was “not just a study. It is constructing a plan to move forward.”
Brock noted that this bill wasn’t a “study” until the Appropriations Committee amended the bill. Bray agreed with that assessment but noted that “the bill now is.” He continued on to say that “we know we need to have this transition take place, but we need to know the impact.” He capitulated that “after speaking with constituents, think this approach is prudent.”
Brock shared that he has concerns about “what the bill is and does and doesn’t say.” He argued that it is a “study” that has a predetermined conclusion. As he put it, “normally when we do a study we look at the entirely of the issue and then vote on it.”
He told a story about buying a new furnace. Efficiency Vermont was totally unhelpful and there were supply chain issues for material and labor. The return on investment for investing in efficiency measures was 13 years. And there were no assurances that a heat pump would work in his house in winter. “I got a new oil burner, and my house is warm,” he said. He noted that the technology might get better in the next ten years, but it isn’t ready yet. He shared that he has received over 700 notes, emails, etc. Only three have been in favor.
Senator Clarkson spoke in support of the bill, saying that their expectation is that they will have a set of “architectural plans to construct this program.” She added that “transition we must!”
Senator Collamore spoke in opposition to the bill. He noted that all Senators have received numerous emails etc. He personally has spent hours calling back constituents from his district.
A roll call vote was called to advance the bill, as amended, to a third reading. The vote in favor was 19-10.
Debate continued on Friday during the third reading of the bill.
Senator Chittenden asked if the intent of the Appropriations Committee amendment to ensure that the Legislature must affirmatively act to move forward with a Clean Heat Standard. Kitchel responded that the amendment ensures that the PUC shall not enact rules without legislation from the General Assembly.
NOTE: Kitchel did not deny that the underlying language in the bill establishing a Clean Heat Standard is not subject to future legislation.
Senator Perchlik spoke in support of the bill, telling a personal story of a first job in the weatherization industry and the lessons he learned. While voters may say to vote no, he campaigned on doing this as his “first priority.” He argued that since he won his election, he is going to fulfil his campaign promise.
The final vote was called and passed 18-10. The bill will move on to the House.
NOTE: This is one vote shy of being able to sustain a veto.