Fight Brews Over Renewable Energy Program

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(Host) The Douglas administration says a new renewable energy program adopted by lawmakers last year is bad for consumers and the Vermont economy.

But a legislative chairman says the conclusions are dead wrong. He says the administration should spend its time finding the source of radioactive leaks at Vermont Yankee. 

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) To jumpstart renewable energy projects throughout the state, lawmakers passed a bill last year that allows these projects to receive long term rates that are significantly above the current market price for electricity.

There was so much interest in the plan that the Public Service Board had to hold a lottery to determine which projects would initially qualify for the program.

The projects that were chosen represent roughly 225 million dollars in new capital investments throughout Vermont.

Governor Jim Douglas didn’t support the bill but he did allow it to become law without his signature.

The Legislature this year is considering a bill to further expand the program to include solar projects on farms.

(Kinzel) Public Service Department commissioner David O’Brien says that’s a bad idea because he says the overall program hurts consumers and creates only temporary construction jobs:

(O’Brien) "We’re asking ratepayers to pay more renewable energy than they would otherwise have to pay. And secondly…what we found is that the effect is basically what we call the temp job effect."

(Kinzel) O’Brien says the program will also hurt the state economy because it increases energy costs for all Vermont businesses.

He says getting power from Vermont Yankee is a better alternative if the plant’s current problems can be worked out:

(O’Brien) "From our perspective if all the variables would line up on a Vermont Yankee based on what it represents – non carbon base load, etc., power and if it’s at the right price we’d like to see that in the Vermont portfolio."

(Kinzel) House Natural Resources chairman Tony Klein is a strong supporter of the program. He says it’s creating hundreds of new jobs and will only increase overall energy costs by about 1%:

(Klein) "There’s a tremendous bump in jobs and we need that in today’s economy. We don’t need to worry about 5 years from now – we need to worry about the next month, 6 months from now, next year. And to say that an immediate impact of 5 to 600 jobs within the next year is not a positive development well then I don’t know what is."

(Kinzel) And Klein says he’d like to expand the program to help Vermont’s farmers:

(Klein) "It may be an idea that’s well worth looking at right now especially with the mess that our farms are in. And to not want to help the farms I don’t know why the Department is wasting their time on this when they should be finding out where the leaks are at Vermont Yankee."

(Kinzel) The solar farm bill is currently being reviewed by the House Agriculture committee.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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