House approves energy bill

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(Host) After months of discussion about climate change, the Vermont House has approved a bill to promote renewable energy projects.

The only real debate was over language that provides tax stabilization to developers of wind energy projects.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The bill encourages in-state energy projects in a number of ways.

It provides tax credits for solar energy systems.

It updates energy efficiency standards. And it expands the use of “net metering” to include systems of up to 250 kilowatts. This means that individuals and businesses that generate their own electricity can put the power back on the grid and get a credit from the utility.

House Natural Resources Chairman Robert Dostis says the bill will reduce Vermont’s greenhouse gas pollution, and make the state more energy independent. He says it’s important for the state to produce its own power, because contracts for two major power sources, Vermont Yankee and Hydro Quebec are set to expire in the next decade.

(Dostis) “The challenges before us are being shaped by peak oil, climate change and an electric energy portfolio that is in flux and that we don’t have much control over. We can meet these challenges and opportunities with an energy plan that promotes renewable energy programs and projects that are located her in Vermont.”

(Dillon) The most controversial part of the bill was a section that dealt with tax policy for wind energy projects.

The House bill sets the statewide education tax for wind generators based on electricity production, instead of their fair-market value as real estate.

John Rodgers is a Democrat from Glover. He says the tax change amounts to a subsidy for the industry.

(Rodgers) “When our businesses that have been rooted in Vermont for years get no tax break, no matter how much money they make in a year, whether it’s a good year, a bad year, they pay their education property taxes that comes to them in the mail. No subsidies, no tax breaks. We’re treating this business differently.”

(Dillon) Wind energy advocates see the issue differently. Andrew Perchlik is director of Renewable Energy Vermont. He says the industry needs predictability in property taxes.

(Perchlik) “This will help develop wind projects in Vermont. But we need this generation. This is a good thing for the state, and that’s a good reason to do it. But it’s a false argument to say that we’re giving too much of a subsidy to wind compared to other energy sources that get much more.”

(Dillon) An amendment to change the tax system back to the normal statewide property tax rate failed by about 100 votes.

The bill is up for final debate on Friday. Wind energy advocates are still unsatisfied with the energy tax rate that the House set, and hope the Senate will lower it further.

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

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