McClaughry: Vermont’s four plans to defeat climate change

By John McClaughry

A year ago the Global Warming Solutions Act created a 23-member Vermont Climate Council to develop a Climate Action Plan strict enough to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 80% over the next 28 years.

Such a dramatic reduction could conceivably be achieved by Plan A: an increasingly burdensome carbon tax on gasoline, diesel, heating oil, natural gas and propane. A heavy enough tax burden would make those fuels too expensive for many Vermont motorists, homeowners and businesses, and with enough subsidies they would switch to electrified transportation, home and business heat pumps, wood heat, and methane from landfills.

John McClaughry

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

The increased electricity demand would be met by conservation and renewables like hydro, wind, solar, and wood burning plants, backed up by purchases from the New England power grid. The carbon tax would bring in up to $500 million a year that the Legislature could use to subsidize home weatherization, electric vehicles, and lots and lots of wind and solar projects.

The carbon tax backers acknowledged that the Legislature could use the carbon tax proceeds for Medicaid, highway maintenance or retirement fund shortfalls instead of climate subsidies, and that a large chunk of the tax revenues would have to be used to pay off the lower income and working families stuck with tax-inflated motor fuel and home heating bills.

But the carbon tax forces, spearheaded by the Vermont Public Interest Group (VPIRG), couldn’t get a two-to-one liberal House and Senate to even vote on a carbon tax bill. Not only that, but Gov. Phil Scott repeatedly opposed a carbon tax as a regressive burden on Vermonters and a crippling blow to Vermont’s economy struggling to emerge from the COVID pandemic.

Enter Plan B: the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI). This 12-state plan would levy increasing motor fuel taxes on motorists and businesses, and rebate an unspecified fraction of the take back to the participating states to pay for the usual climate subsidies.

When this plan appeared in late 2019, three New England governors indicated support for it. New Hampshire’s Chris Sununu rejected it out of hand as “a financial boondoggle” and the governors of Maine and Vermont opted to watch and listen.

But as gas prices shot up in late 2021, one by one the three supportive New England governors ran away from TCI, abandoning its motor fuel tax. The Vermont Climate Council, whose Action Plan is due out this week, reportedly still hopes that TCI can be dragged out of the grave and its motor fuel taxes put into effect — in an election year when rising fuel prices are a hot issue among the voters.

Among the council’s new ideas is the Clean Heat Standard, developed by council member and former PUC Chair Richard Cowart. The document acknowledges that carbon taxes high enough to drive down the CO2 emissions to levels required by the GWSA won’t prove practical. But all is not lost.

Enter Plan C: The state will simply force fuel distributors (or their upstream wholesalers) to persuade their customers to make “heat switching choices,” such as replacing petroleum heat with electric heat pumps.

The fuel dealers who will deliver less and less of their product will need to reinvent themselves as purveyors of carbon-free amenities, for which they will be given “clean heat credits.” Bureaucrats at the Public Utility Commission will require the fuel dealers to turn in sufficient credits to satisfy mandatory PUC quotas. Failure to turn in the required credits would lead to “non-compliance payments” (i.e. fines). Workers no longer processing and delivering heating fuel can find new jobs installing insulation, heat pumps, solar panels and wind turbines.

Unlike a carbon tax and TCI, the Clean Heat Standard doesn’t promise to generate any significant revenue for the state to distribute. It just mobilizes the state’s power to drive down and ultimately prohibit the sale of an enviro-disfavored product.

The Climate Council will (irrationally) cling to the hope of resurrecting the revenue-producing TCI. It will also likely propose banning the sale of internal combustion vehicles by 2035, giving out a billion dollars worth of free home weatherization over the coming eight years, and requiring the utilities to deliver discounted or free electricity to those lucky subsidized electric vehicle owners at the expense of other ratepayers.

And then there’s Plan D: If all this doesn’t succeed in driving CO2 emissions down to the GWSA-mandated level by 2025, the Conservation Law Foundation can go to court to get a judge to tell state agencies (and legislature?) to act ever more aggressively to achieve that result.

Vermonters can weigh in on this collection of proposals during the coming legislative session, and on Election Day 2022.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Tony Webster and John McClaughry
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11 thoughts on “McClaughry: Vermont’s four plans to defeat climate change

  1. Actually, you failed to mention Plan E: Intelligent residents of Vermont will move out of Vermont to more sane states. We are actively in the process of readying our home for sale, are working with two out-of-state realtors, and three of our four grown kids are either already living out West or in the process of moving. Yep, Vermont will have a cleaner environment due to fewer people. The sheer stupidity and hubris of these climate evangelists is appalling. We loved everything about Vermont except the insane diabolical liberal progressive government. After 25 years here their ruinous policies have finally chased us out of our dream home and retirement plans. We are red state bound just as soon as we can sell our house.

