Environmental groups see opportunity to change Vermont’s energy standards and infrastructure next year

By Ciara McEnenany | Community News Service

MONTPELIER — Environmental groups see an opportunity to change Vermont’s energy standards and infrastructure next year as more than a third of the state’s legislators will be new to the State House.

Renewable Energy Vermont

Renewable Energy Vermont Executive Director Peter Sterling

“The number one priority is ensuring that, as we ask Vermonters to electrify everything, that all of our energy needs are met with 100% renewable energy from solar, wind and small-scale hydro sources, period,” said Peter Sterling, executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont.

“Vermont’s current law does not meet this goal,” he said, “so we want to change Vermont’s renewable energy standards.”

Earlier this year, the state Department of Public Service released a new version of Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan that looked to expand on energy goals established in 2011 and 2016: That the state should meet 25% of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2025, 45% by 2035 and 90% by 2050.

For the transportation sector, the 2022 plan called for meeting 10% of energy needs through renewable energy by 2025 and 45% of those needs by 2040; in the thermal sector those goals were 30% by 2025 and 70% by 2042. In the electric sector, the plan called for using carbon-free resources to produce all its electric energy by 2032, with at least three-quarters of energy needs using renewable resources.

Sterling said he believes Vermont has lost its position as the leading clean energy state in New England, and we need to play catch up.

Bruce Parker/TNR

VPIRG Executive Director Paul Burns

Paul Burns, executive director of Vermont Public Interest Research Group, said for the state to meet its energy goals, legislators need to commit to building infrastructure — like expanded public transportation and new energy plants — that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the state’s reliance on fossil fuels.

“If you have any real hope of meeting that goal, there’s much that needs to be done in terms of establishing the infrastructure to make that work in the state,” Burns said. “And that will require a commitment on the part of this administration going forward for more infrastructure — for instance, charging stations and electric vehicles.”

The election next week is set to bring historic turnover to the Legislature — with similar levels of fresh faces running for statewide executive offices, too. More than a third of lawmakers will be new come January’s session. This high turnover in the Legislature poses a chance for environmental lobbying groups like Sterling’s and Burns’ to set the tone of the debate.

The two see a chance to make environmental issues a major focus for the new session.

“We are going to be setting up opportunities to connect with legislators, both new and those who are returning to office in the days following the election,” Burns said. “We’re planning a series of webinars that will be open to the legislators so that they can hear what issues we’re working on and some of the subjects that we hope to get done in this upcoming legislative session.”

Burns said he sees particular promise in the flood of funds the federal government gave out last year through the American Rescue Plan Act.

The COVID-19 relief act sent the state $2.7 billion to help sectors of the state that have been struggling since the onset of the pandemic. Legislators have already agreed to use $640 million of those funds to advance environmental initiatives, including clean water and action on climate change.

“It is viable now to say we need tens of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars of investments in order to try to avoid the worst catastrophes associated with climate change,” Burns said. “We really wish we could get alternatives to fossil fuels right now for heating, transportation, electricity, and that’s going to be a big, big push for us.”

You might think the good chunk of new legislators would make things harder. But Sterling said he believes his group’s biggest challenge lies in the governor’s office.

“I think by far the biggest challenge is that we have a governor who just really isn’t committed to taking the big steps necessary to combat climate change,” Sterling said.

Republican Gov. Phil Scott has a recent history of vetoing bills focused on reducing the impact of climate change and protecting the environment that he sees as too costly, untransparent or restrictive, or that give more power to state agencies than he is comfortable with. Scott is up for reelection Nov. 8.

In 2020, he unsuccessfully vetoed the Global Warming Solutions Act, which requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 26% below 2005 levels by 2025, 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80% below that mark by 2050. The bill lets individuals sue the state into compliance if those goals aren’t met.

In May, Scott vetoed a bill that would have required fuel providers in Vermont to decrease how much fossil fuel they sell as a way to make heating more environmentally friendly. Then in June he vetoed a bill to set goals of conserving significant portions of Vermont’s land by 2030 and 2050.

Sterling said he sees that track record as a hurdle. “Until we have the governor on board with what everyone else is saying Vermont needs to do, it’s a real struggle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

The Community News Service is part of the Reporting and Documentary Storytelling Program at the University of Vermont.

