By Don Keelan
My pessimistic side would have relished the post-mortem of what was known in this year’s Legislature as H.715. If adopted, the bill would have brought massive changes and costs to those who heat their homes and businesses with fossil fuels.
But I won’t.
The bill, referred to as the Clean Heat Standard (CHS), was passed in the House and Senate, but Governor Scott vetoed it. The Legislature attempted to override the veto in the closing days of the session. If not for the votes of three Democratic members, the veto would have been overturned.
As expected, there is much grievance and soul-searching among a host of politicians, nonprofit organizations, environmental groups and lobbyists. They had invested tens of thousands of dollars and hours to make the Clean Heat Standard a reality.
In the final analysis, the CHS legislation was a form of taxation cleverly masked to give its supporters political cover. The pro-CHS legislators were so concerned about not getting any taxation stain on them that they delegated the nuances of the bill’s details to the Public Utility Commission.
The PUC was to develop how to calculate the credits awarded to the fossil fuel dealers who installed alternate non-fossil fuel heating systems, and how to charge those who did not pay additional costs for fossil fuels.
In the interest of “throwing a bone,” the Legislature, just before taking its vote on the CHS, inserted into the bill to have the PUC come back with its findings and recommendations. The Governor, the minority party, and the three Democrats did not “take the bone.”
The organizers in favor of H.715 are many; they are intelligent, committed to the doctrine of climate change, and have substantial in-state and out-of-state financial resources. They are unwilling to accept the CHS obituary but instead look for a reincarnation next January.
What would be helpful between now and next January when the Legislature comes back to Montpelier would be for CHS cohorts to adopt the suggestion I made last month: create a computer model of a town embracing all aspects of the legislation.
The model (I suggested the Town of Arlington) would consider timing to weatherize homes and businesses, the dollars it would take to complete, and where the labor would come from to do the work. Add in the timing, cost, and labor availability for installing heat pumps, pellet stoves or bio-fuel converters. The model would also disclose the timing, cost, and labor to re-wire the electric grid and transmission sub-stations in Arlington, as well as the installation of charging stations in homes, businesses, and the town’s two existing gas stations. The model would also illustrate what would happen to the dozen locally owned fuel dealers, not to mention their staff, equipment, trucks, and 100,000 oil storage tanks.
The need for a model has merit; in a recent issue of Vermont Business Magazine, Efficiency Vermont noted that its goal for the state is to weatherize 13,200 homes each year between now and 2030. Presently, only 2,000 homes are completed each year. At this rate, there will be 95,000 structures incompleted by 2030. If you go back in recent history to the Gov. Shumlin administration, it was a computer model that detailed how Universal Healthcare-Single Payer would work in Vermont. The model was quite clear: UHC would never work, and the concept was discarded.
There may come a time in the not-too-distant future when we will be less dependent on fossil fuels. In the meantime, we should not be forced to live with mandates nor have our lives dictated by lobbyists, well-funded nonprofits, or legislators beholden to such groups and not their constituents.
Preparing our communities to deal with climate change should be an educational, training-oriented, and supportive process, not an enforcement. Why pro-CHS folks are so reluctant to test their mandates is quite puzzling and suspect.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.