  2. The steps in the outline are very likely not practacal and will bankrupt many individuals in the process if attempted.
    Some of the promoters of this non-sense have already been voted out of office; namely Zuckerman and Speaker Johnson. Any legislator who values his/her worth had ought to remember that fact. Because nothing has changed which will make this any more palatable, in fact it is worse. That is why neighboring states have thrown in the towel, which is what should happen here in VT.
    Control of people and their money does have limits; Zuckerman and Johnson found that out.

  3. China, India, etc., to Continue High Levels of Coal Burning, per Glasgow COP26
    https://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/wind-and-solar-provide-50-percent-of-future-new-england

    China and India will not sacrifice their economic progress on the altar of global warming. Do you really believe China and India can afford to stop burning coal? Do you think they want to? Of course not.

    India
    India made it perfectly clear at the beginning of the Glasgow COP26, the developed nations should de-industrialize first, before asking developing nations to follow suit.

    India declared it would not sign the statement of COP26 goals regarding coal burning. The statement read “close down coal by 2030”. India insisted that be replaced by “phase down unabated coal”.

    Unabated refers to the common practice of Indian households, etc., cooking over open fires with coal, a major source of local air pollution. It would be phased down (no time limit was stated).

    All this means:

    1) Burning coal in power plants, with air pollution abatement systems, would be unaffected (no time limit was stated).
    2) The major coal burning countries, such as China, India, Australia, Brazil, etc., would continue to burn coal.

    China
    Despite various RE boosters, such as financial adviser Bloomberg, hyping China’s wind and solar efforts, the reality is, almost 80% of China’s electricity growth is from fossil fuels, almost entirely coal. Because China is so big, that fossil growth is worsening its own air pollution, plus the air pollution around the world; the soot falls on snow/ice-covered areas. Melting of snow/ice is much quicker.

    China burns about 4 BILLION metric ton of coal each year, more than the rest of the world combined. Its reliance on coal is increasing.
    China has expanded its mines to produce an additional 220 million Mt of coal in 2021, up almost six percent from 2020.
    China is planning to build 43 new coal-fired power plants and 18 new blast furnaces.

    From third qtr. 2020, to third qtr. 2021, China added 460.2 TWh of fossil electricity, which is 3.9 times the total annual electricity supply of NE, or 76.7 times the annual electricity supply of Vermont.

    Electricity production growth was 586.9 TWh, up 10.7%, of which 460.2 TWh, or 78.4%, was from fossil fuels, mostly coal.
    Wind growth was 89 TWh, up 28.4%, from a low base
    Solar growth was 12.6 TWh, up 10.2%, from a low base.
    Nuclear growth was 33.2 TWh, up 12.3%, from a low base

    China plans to build 200,000 MW of near-zero-CO2 nuclear plants; about 150 units, each 2,350 MW, on about 75 sites, at a cost of $440 billion, by 2035

    Amortizing the capital cost at 3.5%/y over 60 years would be ($17,556,485,920/y) / (200,000 MW x 8,766 h/y x 0.90, CF) = $0.01113/kWh, about one-third the cost of EU and US nuclear plants.

  4. John,

    Here is what happens when non-technical, liberal arts majors in Massachusetts are in charge of energy systems.

    All URLs can be accessed via the URL of the article

    PLAYING RUSSIAN ROULETTE WITH RELIABLE ELECTRICITY SERVICE IN NEW ENGLAND
    https://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/playing-russian-roulette-with-reliable-electricity-service-to-new

    New England experienced an unusual cold spell from December 24, 2017 – January 8, 2018
    The image was created by the New England electric system operator, ISO-NE.

    Fuel Shifts

    Fuel oil consumption increased, almost instantaneously, from a normal annual average of about 0.3%, to an abnormal average of about 27%, of NE-generated electricity fed into the NE grid, during the cold period
    Coal consumption increased from 2% to 6%, during the cold period
    Gas consumption decreased from 46% to 24%, during the cold period, because gas was shifted to building space heating systems.

    The next set of images were created by Warren Van Wijck, Ferrisburgh, Vermont

    Link to Interactive page
    The electricity sources, on the left side, can be clicked to display how the fuels stack up.
    Interactive display of Fuel Usage and Demand during Arctic Freeze

    The interactive page reveals oil generation increasing from a normal of about 1,000 MWh/d (thin grey line) to a maximum of 129,912
    MWh, on January 7, 2018, equivalent to about 100* 129,912/430,000 = 30.1% of the system load!!

    On Jan. 7, 2018, wind and solar made minor contributions to the 430,000 MWh grid load.

