Renewable energy bill gets initial approval from Senate

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(Host) The Senate has given its preliminary approval to legislation that will require Vermont utilities to invest more heavily in renewable energy sources in the future. The vote on the bill was 24 to 3. Backers of the plan argue it will help the state become more energy independent and will boost the state economy. Opponents say the measure will drive electrical rates higher.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Under this bill, Vermont utilities would have to get a certain percentage of their overall energy from renewable sources by the year 2013. The exact percentage will be tied to a utility’s incremental energy growth over the 10 years and in no cases would the renewable mandate exceed 10 percent. The legislation will go into effect unless the Public Service Board determines that implementing the renewable requirement will have significant economic or environmental impacts.

Windsor Senator Peter Welch says the bill is a way for the state to encourage the development of companies that specialize in energy conservation programs and he says the proposal will also help stimulate the state economy:

(Welch) “The more of those dollars we keep here in the state of Vermont, the greater the economic prospects for vitality are in the state of Vermont. And that’s the biggest tool that we have in growing our economy and that is the dollars that Vermonters have to spend. And the more we circulate within Vermont the better off all of us are and that’s what’s really is a major intention of this bill.”

(Kinzel) Rutland Senator Kevin Mullin is concerned that mandating a renewable portfolio could increase electric rates in Vermont. He cited one study that projects that the bill could boost rates by an additional 3.5 percent. Mullin voted for the bill but he says he has serious reservations about it and he hopes to amend the proposal when it comes up for final approval:

(Mullin) “The devil’s always in the details and one of the things I promised the voters when I ran in my campaign back in November is that, number one, I would try to protect the rates that consumers pay for their power.”

(Kinzel) Before final approval, the Senate will debate an amendment, co-sponsored by Mullin, that could be controversial. The legislation in its current form considers hydro-power as a renewable source only if the facility has a generating capacity of 80 megawatts or less. Senator Mullin wants to eliminate the 80 megawatt cap so that all hydro facilities, including Hydro Quebec, would meet the definition of being a renewable energy source.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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