Vermont’s renewable energy standard, passed in 2015, requires 75% of the state’s electricity to be derived from renewable sources by 2032, with 10% from in-state sources.
On Wednesday, the trade group for the state’s clean energy industry met at the Vermont State House with allies to call upon lawmakers to tighten the standard. Renewable Energy Vermont is pushing Vermont to get all of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. The proposal would require 20% of the state’s power to come from in-state sources by that time, with the required in-state percentage rising to 30% by 2035.
However, the Burlington Electric Department — and IBEW Local 300, the labor union representing employees at the city’s McNeil Generating Station — both oppose the idea.
“This bill would force our customers to pay, potentially, tens of millions of dollars more for just using a different set of renewable resources than the cost-effective existing resources that we have now,” Burlington Electric general manager Darren Springer said. “And we would get no additional gain in reducing fossil fuel use — because we’re already there.”
Burlington Electric has been 100% renewable since 2014. That same year, the utility’s efforts made the Queen City the first U.S. city to source all of its electricity from renewable generation.
If the proposed amendment to Vermont’s renewable energy standard proposal were implemented as-is, wood biomass facilities like the McNeil plant would eventually no longer count toward renewable energy goals.
A staff attorney for Climate Law Foundation Vermont shed some light Wednesday night on why Renewable Energy Vermont would want to gradually phase out wood biomass from renewable energy eligibility. Chase Whiting said that the process of burning wood biomass for electricity is so inefficient that it actually produces significantly more carbon pollution than natural gas.
“It also produces harmful toxic air pollutants, such as fine particulate matter, which are connected with some very serious health outcomes like asthma, heart conditions and even cancer,” Whiting added.
Springer hoped that any amendments to Vermont’s renewable energy standard take into account the investments that early adopters like Burlington Electric have already made.
“Our regional (power) grid is very, very reliant — about 70% — on fossil fuels and nuclear, so we’re not at a point where we can pick and choose which renewables we want to dismiss,” he said. “We need all of them.”
Renewable Energy Vermont’s executive director said he’s well aware that Burlington Electric invests a great deal of money into the McNeil plant and needs to realize a return on that investment to avoid harming Queen City ratepayers.
“We’ve never talked specifically about these numbers in detail,” Peter Sterling of REV said. “So, I’d certainly like to get our coalition together with (Springer) and have a better understanding of what he sees are the financial impacts.”
Between utilities that are already 100% renewable and others that have committed to getting there by 2030, 94% of Vermont’s electricity is already slated to come from renewable sources by that year even without any further mandates.