Democratic lawmakers skeptical of energy plan

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas hopes lawmakers embrace his new plan for an energy efficiency program now that he’s vetoed the one passed by the Legislature.

Douglas’s plan is based on using bank loans to finance the energy-saving improvements.

But Democratic lawmakers remain skeptical.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The governor and the Democratically controlled legislature face a showdown in July over his veto of the global warming bill. Now Douglas has provided more details of his alternative plan.

The governor says an expansion of an existing home weatherization program would cut fuel use, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save people money. He predicts about 1,000 homes and small businesses could be retrofitted each year.

(Douglas) “It targets Vermonters who can least afford efficiency measures in their own homes by providing them with some – either no interest loans or low interest loans.”

(Dillon) Last week Douglas vetoed the Legislature’s climate change bill because he didn’t like a tax on the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

He hopes lawmakers consider his plan instead when they convene for the veto session next month.

(Douglas) “I really believe that especially since there’s an alternative it will be very easy for legislators to agree that raising taxes is totally unnecessary and that we can accomplish their goals in another way. There were enough legislators earlier who voted against the bill earlier to sustain a veto. And I certainly hope there will be enough next month.”

(Dillon) Douglas says his plan could be up and running faster than the energy efficiency program called for in climate change bill that he vetoed last week.

The governor says the legislature has to approve his program because it involves using state money to guarantee 20% of a bank’s energy loan portfolio.

But a key member of the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee wasn’t interested. Tony Klein is an East Montpelier Democrat. He says the public already has access to low cost loans for home weatherization. And Klein says the legislature’s bill also encouraged new clean energy projects to reduce greenhouse gases.

(Klein) “This doesn’t solve any of the problems that H 520 certainly tackles. This doesn’t do anything to address business. This doesn’t do anything to address the expansion and the creation and the siting of renewable energy generation. It’s politics. It’s baloney.”

(Dillon) Douglas has named a seven-person task force to design the plan. The members include two bankers, the head of the Vermont Housing Finance Agency, the CEO of the Vermont Economic Development Authority, and the state weatherization program administrator. Two representatives of Vermont’s community action agencies will be named later.

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

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