Douglas to scale back committment to energy efficiency

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(Host) Supporters of energy conservation programs say they’re disappointed that Governor-elect Jim Douglas wants to scale back the state’s commitment to these efforts.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The decision by Governor-elect Jim Douglas to urge the Vermont Public Service Board not to increase spending on energy efficiency programs is being viewed as an early signal of how Douglas views both energy programs and economic development.

In 1999, the Legislature created the Energy Efficiency Program; it consolidated several conservation programs run by a number of utilities. The new program was funded by imposing a small surcharge on residential and business electric customers.

The legislation created a five-year budget for the program. This past year the budget was $12 million. The program was scheduled to receive $16 million in 2003, an increase of $4 million, but the Public Service Department wants to cut this increase in half. The Public Service Board will hold a hearing on this case early next week.

Governor-elect Douglas, who has no authority to directly affect the case, is urging the PSB to reject any increase and level fund the energy efficiency program:

(Douglas) “And increasing the utility charge, I think, is a step in the wrong direction. We have utility rates that are among the highest in the nation and I think that at this time, in this fragile economy, increasing that obligation for consumers – both business and other consumers – is a mistake.”

(Kinzel) Former Public Service Department Commissioner Richard Sedano, who now works for the Regulatory Assistance Project, has a different point of view on this issue. Sedano says money spent on conservation programs are a good long-term investment for the state’s business community:

(Sedano) “And the best way to meet our future needs is with efficiency. That’s the best environmental solution, it’s the best economic solution. Energy Efficiency Vermont is procuring energy efficiency savings at a rate of about two and a half cents a kilowatt hour which is less than what power costs.”

(Kinzel) In a recent order, the PSB said energy conservation programs are important because they help lower costs for all Vermonters “by reducing the electric utilities’ total system costs.”

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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