Alison Despathy: Affordable Heat Act was developed without transparency

This commentary is by Alison Despathy, of Danville. She has a clinical nutrition practice in St. Johnsbury.

Since 1999 Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment has dedicated her life to the VCE mission of “advocating for the well being of all Vermonters, striving for the protection of the natural world, land, air, water, wildlife, people, and especially the web of life.”

Alison Despathy

S.5, the Affordable Heat Act, has raised red flags since the beginning, and a concerning development has recently surfaced after Vermonters for a Clean Environment submitted a public records request to the Public Utilities Commission and the Department of Public Service for all material related to the Clean Heat Standard Design Group — a select group that convened regularly and separately from the Vermont Climate Council.

Annette observed that there was never any robust discussion or analysis of the decision to develop and implement a Clean Heat Standard or another strategy within the Climate Council itself. After reviewing the recently received public records and meeting minutes, it turns out that all of these conversations were happening outside of the Vermont Climate Council in the Clean Heat Standard Design Group (aka the Clean Heat Working Group).

Annette is in a unique position; She is one of the few members of the public who has watched most all of the Climate Council Cross Sector Mitigation subcommittee meetings. With this knowledge and after reviewing the Clean Heat Standard Design Group meeting records, it is evident to her “that the public is not being told an honest story and the legislature is not being told the truth about how this came about.”

Regular attendees of the Clean Heat Standard Design Group meetings consisted of Jared Duval of Energy Action Network, Richard Cowart, David Farnsworth, Richard Westman of the Regulatory Assistance Project, Riley Allen from the Department of Public Service who is now at the Public Utility Commission, Chris Neme, Gabrielle Stebbins of the Energy Futures Group, Don Rendall, Tom Murray and Neale Lunderville of Vermont Gas Systems.

This is deeply concerning because the options on how to reach the Vermont Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) requirements were not robustly presented, debated, analyzed or decided upon by the Vermont Climate Council. This was supposed to be their job because the Climate Council included representation from a diverse group including low income Vermonters, rural representatives, fuel dealers and the Agency of Natural Resources. Instead this decision was made by a self-selected, private group from the Burlington and Montpelier areas, some of whom also served on the Climate Council. This group decided on the Clean Heat Standard approach that led to the legislation, briefly introduced the concept to the Climate Council and then embedded it in the Climate Action Plan.

There is a lack of transparency in this situation. An allowance or other strategy could have been developed and rigorously discussed by the Climate Council in public. It never was. This is important for all to take into account when determining if this legislation is sound and is the best path for Vermont.

This new information has many now questioning the integrity of this process and the Clean Heat Standard legislation itself. The intended role of the Vermont Climate Council to develop a Climate Action Plan appears to have been usurped, bypassed and compromised.

One of the most concerning observations that Annette has witnessed is that the conversations happening within the Clean Heat Standard Design Group “were the kinds of things that you would have wanted to see the Climate Council doing, and that you would have expected.” She continues:

I think the legislators probably thought this happened — it never happened and that is the problem. We have this elite group … that has come up with a policy that proposes to totally disrupt an entire industry in the state of Vermont without the transparency that the legislators are being led to believe happened at the Climate Council. We are not having any of this honest discussion and I think that is the part of this that I find most disturbing. The legislature is being misled and we even heard our Attorney General Charity Clark state in her testimony, “We do support the Clean Heat Standard and urge you to pass it, the GWSA is law. It has instructed all of us to work together and the Climate Council did a phenomenal job in a short amount of time to provide a Climate Action Plan — the Clean Heat Standard was obviously in the forefront of the plan.”

Most legislators and the public believe this decision to use the Clean Heat Standard approach was made and deliberated upon by the Climate Council. This is not the case.

After a careful analysis of the recent public records from this Clean Heat Standard Design Group, Annette explained:

This whole thing is the result of a dishonest process. The reaction to that sort of thing is: STOP. Let’s have an honest discussion about how this came about. Who are the winners and losers? Is this good policy for Vermont at this time? I think that learning all that we have just learned — some of us thought that the PUC was going to be an independent reviewer. To find out they have been in the room from the very beginning, to find out the DPS including a current PUC commissioner was in the room from the very the beginning, it does not feel right to continue with something that was the product of such a hidden process.

