Senate crafts heating fuel surcharge legislation

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(Host) The Senate is crafting legislation that lawmakers hope will save Vermonters money and reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

The bill would allow the state to impose a surcharge on home heating fuels to fund energy efficiency programs.

Senators say the legislation is a key component of their promise to address global climate change.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The idea behind the bill is to expand on the work now being done to reduce electricity consumption.

An innovative program in Vermont uses a small surcharge on electric bills to fund a variety of energy conservation measures. The Senate bill takes that concept and expands it to other fuels.

James Moore is an energy specialist with the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

(Moore) “S-94 allows the Public Service Board to assess an efficiency charge on non-regulated, non-transportation fuels, just as it does now on our electricity bills.”

(Dillon) The bill will be the main vehicle in the Senate to address concerns about climate change. Committees in the House are taking up legislation that deals with renewable energy. Senate President Peter Shumlin says it’s likely that the two bills will be blended together later in the session.

(Shumlin) “You know I think it’s interesting that in the six weeks that we’ve been here, seven weeks now, the discussion on global warming has moved from what’s global warming got to do with it to how quickly can we get together to move and take action. I think that’s a really significant development and this bill is a symbol of the urgency the Legislature and the citizens feel in moving forward.”

(Dillon) Backers of the legislation point to a recent study that says Vermonters could save $486 million dollars over ten years, if homes and business were made more energy efficient.

But not everyone embraces the idea of a surcharge on heating oil or other fuels. Shane Sweet is executive director of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association.

(Sweet) “I think on its face the first thing that comes to mind is the obvious. It’s tough to talk about raising taxes on fuels. We’re having enough problems with retail pricing as it is and the thought about adding another nickel or dime a gallon isn’t something that we’re particularly fond of.”

(Dillon) Green Mountain Coffee Roasters in Waterbury saves about $18,000 a year from one project sponsored by Efficiency Vermont. Paul Comey is the company’s vice president for environmental affairs. He’d like to see the program expanded to other fuels.

(Comey) “Now as a publicly traded company, we understand that this bill will actually cost us some money. But going forward, we understand that the long-term savings that we’ll reap back from a bill like this in energy conservation and fuel reduction will be well worth the money spent.”

(Dillon) But IBM, the state’s largest private employer, is opposed to any additional charges on energy.

Senator Shumlin says he’ll meet with IBM to try to address the company’s concerns.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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