Agreement reached on expanding energy efficiency programs

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(Host) The Douglas Administration and Democratic leaders have reached agreement on how to expand energy efficiency programs.

The deal would boost spending to make homes and businesses more energy efficient, without the need for raising taxes.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) A year ago, the Republican governor and the Democratic legislature were headed for a showdown over an energy bill.

The Legislature wanted to raise taxes on the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant to pay for programs that would help homes and businesses use less heating fuel.

Governor Jim Douglas didn’t like the tax, so he vetoed the bill.

But this year, lawmakers and the administration are working together. Robert Dostis, the chairman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, explains:

(Dostis) What we did very carefully in this committee is made sure that we were talking to everybody and looking at what the issues were, concerns were, desires were from all perspectives, particularly the administration. So they’ve been part of this process since the Legislature began just four weeks ago.

(Dillon) The committee plans to vote out a bill by the end of the week that calls for an expansion of the home weatherization program. The goal is to help cut the energy use in 20% of the homes in the state by 2017.

Ironically, the sky high price of heating fuel means there’s more money to pay for the energy retrofits. That’s because weatherization programs are funded by a tax on fuels like propane and heating oil.

Time has also helped in another way. Dostis says it’s now clear that the state can use money from two regional funds – one has the potential to raise money because of Vermont’s low greenhouse gas emissions; the other rewards investments that have already been made in energy efficiency.

(Dostis) And that reward is monetary and we’re going to take that money and put it into the new energy efficiency fund.

(Dillon) Dostis says there will be around $3 to $5 million available to expand the programs.

Governor Jim Douglas says that it sometimes takes a year of wrangling before the Legislature and the executive agree on policy. He pointed to previous disagreements on health care, and permit reform as examples.

(Douglas) It would be a lot more efficient if we could all come together around a plan that we could embrace and save that time and energy. But sometime we come out with a plan that’s better. So I hope this will be a case similar to that where we can come up with a plan that doesn’t impose an unreasonable tax on a particular company and still accomplish the goal of an all fuels efficiency utility.

(Dillon) Dostis says the new legislative session has brought a new focus on helping people reduce energy use.

(Dostis) Last year, I think politics trumped the process and that happens from time to time in this building. And this year, it’s all about the policy. And I think the reason it’s all about the policy so much more is that we see what’s happening to the cost of fossil fuel in this state, and it is really hurting Vermonters. So there’s no time to play. We need to put in place programs that will help reduce our usage.

(Dillon) The bill is expected to come out of Dostis’ committee at the end of this week, and be on the House floor next week.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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