Images courtesy of Public domain, Renewable Energy Vermont and Bruce Parker/TNR
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18 thoughts on “Environmental groups see opportunity to change Vermont’s energy standards and infrastructure next year

  1. The Long March of the Electrical Tyrants is well underway. Government busybodies and politicians who bear no consequences for being wrong are telling us what kind of cars we MUST drive. How we MUST heat our homes. What types of fuel we MUST do without. How we MUST order our personal lives. The only governments who do this to their people are Communist and Socialist (Communist Lite). Vermont is becoming a state of top-down dictators. We the people are being treated like mindless serfs. These people in love with UN agendas are not ASKING us to “electrify everything”. They are ORDERING us to do so.

  2. This magic electricty project has turned into the scorched Earth blizzard of STUPIDITY
    For those who do not like our current electricity –
    JUST UNHOOK IT AND AND RECHARGE YOUR ELECTRIC CAR
    WITH SOLAR PANELS OVERNIGHT. MORNING COFFEE READY BY NOON

  3. I spent my life working in power generation. Studies by people with working brains found that renewables and battery storage are a supplant to base load generation, and their only true value is to provide (through battery storage) the instantaneous power needed when load peaks come, for the few minutes before gas turbines can come up to speed and synchronize to the grid. — that is the reality of how power generation works, and will always work. Anyone who think-wishes otherwise is a certified idiot or crook.

    • Ed, I continue to be concerned that Hydro Quebec’s (HQ) sustainable, ‘green’, electric power is constantly ignored. I understand the politics. Quebec’s indigenous population is a convenient ‘straw man’ argument. But the same can be said of placing solar arrays and windmills, not to mention our homes and businesses for that matter, on Algonquin and Iroquois land (depending on the period in history considered).

      So here we are. Sitting right next door to the fourth largest electric energy producer in the world. Hydro power that is nearly carbon free, sustainable for …as long as grass grows, winds blow, and the sky is blue.

      But most importantly, HQ currently provides 30% of Vermont’s electricity at a cost of about 6 or 7 cents per kwh. That’s one-third the cost of the alternative wind and solar power we now use. And HQ has the capacity to provide all the power Vermont requires.

      These VPIRG folks, and others like them, are, and have been, the epitome of crony capitalists. As long as they’re invested in the wind, solar and battery businesses, their conflict-of-interest enablers (Peter Welch and his VT Public Utility Commissioner wife, Margaret Cheney), will continue to suck the life out of us to feather their own nests.

      • “people with working brains”
        Hence the biggest problem Vermont faces… we need more thinkers and less followers of other entities like the UN climate counsel and commifornia..

        And yes Greg (further down) the biggest power option which should be fueling EV’s instead of strip mining the earth is Hydrogen…along with more nuke reactors to power the grid.

          • Oh yes Jay I love HQ but the leftarded faction ruled that out because of the poor natives who were payed billions for the land. Just like their no nukes that killed Vernon.

          • Oh yes Jay I love HQ but the leftist commie faction ruled that out because of the poor native’s who we’re payed billions for the land.. just like their no nukes that killed Vernon.

  4. The Creator gave us the solution. Are we too stupid to put it into play?
    Water is the most abundant substance on Earth. Water is hydrogen and oxygen. Low voltage electricity such as from solar photo-voltaic cells splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen can be safely, efficiently and economically stored as a liquid and later be distributed, as needed.
    There is more than enough VT sunshine in a year to produce a huge surplus of hydrogen—enough to far surpass all of VT’s energy needs, in every sector. Solar panels on every VT roof will easily meet our hydrogen production needs. As a bonus extra, we can abandon our reliance on the dangerous and unreliable national grid, in favor of interconnected in-state micro-grids. But no, we’re unwilling to bite the bullet and get on with it. Instead, we insist on continuing to befoul Earth’s precious atmosphere with poisonous fossil fuels and their byproducts, obtained at great expense and with grave environmental consequences from beneath Earth’s surface. Is it stupidity or just to satisfy the pure greed of a few wealthy pigs. Maybe it’s a little of both. In any case, let’s get over ourselves and get on with the job.

    • What is the per kwh cost for hydrogen, produced by electrolysis, transformed back into electricity with a fuel cell?

      HQ power is available, today, for 6 or 7 cents per kwh.

      My pipe dream is ‘compact fusion’. Just imagine a 100 megawatt power plant that fits in the back of a tractor trailer. https://lockheedmartin.com/en-us/products/compact-fusion.html

      And all we need to fuel it is seawater. “When fusion power becomes a reality, just one gallon of seawater could produce as much energy as 300 gallons of gasoline.”

