MONTPELIER — Top representatives of the fuel industry took turns speaking at the House Energy and Technology Committee late last week to warn against a proposal to ban large fuel storage tanks.
“If you can’t build bulk tanks, you are not gonna drive a fuel oil truck from Morrisville to Bennington,” Matt Cota, executive director of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, told committee members last Thursday.
He further explained that large bulk-fuel tanks act as critical hubs for fuel storage, which enables dealers to expand operations, create more jobs and ultimately provide more of an affordable heating source to Vermonters.
Cota would like the committee to write in a specific exemption for such facilities into H.51, an act relating to fossil fuel infrastructure.
“What is not explicitly exempt, and what an attorney might view as fossil-fuel infrastructure, are the bulk-storage facilities, and before it gets to a [gas station] tank or before it gets to your car, it’s in all of the very large 20,000 to 30,000 tanks that we need to get the fuel from Albany or from Montreal to Portsmouth or Springfield Massachusetts,” he said. “And we put it there so it’s near your home in time for us to deliver it for your home to stay warm.”
Cota emphasized that the products are still critical to the heating and electric energy infrastructure, especially in the sometimes brutally cold Vermont temps. He said newer technologies such as cold climate heat pumps are a work-in-progress when it comes to performance in bitter-cold temperatures, when they’ve been known to sometimes fail.
While Vermont has embraced ambitious goals for alternative energy, Cota said fuel oils often make up the difference during cold New England winters.
“When that happens we rely on fuel-oil energy throughout the grid to provide enough electricity to supply us when it’s very cold out,” he said.
As an example, in 2018, Vermonters experienced the infamous “bomb-cyclone,” a 15-day stretch in New England in which the region used 85 million gallons of fuel oil — equal to all the fuel-oil used in Vermont for a typical year.
Casey Cota, owner of the Cota & Cota heating company, told the committee how his business provides important jobs and services. He also stressed the importance of large tanks.
“We wouldn’t have been able to grow to seven offices if the bill that we are thinking about passing here [becomes law],” he said. ” … If there’s less infrastructure, our drivers will have to drive more than an hour one way for some of our locations. So what does that do? It increases your costs. That means we don’t employ as many people.”
Manny Fletcher, VFDA executive board president, took issue with the notion that fuel oils don’t benefit Vermont’s economy.
“The industry has been good to me. That’s why it’s so frustrating to hear repeated over and over again that the products and services that we sell are not contributing to the local economy,” he said.
He said he currently represents over 1,200 CDL drivers with hazmat endorsements, 2,567 certified gas technicians, 794 certified oil technicians, and over 1,000 customer-services representatives.
Not all the representatives were ready to jump behind the fuel oil cause. For instance, state Rep. Michael Yantachka, D-Charlotte, took issue with the notion that any heating fuels are harmless for the environment.
“I don’t take issue with anything you said about being an essential part of our energy infrastructure; it’s a very valuable part,” he said. “I do take issue with your characterization of fuel oil as clean, because even if you have ultra-low sulfur, it does produce carbon dioxide emissions, a greenhouse gas which is contributing to climate change.”
Rep. Robin Chesnut-Tangerman, P/D-Middletown Springs, took issue with allowing the construction of new tanks, which are estimated to last at least 50 years when the Legislature is supposed to be following the policy towards 90 percent renewable energy by 2050.
“My question is how do we make that transition when our bridge is that long?” he said. “It doesn’t make sense for you to invest in a propane storage facility and rather than depreciate it over 50 years, you are told that you can only use it for 20.”
The response from Matt Cota again revealed the great disconnect between the two sides over Vermont’s energy future.
“We plan to use them for more than 20,” he responded. “I think we politely disagree on that.”