PUC lacks confidence it can manage the clean heat standard

By Rob Roper

The clean heat standard bill, S.5, would put Vermont’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in charge of figuring out how the program would actually work — after the bill becomes law — and managing it once in place.

This will be a huge, complicated, expensive task. It involves figuring out how to establish and police a system that mandates over a hundred “obligated” fuel dealers — which the PUC admittedly knows nothing about — and purchase “clean heat credits” that don’t currently exist. These credits will be created by hundreds of individuals and businesses who install heat pumps, weatherize homes, and perform similar CO2 emissions reduction activities around the state — actions that the PUC will have to verify, calculate, track ownership, and retire.

Two representatives from the PUC, Thomas Knauer, policy director, and Kyle Landis-Marinello, general counsel, testified before the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee about what the bill directs their agency to do and what changes to the language they would recommend.

At the end of their discussion, Sen. Anne Watson, D-Washington, asked, “So, you all are comfortable creating this program?”

What should have been a softball turned out to be an awkward question as Knauer and Landis-Marinello fumbled for an answer: “We have a lot of concerns about doing something that hasn’t been done before. At the end of the day, we do what the legislature directs us to do, and we’ll do our best with it. I think with these changes [asked for in testimony] it will increase our chance of success. But, at the end of the day this is a new thing.”

Video: PUC lacks confidence it can manage the clean heat standard

This was not a ringing expression of confidence regarding the likely success of a program with the objective of re-shaping the entire Vermont economy and culture surrounding thermal energy.

The Scott administration through the Agency of Natural Resources has repeatedly expressed its concern that the Legislature is moving too fast in pushing to pass the clean heat standard into law, having done almost no analysis as to what the program would cost to administer, how it would work or what overall economic impacts it would have.

One of the main problems the PUC sees in its future is the fact that they have no relationships with or understanding of the fuel dealers who would become the “obligated parties” under the clean heat standard whom they would have to regulate. There is no way to independently verify who the obligated parties are to, for example, inform them that they are required to comply with the law. The only way for them to know, the PUC testified, is if the obligated party registers with the PUC. This reality led to a request by the PUC for S.5 to contain severe penalties for failure to register, and language clarifying that not knowing one is required to register cannot be used as a legal defense against non-compliance.

Another red flag raised by the PUC was their reluctance to having to deal with multiple generators of clean heat credits. Whereas the idea behind the clean heat standard as written is that it allows for many entities, down to individuals, to create and financially benefit from the credits by performing certain tasks (such as weatherizing homes or installing heat pumps), the PUC indicated it would rather deal with a single entity, such as Efficiency Vermont. As such, they would require all obligated parties to designate an single Default Delivery Agent of credits, and disallow them (unless they apply for and receive special permission from the PUC) from creating and owning credits themselves.

While this would make policing the system simpler, it would also undermine the objective expressed by the bill writers that current fossil fuel dealers would get a financial incentive to adapt their businesses to selling clean alternatives to fossil fuels. This was expressed as an important aspect of the law because it would offer these companies an alternative to going out of business, and adapting the fossil fuel delivery labor force to the clean heat industry is necessary to meet the project goals under the Global Warming Solutions Act.

All this is not a concern to the senators on the committee. Chairman Chris Bray, D-Addison, stated in response to PUC that, “We are standing up something new and at this point don’t have all the details … [and] will learn more by actually operating the program. Sometimes we’ll worry that you have to have figured out everything before you begin. There’s a wise prudence that we’re figuring out enough to take the next step.”

While it might not be possible to know everything before embarking on a policy as complex as the clean heat standard, wise prudence might call for having at least some idea of whether or not the agency charged with carrying out the plan is at all capable of doing so, and that they can demonstrate that capability at least on paper. Instead, Bray would rather we just “live and learn,” which is often what people say after they have made a terrible mistake.

Rob Roper is a freelance writer who has been involved with Vermont politics and policy for over 20 years. © Copyright True North Reports 2023. All rights reserved.

7 thoughts on “PUC lacks confidence it can manage the clean heat standard

  1. Trying to solve global warming by using Vermont specific solutions shows the danger of when we let ideology trump rationality. Having what we believe, despite the evidence, determine not only how we act, but also how we want others to act, does not end well.

  2. Quote from George Will article “There’s nothing more depressing than a cheerful liberal” from 2018: “And that the bigger government becomes, the more it is manipulated by those who are sufficiently confident, articulate and sophisticated to understand government’s complexities, and wealthy enough to hire skillful agents to navigate those complexities on their behalf? This is why big government is invariably regressive, transferring wealth upward.”

  3. bray and all the rest responsible for this farce that will accomplish NOTHING still can’t realize their in over their heads. No commission or agency want’s anything to do with gwsa because they know it can’t work and they don’t want to be hitched to the boondoggle invented by a one sided majority that hasn’t a clue about the monster their trying to implement. The other states that were in at the start have dropped it like a hot potato but not our stuck on stupid legislators..

  4. Thank you Robert for this clear summary. It seems quite clear that Chairman Chris Bray is not only unable to explain why he is pushing for this ecofascist law but he now clearly admits that he does not understand the principle, the potential functioning and the practical implementation of that law. This clearly demonstrates that this elitist legislation has been pushed into Vermont, the petri dish of progressivism, as an experimental attempt to satisfy the grand design of the globalist renewable industry.

    I will never forget how in 2016 when as a group of citizens we pushed for regulation of night time wind turbine noise, Paul Burns, Ben Walsh , Todd Bailey and other lobbyists were trying desperately to obstruct us and how Senator Bray and then Governor Peter Shumlin were in lock step with the lobbyists. Empathy for the victims of wind turbine noise was never their concern, as the pain that will be suffered by Vermonters due to the financial cost of the Clean Heat Standard is neither. Those legislators who have clearly admitted that they are not working for Vermonters but for a planetary ideal which they do not understand must scrap that bill and rescind the GWSA as well .https://vermontdailychronicle.com/subsidized-fortunes-sketchy-details-plague-vermont-plan-for-90-renewable-power/ https://vermontdailychronicle.com/when-wind-turbines-caused-sleep-deprivation-key-lawmakers-sided-with-big-wind/

  5. Sure, let’s commit to nonsense goals of immeasurable reductions in carbon dioxide, use an impossible schedule of commitments based on a plan that has not addressed power demands, costs for total implementation, Vermont manpower needs to install said plan, back-up details and costs to consumer for un-reliable wind/solar based energy! Cart before horse.
    And let’s not forget the impact of the entire US Inflation Reduction Act being .00028 degrees!

  6. S.5, says Vermont’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is in charge of figuring out how the program would actually work — after the bill becomes law — and managing it once in place. The PUC says, “We do what the legislature directs us to do.”

    Who’s on first… the chicken or the egg.

    Re: “While we believe the Clean Heat Standard is unworkable, the moral imperative of combatting climate change will likely continue to be put ahead of the moral imperative of being compassionate to the less fortunate.”

    Apparently not. The moral imperative of being compassionate to the less fortunate appears to be manifest in the legislature’s attempt to put the less fortunate out of their misery as quickly as possible.

    “There is no difference between communism and socialism, except in the means of achieving the same ultimate end: communism proposes to enslave men by force, socialism – by vote. It is merely the difference between murder and suicide.” – – Ayn Rand

Comments are closed.