  5. Sterling’s comment that “until we have the Governor on board with what everyone else is saying Vermont needs to do” is telling. He counts those who agree with the all-electric and renewables plan as “everyone.” Big mistake. Every single Vermonter is a “stakeholder,” to use a much bandied about word, and a good number of them doubt the wisdom of the imperatives of the Global Warming Solutions Act. The governor is doing his job in demanding fiscal responsibility and accountability.

  6. “For more than a decade, renewable policies have been promulgated by a revolving door of lobbyists becoming renewable entrepreneurs, lobbyists becoming politicians, and some politicians voting for policies satisfying their ideological inclinations without apparent regard to the effects of these policies on Vermont’s citizens…..”

    https://vermontdailychronicle.com/subsidized-fortunes-sketchy-details-plague-vermont-plan-for-90-renewable-power/

  7. The energy storage demands (batteries, or yet to be developed technology) to run Vermont on solar and wind will be in the $100 billion range or more. VT can go a week or more without much sun in below freezing weather! Never mind the snow cover on your solar panels. Wind is a loser unless the plan puts a turbine on every hillside in the state (and replace them every 15-20 years) along with the back-up storage.
    Running headlong into an energy shortage by abandoning hydro-carbon fuel before suitable replacement is proven reliable with sufficient capacity for an all electric energy system is suicide.

    Within a few months, the “divest fossil fuels” campaign is going to look like the dumbest movement in history. (This was from a year ago!)

  8. OMG, this will be a disaster…this guy wants:

    ““The number one priority is ensuring that, as we ask Vermonters to electrify everything…”

    Whaaaaa? There isn’t enough electric generation ability to cover that….there isn’t the storage ability nor distribution capability…there isn’t enough wind or solar land available to blanket the state!…VT Yankee is shut down….nat gas fired plants will be refused…..Hippy Enviros fight Hydro Quebec electricity, because it isn’t fair to “indigenous peoples”….Enviros try to halt expansion of Coventry landfill which produces renewable methane. Enviros try to halt wind towers because they ruin their ridgeline view, kill birds & are noisy! Enviro regulations will halt any larger scale VT hydro dams, too costly also….because they hurt the fish habitat.

    This is beyond comical …idiots on parade…again.

    • Peter Sterling in 2014 was a health care” cognoscenti “. He was a lobbyist for single payer system health care system as director of Vermont Leads, an organization that advocates for single-payer healthcare in Vermont. Here is a snippet of his conversation with Amy Goodman from Democracy Now :https://www.democracynow.org/2014/11/5/can_push_for_single_payer_healthcare

      “AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about—I mean, there’s two things that have gone on here. Vermont could be the first single-payer state, but you, unlike a number of states, have had a complete crisis with the Obamacare exchange, with the Vermont healthcare exchange. How did that happen? And even if Governor Shumlin has made the point that, you know, it’s complicated, and that’s why we need single payer—that’s a very fine distinction—people see that the government can’t run healthcare in Vermont. And will he be able to carry out this mandate if indeed the Legislature chooses him?

      PETER STERLING: I mean, it’s a good point. And, I mean, we’re a small state. You’re largely going to see the same people who have been leading on the exchange lead on the movement to single-payer healthcare and to implementing it. But at the end of the day, the exchange is a problem with the website, which is on a very short timeline set up by the Affordable Care Act. We have many—a few years to do Green Mountain Care, so I think the governor can re-establish that confidence in his administration to implement up the nation’s first universal, publicly financed healthcare system.

      Peter Sterling knew and understood as little about healthcare under the Shumlin administration that he does today about energy under the Scott administration .

      • I am reminded of the carnival barker, Col. Tom Parker that ran Elvis Presley’s career- literally into the ground- twice- to fulfill Parker’s self serving greed. So many of these ‘experts’ are self anointed (and self serving) carneys using environmental evangelism, fear of health care costs and more in their sanctimonious pursuit of power and control.
        Do Burns, Sterling and countless others fit into the Parker mold? Ms. Thurston’s insight tells us so- yet so many Vermont residents are unable to see thru the smoke and mirrors, use the brainpower given them and think for themselves.
        Quite a conundrum we’ve allowed Vermont to be placed in. At the mercy of carnival barkers, showmen (and women) and grifters, unable to grasp reality.
        Most folk ignore people like Ms. Thurston, John McClaughry and Rob Roper and countless others that provide truthful insight as to what the cost and consequence is (and has been)to following the showman. Yet here we are, Election Day 2022- looking at more carnival shows to adopt as law to “save” something that maybe doesn’t need saving.

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