    Wind production was 13,591 MWh from 1,300 MW of wind turbines connected to the NE grid, at a capacity factor of 13,591 MWh/(1,300 MW x 24 h) = 0.436, i.e., a high CF means favorable onshore winds winds. See URL

    Solar production was a minuscule 1,235 MWh

    Misplaced Priorities of Government Bureaucrats

    The fuel shift 1) caused at least several million ton of additional CO2 emissions, 2) would have been at least 50% less, if almost all buildings had been zero-net-energy, i.e., highly sealed and highly insulated, and had high-efficiency space heating systems.

    The governments of Connecticut and Massachusetts should have implemented energy efficiency measures several decades ago.
    However, the career, renewable energy bureaucrats in those governments had sexier measures in mind.

    They had been contacted, and wined and dined, and taken on sales trips, by the sales forces of European companies, for several years.
    Those companies had been implementing about 25,000 MW of wind turbine systems in Europe, during the past 40 years.
    The virtues of offshore wind systems were played up, the drawbacks were hidden/not mentioned, as is the normal practice.

    RE bureaucrats perceived an RE panacea. A “popular” groundswell was artificially created, with help of:

    1) The gullible/non-technical media, always eager to use sensational news to sell newspapers, magazines, TV shows, etc.

    2) Wall Street’s financial services firms, which would create many MULTI-BIILION-DOLLAR tax shelters, for high-income people, for decades. See Note.

    As a result, career RE bureaucrats have been concentrating on building highly subsidized, very expensive offshore wind systems, that would produce electricity at least 2 to 3 times the NE wholesale price of about 5 c/kWh. See Appendix

    That average wholesale price has been constant starting in 2009, already for 12 years, courtesy of the NE dual-fuel gas plants and nuclear plants, that reliably, and efficiently, produce steady, low-CO2, low-cost electricity, at less than 5 c/kWh.
    Both sources represent about 42.6% (gas) and 21.9% (nuclear) of the annual electricity loaded onto the NE grid in 2020.

    NOTE: The federal government proposed to subsidize the installation of 30,000 MW of offshore wind systems by 2030, just 8 years from now, which is a total impossibility, because the EU to installed 25,000 MW of offshore wind turbines in 40 years. See URL

    NOTE:
    Warren Buffett Quote: “I will do anything that is basically covered by the law to reduce Berkshire’s tax rate,” Buffet told an audience in Omaha, Nebraska recently. “For example, on wind energy, we get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That’s the only reason to build them. They don’t make sense without the tax credit.”

    Obstructions by RE Folks: Pennsylvania is blessed with an abundant supply of gas, but the infamous Governor Cuomo, of NY, to polish his “climate-change-fighting” credentials, has been obstructing, the much needed, extension/augmentation of the gas pipe lines that are needed to provide reliable electricity service to New England.

    Various RE entities, in Connecticut and Massachusetts, were his allies. They have been obstructing, the much needed, augmentation of gas and oil storage capacities.

    BTW, similar tactics had been used by such RE folks in California, which resulted in major havoc and blackouts, during a US southwest heat wave, i.e., no air conditioning with 115 F temperatures!!

    As a result of these RE tactics, the NE dual-fuel gas plants, that reliably, and efficiently, produce steady, low-CO2, low-cost electricity (at about 5 c/kWh), did not have enough gas during the cold spell (temperatures were in single digits for 8 days, and as low as 4.2F), because much of the Pennsylvania gas supply was diverted for building heating in Boston and other cities.

    Those dual-fuel plants were forced to use much more expensive oil, which is much “dirtier” than gas, i.e., it has much more particulate/kWh than gas, and much more CO2/kWh than gas.

    Rolling black-outs, and 100% black-outs, were imminent, because the stored oil supply was almost used up towards the end of the cold spell.
    Millions of people would have been freezing their butts off, in the dark, with leaking pipes.
    Note the large amount of oil generation (grey area) from Dec. 26 to Jan. 9
    Note the cold spell temperatures (thin line) from Dec. 26 to Jan. 9

    RE folk obstructions:

    – Required additional capital costs for 1) converting gas plants to dual fuel, 2) expanding oil and gas storage systems
    – Worsened global warming by having 1) more particulate/kWh, 2) more CO2 per kWh

    Bitter Fruits of RE-folk “Successes”: If RE folks had been successful to ban “dirty” oil, it would have taken the addition of 9,000 MW of offshore wind turbines, connected to the NE grid, to produce the same quantity of electricity, as was produced by oil, i.e., 9,000 MW x 24 h x 0.601, CF = 129,912 MWh (a high CF means favorable offshore winds), on Jan. 7, 2018.

    That wind electricity would have been at least 2 to 2.5 times the cost of gas, on and “all-in” basis. See URL and Appendix

    The turnkey capital cost of the RE-folk “success” would have been $36 to $40 BILLION, including grid expansion/augmentation.
    More of such RE-folk “successes”, and we would all be in the poorhouse!!

