State energy plan subject of harsh comments

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(Host) Critics of the Douglas administration’s proposed energy plan for Vermont turned out in force on Monday. They said the plan places too much emphasis on fossil fuels, and doesn’t do enough to support the state’s growing renewable energy industry.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The 20-year plan is supposed to guide the state through the uncertain future of volatile fuel prices and energy markets. The plan was last issued in 1998. The earlier version emphasized renewable energy and conservation programs.

The new plan – the first drafted by the Douglas administration – focuses much more on lowering the cost of energy. It says Vermont’s energy portfolio is already rich in renewable sources. Some critics called for the plan to be scrapped entirely. Andy Perchlik is with Renewable Energy Vermont, a trade group.

(Perchlik) “I’ll start, since I just have three minutes, with the conclusion, which is that we don’t think this is a plan. We think this is a poor and preposterous proposal, and not a plan.”

(Dillon) Other advocates had harsh words for what they said was the Douglas administration’s failure to support wind energy. Matt Rubin is president of East Haven Windfarm, a company that’s proposed a six-megawatt wind project in Essex County. Rubin says the energy plan relies far too heavily on natural gas for future energy needs. According to Rubin, natural gas prices are extremely volatile.

(Rubin) “The year just ended and the market clearing price in Vermont was 5.02 cents per kilowatt hour at wholesale – as high as it has ever been. And the reason is the price of natural gas, and we have a plan that says let’s use more of it. That I think is not planning, it’s denial of basic economic reality.”

(Dillon) But business lobbyists and an official with Green Mountain Power spoke in favor of the plan. The business groups agreed with the plan’s emphasis on lower electric rates. They also supported the idea that Vermont should reconsider its broad-based energy conservation programs.

After the hearing, Public Service Commissioner David O’Brien, whose department drafted the plan, responded to criticism that the plan paid scant attention to renewable energy. O’Brien says 26 percent of the state’s in-state generation already comes from renewable sources.

(O’Brien) “So to have a further advancement of renewable energy by virtue of a mandate doesn’t seem to make sense, based on where we are today. I’m not going to advocate doing so – when I consider what’s in the best interests of ratepayers – because a trade group like Renewable Energy Vermont wants to advance their goals.”

(Dillon) O’Brien has agreed to extend the public comment period for the plan until mid-March. More public hearings will also be held around the state.

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

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