State solicits public input on wide range of climate-focused energy policies

Attendees at the Vermont Climate Council’s public engagement event at Elmore State Park last year discuss the current and future impacts of climate change that affect them every day. Photo by Emma Cotton/VTDigger

State Civil Service officials want to know: How do Vermonters think the state’s electric sector should meet its climate goals?

The director of the department’s regulated utilities planning division, TJ Poor, said a flurry of climate-related energy policies are under discussion. The department’s “request for comment,” released earlier this week, marks the first in a multi-step process to seek the opinions of Vermonters, according to Poor.

In light of recommendations made by the state’s climate action plan and the 2022 comprehensive energy plan, officials are asking the public how to move forward with policies related to the state’s renewable energy standard. state, which dictates how much renewable energy utilities must include in their portfolios.

Both plans recommend raising the standard from a 75% renewable energy requirement to a 100% renewable energy requirement by 2030, and the comprehensive energy plan recommends including a parallel rule setting standards for how much of that energy should be low-carbon or carbon-free.

Questions about the renewable energy standard are the main issues at play during the public engagement process, Poor said.

“And then there are all kinds of different issues that could be solved underneath,” he said. “We actually want feedback on what’s important to people. Is this an in-state or out-of-state production? Does it match the time of production with the time people actually use electricity? Does it improve how people can engage with their own electricity consumption, to generate electricity themselves? »

Salvage yard solar panel

However, state officials face a challenge when considering this kind of outreach: what’s the best way to welcome new people into conversations about some of the worst energy policies?

“When you really look at it, at the end of the day, the people who tend to go to these kinds of events are people who have invested a lot, like the business community, the public services, certainly some members of the REV, “ , said Peter Sterling, executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont, which advocates for the expansion of renewable energy in the state.

“It can be very difficult to engage your average person in this conversation about what to do about the renewable energy standard,” he said. “It’s kind of an obscure subject.”

Seeking to hear new voices and reach people who have not traditionally been included in policy decisions, ministry officials are also asking Vermonters where and how the ministry should focus its outreach.

The department’s effort represents the latest in a trend of improved public engagement processes, stemming largely from state agencies seeking to include a wider range of Vermonters in public policy decisions. climate-related.

Last spring, Vermont lawmakers established the state’s first environmental justice policy, which, among other things, requires state agencies to include and better involve low-income and marginalized communities in decision-making. policies.

The effort also follows what was widely seen as a delayed public engagement process by the Vermont Climate Council, which released the state’s first climate action plan last December to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse effect. If implemented, his proposed policies would affect most Vermonters.

electric car
A charging station for the state’s solar vehicle fleet is located at the corner of State Street and Gov. Aiken Ave. Montpellier. Photo by Tom Brown/VTDigger

“We learned from the energy plan process and the climate action plan process, where I think we did a decent job under tight deadlines, but we want to do better,” Poor said.

While one of the goals of the Climate Action Plan is to improve and expand access to cleaner energy options and contribute to a healthier environment, the costs of the transition could impact disproportionately on low-income people and demographic groups that have been marginalized.

Engaging with communities on the ground is always important, said Bindu Panikkar, a researcher who studies environmental justice at the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources. But community engagement is often underfunded, she said, limiting positive results.

“These efforts improve social cohesion, trust and create meaningful impact in the lives of people and communities,” she wrote in an email. “Investing in community engagement and solving problems on the ground must go hand in hand.”

Many of the energy policies at stake affect Vermonters both directly and indirectly. For example, the Climate Action Plan recommends large-scale electrification in the coming years. A pending rule will likely stall the market for new gas-powered passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks by 2035, and efforts are underway to switch Vermont’s thermal sector to electricity using heat pumps and other technologies.

But the more electricity Vermont residents use, the more important it is from where utilities buy it. Some of Vermont’s energy comes from the regional grid, which is fueled primarily by natural gas.

“As we ask Vermonters to electrify everything, including their cars and how they heat and cool their homes, where that electricity is coming from is absolutely the fundamental question,” Sterling said.

Other energy programs, such as net metering, have sparked heated debate among environmental advocates, those who work in electric and renewable energy companies, and those who participate in the program.

The Firehouse Dam at North Bennington is one of two dams originally proposed as hydro sites for the village. Photo by Jim Therrien/VTDigger

The Ministry of Public Service has continually recommended decreases in the amount of compensation offered to those who participate in net metering when they sell their energy back to the grid. Department officials said net metering is one of the costliest ways to expand renewable energy in the state and raises electricity rates for the rest of ratepayers. Renewable energy advocates say net metering is an important piece of the puzzle and the ministry should not discourage efforts to go solar.

Yet others debate how much space Vermont has for renewables and how much importance should be given to utilities that acquire electricity from renewables in Vermont. compared to elsewhere.

To meet the renewable energy standard, many state utilities rely on renewable energy credits, which can be purchased from large companies like HydroQuebec, but some also challenge the integrity of this system.

Comments on the first phase of the process are due to the Public Service Department on August 5 via email at [email protected].

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