    NOTE: If the 9,000 MW of offshore wind turbines would have had less favorable winds, the wind electricity production might have been 60,000 MWh, instead of 129,912 MWh, on Jan. 7, 2018.
    Gas plants would have had to come to the rescue to reliably fill in the wind shortfall, if there had been sufficient oil or gas.

    NOTE: If, per wishes of RE folks, gas plants had been shut down, and oil and gas storage systems had been empty, 100% black-outs would have been required to avoid shutting down the entire NE system.
    Using battery systems to provide 69,912 MWh shortfall to the grid would cost at least 69,912 x 1,000 x 1/0.8, use factor x $700/kWh = $61.1 BILLION, if the batteries would be discharging from 90% full to 10% full, which is allowed on rare occasions.

    These URLs provide examples of similar wind/solar lull conditions in Germany and New England

  5. All of this mashing of teeth by the VT prog libs to be the spear point for the Global Climate Change (whatever that has come to mean) crowd has any rational person shaking their heads in disbelief. They (VT prog libs) are so emotionally tied to this philosophical bent that nothing seems to be able to deter or even modify their belief system.
    All that needs to be said is that even if they prevailed in the most drastic of their imagined programs paid for on the backs of their poorest citizens and literally bankrupting the state, the total impact on CO2 emissions relative to the Global emissions is so minuscule and with so many zeros to the left of the period as to be unfathomable to most of us save, perhaps, a few math gurus.

  6. What chance do any of Plans A, B, C, D above or any other plan have in defeating climate change?

    Looking at Montpelier’s record of historic failures and stunning under performance in developing big programs to solve the big problems plaguing the State doesn’t paint an encouraging picture of success with defeating climate change. Take a look at years of poor performance:

    Shumlin’s Single Payment Plan

    Creation and effectiveness of the Green Mountain Care Board

    Strategies to attract new businesses to Vermont

    Strategies to keep young and educated people in Vermont

    Efficiently and honestly managing the EB-5 Program

    Years of failure in addressing State Public Employee Retirement Programs

    And most recently: The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services called the enrollment benchmarks for the state’s All-Payer Model “unattainable” following years of missing goals.

    Based on past historic performance, what chance does the Global Warming Solution Act solving anything?

  7. Welcome to the future of VT.

    ps://www.cfact.org/2021/11/22/scotland-cut-down-14-million-trees-to-make-way-for-wind-power/

  8. One potential issue for the Climate Evangelists to resolve, is where does the electricity for this grand scheme come from? Vermont is somewhat of a eunuch in the electron-production game, having shuttered Vermont Yankee and discouraging domestic hydropower- we are at the mercy of purchasing power from somewhere. And all those somewheres have another group of Climate Evangelists whom don’t approve of that form of energy production or transmission, whatever it is. Wind? Not so much..ridgelines, remember. Solar? and cut down all the trees or convert farmland? Electric transmission lines? They’re ugly and harm some amphibian or flower. Even if transmission lines were approved, who can afford to pay for them?
    This whole scheme is yet another can, kicked down the legislative road.
    McClaughry nailed it again- Vote carefully in November 2022. Your ability to live in Vermont depends on it.

    • Yup without a new clean small footprint Nuke plant there is no such thing
      as clean power that can handle the load of more worthless battery cars..
      We’ll just be buying off the grid power produced by coal, Nat gas, and oil
      plants in other states… passing the buck of emissions to the other states..

      Just another unwinnable war fought by leftist ijits who are stuck on stupid…

      • Russian Small Modular Reactors, SMRs
        https://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/wind-and-solar-provide-50-percent-of-future-new-england

        Russia plans to build a fleet of floating nuclear power plants and small on-shore installations, based on Russian-made small modular reactors (SMRs). These units will be available for deployment to hard-to-reach areas of Russia’s North and Far-East, and for export. Such power plants could be used all over the world, instead of CO2-emitting fossil plants.

        A Russian-built floating nuclear power plant is equipped with two KLT-40S reactor systems, each with a capacity of 35 MW, similar to those used on icebreakers. It is 144 m long and 30 m wide, and has a displacement of 21,000 metric ton.

        The project was started in May 2009. Reactors were installed in 2013. Since December 2019, the ship has been anchored at a dock in the City of Pevek, in northern Siberia, to provide electricity to power the plant and the entire town.

        Steam from the low-pressure end of the steam turbine is used to produce hot water for domestic hot water and for building heating. The hot water is pumped, via underground piping, to a large number of nearby buildings, i.e., a near-zero-CO2, highly efficient (about 65%), DHW/district heating system.

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