(Host) Vermont lawmakers have dropped for now a controversial fee on utility bills that’s designed to jumpstart renewable energy projects.
House leaders made the last minute change after Governor Peter Shumlin said he hopes to find a better way to fund the energy program.
But as VPR’s John Dillon reports, the governor offered no details on his new funding plan.
(Dillon) Critics say the 55 cent monthly fee is a regressive tax that will harm low income people.
And Governor Peter Shumlin says he’s working on an alternative proposal to replace the fee with a new funding source.
(Shumlin) "We have to find the balance between moving to renewables as fast as we can and also making sure Vermonters can pay their bills in an environment where gas just reached $3.75 a gallon. We think we’ll have an idea. By next week we should have it ready for prime time – or not. And we’ll keep you posted."
(Dillon) Shumlin would not provide any more details on how his administration would pump money into the Clean Energy Development Fund. The fund now gets about $6 million a year from Vermont Yankee.
But with the plant scheduled to go off line next year, lawmakers and the Shumlin Administration have been searching for a replacement revenue source..
They came up with a fee on electric bills that would amount to $6.60 per electric meter. The fee proposal would raise about $2.4 million for the fund that supports solar and other renewable projects
But House Speaker Shap Smith decided to pull the consumer charge from the bill after the governor said he had a better idea.
(Smith) "The renewable energy sector is critically important to Vermont‘s economic and energy future. And it has a proven track record of creating Vermont jobs. We moved forward with something that did just that – funded the Clean Energy Development Fund so it would create Vermont jobs. We’re looking forward to the governor doing the same thing."
(Dillon) Smith’s decision to scrap the fee came just as the bill was set for a final vote in the House. Some lawmakers were clearly upset by the last minute intervention from the governor’s office.
Kurt Wright is a Republican from Burlington. He serves on the Energy Committee that worked on the bill for several months. He said he reluctantly supported the fee proposal.
(Wright) "It was never popular, but it was a compromise supported by the administration. Perhaps a better idea will emerge. Today, at the 11th hour the governor abandoned a proposal he had supported, totally disrespecting the work of two committees in the process. The onus is on him to come up with a proposal now that everyone supports."
(Dillon) Speaker Smith said if the administration’s new funding proposal doesn’t pan out, then he’ll urge lawmakers to return to the 55 cent fee.
For VPR News I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.