Energy Bill Includes Small Fee For Utility Users

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(Host) An energy bill moving through the House would impose a small fee on utility bills to fund renewable energy projects.

As VPR’s John Dillon reports, backers of the bill describe it as a stopgap measure until the Shumlin administration crafts a new state energy plan.

(Dillon) The state’s Clean Energy Development Fund now gets about $6 million dollars a year from the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.

The money helps jump start renewable projects. But with Vermont Yankee scheduled to shut down next year, the funding source will dry up. So the energy bill now in the House would raise $2.3 million dollars by adding a 55 cent fee every month on consumers’ electric bills.

House Speaker Shap Smith says the energy fund draws down private investment – and helps create jobs.

(Smith) "When you’re putting in a photovoltaic panel, that means you’ve got excavators who are digging holes, people who have to pour cement and contractors who have to put up those photovoltaic panels. It is a jobs bill and I think that we’ll move that bill forward."

(Dillon) There is some resistance in the Statehouse to the new fee on utility bills. But East Montpelier Democrat Tony Klein – who chairs the Natural Resources and Energy Committee – said the monthly customer charge is modest, just a little more than what a postage stamp costs.

(Klein) "$6.60 a year should be within most people’s reach."

(Dillon) The bill also would raise the limit on how much renewable electricity customers can sell back to their utility – a provision known as net metering.

But Klein says the legislation does not set sweeping new policy goals.

(Klein) "We are not going forward at the rate that we’ve been going, unfortunately, but we are not going backwards."

(Dillon) For example, lawmakers deleted an incentive that would have allowed large biomass projects to charge higher rates for the power they generate.  Klein said a study of biomass issues is under way, and the Legislature should wait until it’s complete before deciding on incentives.

Lawmakers are also waiting for the Shumlin administration to set out its goals in a state energy plan due in October.

James Moore of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group said the pressure is now on the administration.

(Moore) "The committee delayed all the big energy decisions for next year. So this bill really forces Governor Shumlin to deliver with his energy plan this summer that his department is developing. It puts him in the hot seat because this bill doesn’t do a whole lot to move forward our clean energy economy. It kind of has us treading water at a time when we should be growing those jobs in this state."

(Dillon) The Shumlin administration will hold public meetings on the energy plan later this month and in early April.

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

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