House may expand energy tax

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(Host) Leaders in the Vermont House are looking for new funding sources to pay for expanded energy conservation programs.

Earlier this week, a divided Senate decided to tax the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant to pay for the new programs. But House members say they may expand the tax to include wind developers and other energy service providers.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The Yankee tax is the most controversial part of a sweeping bill designed to boost renewable energy and expand conservation programs.

Under the version passed by the Senate, the state would pay for the new programs through a five-year, $37 million tax on the excess profits of Entergy-Vermont Yankee. The money would be used to fund energy efficiency efforts.

The bill is now in a House-Senate conference committee. And House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Robert Dostis says he wants to look at other funding sources besides the Yankee tax.

(Dostis) “We’re looking at that, considering it. But we’re also looking to see if there are options as well. So I would say everything is on the table at this point because we’re just starting to look at what those options might be.”

(Dillon) One justification for the Yankee tax was the unexpected revenues the company gets paid through a federal tariff that rewards utilities for their generating capacity. Efficiency Vermont, which runs energy conservation programs statewide also gets these tariff payments because it reduces electricity demand.

Dostis says it may make sense for the state to collect some of that money from Efficiency Vermont.

(Dostis) “Well, the fact is that Efficiency Vermont will also be getting profits – quote unquote profits from the capacity market. I think if we’re going to take money from Entergy, knowing they got windfalls, we also should take it from Efficiency Vermont.”

(Dillon) And Dostis says the conference committee may look at raising money from wind developers as well.

The Yankee tax is one of most heavily lobbied issues in the Legislature. This week, Vermont Yankee launched a radio ad attacking the tax.

(Advertisement) “The legislature’s ill-conceived tax scheme is not only a double dip, it’s a double-cross.”

(Dillon) House Speaker Gaye Symington said she hasn’t heard the ad. But she said lawmakers are under a great deal of pressure from special interests.

(Symington) “I think this is the point of the session when you see the influence of money, and power, the power of money on the Legislature. And it’s the job of Legislature to think about the interests of Vermonters here, and the amount of money we’re trying to save Vermonters in their fuel bills.”

(Dillon) Governor Jim Douglas is strongly opposed to the Yankee tax and may veto the legislation.

Symington said she will not weaken the bill simply to avoid a veto. She says the measure is important because it will save people money and reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

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

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