Image courtesy of Public domain

6 thoughts on “Alison Despathy: Affordable Heat Act was developed without transparency

  1. Alison, thanks so much for the courage to speak up in a fair, detailed and factual manner.
    i hope to submit an editorial against this terrible, not thought out, we know better than you policy.

    my facetious first point is, if the legislators are so sure of themselves, why not mandate that they all have to do switch over before it comes up to vote. Call it a Beta test for two years. then and only then will they see the unintended consequences.

    second, since legislators set precedent by allowing almost anyone to sue the state of Vermont for not meeting stated goals. why can’t I sue the legislators for making projections that cost the citizens much more than they calculated. btw, that climate suing law a perfect example of what were they thinking. all the major environmental groups have circled the date on their lawsuit calendars to make a name for themselves.

  2. I’ve stated before in other areas, legislators did NOT listen to the people who wrote hundreds or even thousands of letter NOT to support S5 due to increased costs of heat. They chose the party over the people. They will do so again with paid family leave when they implement another payroll tax. The Democratic supermajority has all but declared war on the working people.

    And please, don’t give me this, “Republicans are no better.” Vermont is getting what it voted for.

    • John, the legislators are just the pawns & brainwashed puppets…It’s the CLF that needs to have letters, calls, emails sent to them…from the people of VT who may be greatly harmed. Do it peacefully… Who do you think feeds/lobbies the legislators all the climate doom, armageddon & extinction… anyway?

  3. Vermont Climate Council would do well to learn from Germany

    Germany’s Renewable Heating Plan To Cost Many Times More Than Expected

    The Federal Ministry of Economics, headed by politician Robert Habeck (Green party) has “GROSSLY MISCALCULATED” the cost of removing oil and gas heating systems from homes and buildings, and installing heat pumps in their place by 2045.

    Instead of 132 billion euros cost by 2045 for HOUSEHOLD BUILDINGS, the real price tag will be a whopping 621 billion euros!
    The total real price tag for ALL BUILDINGS will be 776 billion euros.

    “According to calculations by the property owners’ association Haus & Grund, Minister Habeck and his ministry have miscalculated by several hundred billion euros,” reports the German online here.

    Habeck’s Federal Ministry of Economics erroneously estimated the costs for homeowners at around 135 billion euros by 2045, however “citizens will have to pay many times the calculated costs.”

    The president of Germany’s property owners’ association, Kai Warnecke, told Bild newspaper, “The target is 500 000 new heat pumps a year, at an average cost of 40,000 euros per heat pump.”

    But the real number would have to be 1.5 million heat pumps each year, if Germany wishes to reach its stated 2045 CO2 target.

    Another huge mistake made by Habeck’s Ministry is forgetting that heat pumps have a lifetime of only 15 years, so already by 2038 the pumps will start being replaced.

    Habeck pledges to support citizens in replacing their oil and gas heating systems, but provides no details on the plan.

    Kai Warnecke warns of the huge costs in the pipeline for Germans: “If we assume about 80 per cent of the buildings are in the hands of the citizens, they will have to pay about 620.8 billion euros of the total 776 billion euros.”

    Already critics are calling the proposed bill incoherent and the feasibility of the project to be non-existent.

    Many homeowners are already struggling financially from high electricity prices, and high inflation, and stagnant real wages.

    When the costs of extensive home energy upgrades get added in, the total price tag soars to well over ONE TRILLION EUROS.
    Yet, the impact on the globe’s temperature from Germany’s planned contribution will be statistically insignificant.

  4. what you miss is …you reference the Vermont Climate Council …but who dictates/influences what the Vermont Climate Council does? Why, it’s the Shadow Gov’t in Montpelier…for all eco-enviro policies in VT…The Conservation Law Foundation… the Vermont Climate Council is just the superficial “group” used by CLF to “press” for the agenda they want – but CLF remains “behind the curtain”……and again, The CLF is neither elected nor appointed by anyone…. to have such policy influence in VT. But they get away with it….”LAWFARE”….just look at what the CLF said in recent legislative testimony….that if the legislature passes this Climate bill….verbatim, for all rules and regs demanded….but if the State cannot implement all of it, as passed…the CLF stated they are all but ready to SUE THE STATE OF VERMONT!

    • Where are the efforts to defund the CLF? Who is keeping the CLF financially funded? Are there any Legislators who can get this going? What organizations can be boycotted to push defunding the CLF?

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