Renewable complaint is blindingly dumb

By Emerson Lynn 

It’s the innovation and foresight of the state’s energy sector – writ large – that has prompted its backers, including the governor, to push Vermont as the energy state, the example for others to follow. We are ideally suited geographically and politically. The economic development upside would be considerable, something that should have merit in a state that struggles to find strength elsewhere. And the concomitant environmental bonafides are such that others would pay heed.

So it’s baffling to read that a key part of what is trying to be accomplished – our push toward renewables – is being termed “deceptive.”

The charge, being filed with the Federal Trade Commission, alleges that Green Mountain Power, the state’s largest utility, is marketing itself as green when it’s closer to dirty brown. The petition has been filed by Kevin Jones, a Vermont Law School professor, Bruce Post, a former congressional staffer and Essex Selectboard member, Rep. Curt McCormack and Charles Johnson, Vermont’s state naturalist.

The complaint is this: Under Vermont law, GMP (and any other utility) is allowed to sell the value of its renewable energy as credits. GMP has done this to the tune of roughly $22 million. The utility is then able to use the money to reduce its rates, and the buyer is able to use the credits to meet its own renewable standards.

The effect in Vermont is two-fold: the renewable projects are built and Vermont ratepayers pay about five percent less for their electricity.

It’s a win-win. That’s how the law was written. It was as much an economic development piece as it was about producing renewable energy.

But the complainers don’t look at it that way. They think the utility is trying to mislead Vermonters into thinking they are producing more renewable energy for Vermonters when they are not.

That’s just stupid. The utility is crystal clear about the energy it produces and the energy it sells as credits.

But let’s consider the argument against selling the credits. If Vermont were not able to sell the credits, then the purchasers, the argument goes, would be forced to build the renewable projects themselves. That would yield more renewable energy projects and the world would be a better place.

That’s absurd from the outset. Vermont’s projects aren’t large enough to make a difference elsewhere. But if we didn’t have the law, and had not been able to sell the credits, then there is every likelihood the projects would not have been built. In the scheme of things, we now have completed projects and the experience to take on others. We’re ahead of the pack. That’s a good thing.

And are the petitioners really so daft as to think Vermonters would be pleased having to pay five percent more for their electric bill?

We get the fact that several of the petitioners have a blindingly ideological opposition to wind power, and that they intend to push any possibility that would raise the price of future projects. We don’t understand why the Vermont Law School would add its imprimatur to an effort that is easily rebutted and one that works against the state’s best interests. We don’t understand why the school would choose to make itself look like a 1970s environmental redux.

At no point has GMP tried to market itself as anything other than what the law stipulates. The petitioners are the ones trying to create confusion where none exists. GMP — and anyone else participating in selling the credits — has acted in precisely the way the Legislature ordered and Vermonters wanted: We have more renewables on line than we would have otherwise, we have more people employed than we would have otherwise, and we have lower utility rates than we would have otherwise.

Why would this be something to oppose?

Any sane person wouldn’t.

The only outcome the petitioners desire is one that would make it more difficult to sell the credits, or to remove them all together. That would raise the cost of building renewable energy projects, i.e., wind, solar, etc. The more expensive the projects, the fewer of them we would be able to build. The more expensive the projects, the more Vermonters pay in utility bills.

It’s estimated that the Burlington Electric Department would need to charge an additional 15 percent to make up the difference. GMP would need to raise its rates five percent.

As a state, we’re already struggling with high property taxes. As a state we’re looking at a single payer health care system that will require finding another $2 billion plus.

And now, we’ve got a group that wants to raise the cost of electricity and put a damper on our ability to innovate where the world needs innovation the most?

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Emerson Lynn is co-publisher of The Essex Reporter and The Colchester Sun and publisher of the St. Albans Messenger.