McClaughry: Energy Plan

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(Host) As part of the debate about Vermont’s energy future, commentator John McClaughry has been among those studying the possible consequences of – and alternatives to – the current administration’s draft Comprehensive Plan.

(McClaughry) The Shumlin administration has presented a draft Comprehensive Energy Plan designed “…to set Vermont on a path to attain 90% of its energy from renewable sources by 2050.”

The plan also advocates for moving toward “energy independence” by requiring Vermonters to reduce their consumption of imported fossil fuels that now comprise two thirds of the state’s total energy consumption. It also supports reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 25% below 1990 levels by 2012, and 50% below by 2050, to “lower the state’s contribution to global warming.”

The most startling omission in this voluminous plan is the absence of any chart or graph showing the sources of Vermont’s electrical energy now, and the sources we can expect to enjoy in future decades if the Plan’s recommendations are acted upon.

Vermont now obtains 33 percent of its electrical consumption from Vermont Yankee. If that safe, reliable base load plant is closed down in March 2012 – as Governor Shumlin directed this Plan to assume – one third of our electricity supply will disappear. How then will this be made up?

In particular, what level of tax credits, rebates, government financing, mandates, Feed In Tariffs, Renewable Portfolio Standards, and outright capital subsidies will be required to achieve the required efficiency and attract this amount of renewable electricity into the market?

How many acres of solar panels? How many more 450 foot wind turbines? How many gas-fired backup plants to keep grid load reasonably level? Will the resulting price of that electricity keep Vermont businesses competitive and residences affordable? This information is not included in the Plan.

There are some useful proposals in the Plan, but overall the Plan would require enormous taxpayer and ratepayer costs, ever-growing bureaucracies, and ever more extensive controls over the choices of the ordinary Vermonter, all to send Vermonters galloping after the goal of “90% renewable energy by 2050.”

The Ethan Allen Institute recommended that the state abandon the “vision” of this Plan that requires state government to use its coercive powers to see that Vermont gets 90% of its energy from renewable sources by 2050 or any other date.

Instead, it recommended that the state should “…set Vermont on a path to assure safe, reliable and competitively priced energy that will make possible a strong, competitive and growing economic base, both for creation of new wealth and income for the people of the state and for expanded tax revenues to enable the state to meet its fiscal obligations.” Adopting such a vision would require some major rethinking in Montpelier, but the benefits would surely justify the effort.

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