Vermont has long been on the cutting edge of renewable energy and energy efficiency. They like to get stuff done, from solar permitting to efficiency and biomass. Two weeks ago, I spoke with executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont, Gabrielle Stebbins to learn a little more about the current state of the industry, and where private companies can get involved to help further develop the industry.
What would you say is the current state of the renewable energy industry in Vermont?
Vermonters strongly support renewables and a clean energy economy, as exemplified in many of the “firsts” led by the state: the first efficiency utility, the first legislated Feed-in-Tariff, the first solar registration (as opposed to permitting) process for solar projects 10 kW and below, and a net-metering program that has continually evolved and improved over the years.
With all this good news from Vermont, it must be stated that Vermont is small, and therefore when federal policies and subsidies and incentives are decreased for renewables, the funding opportunities for Vermont to move forward more quickly, become constrained.
What policies are driving clean energy adoption in the state?
See above. Feed in Tariff, net-metering, strong cow-power program, majority of utilities supportive of renewables, strong public support, Comprehensive Energy Plan with goal of 90% of ALL energy being supplied by renewables by 2050, solar registration process, etc.
What technologies are leading and which ones are lagging? Why
Solar pv and wind have been leading. wind now has some challenges due to the PTC uncertainty and that impacting larger, national industry growth that trickles into Vermont. Bioenergy technologies vary widely. Many homes are heated with cord wood – so in a way Vermont has always been at the forefront of biomass if one considers cord wood. Pellets are becoming more widely available and there is growing interest. Solar hot water also has strong market interest. Biofuels are used by many farmers on-farm, but has not taken off. Farm methane has been supported for many years through state policy and a Vermont public interest in supporting our farmers. Geothermal varies– there are many installations, but generally the industry has not come together as a unified force and therefore market growth has not been as advanced as wind and solar. Retrofitting existing hydro has been a slow, long process due to the extensive FERC permitting – a new law passed this year that allows for a pilot program of a few projects going through state review PRIOR to FERC review, may help to identify good opportunities for retrofits at sites that environmental regulators and project proponents can work together on to generate power. So this could become a new opportunity for many towns that own old dams, etc., depending on the location along the river system and ecological impacts, the state of the dam and how much rebuilding is required, and the cost-benefits of the project.
The 2012 year we witnessed a lot of legal developments in Vermont assisting renewable energy
2012 Legislative Results: Thank you to all the REV members that weighed in and got involved this Legislative Session. Countless members (and associated businesses) testified, provided data analysis and policy support, wrote to and called their Elected Officials, helped fund the Legislative effort and finally, attended bill signings, REV’s press conference and REV’s “day at the Statehouse”. All of these efforts really did (and does) make a difference. The following bills have been signed into law, or should be in the next few days:
House Bill 475: The net-metering bill raises the solar net metering registration capacity from 5 kW to 10 kW, addresses several technical fixes with regards to net-metering, and also defines solar Standard Offer projects based on inverter capacity. Click here to read this bill.
House Bill 468/ Senate Bill 214: The Renewable Portfolio Standard and Standard Offer Bill became S. 214, a bill that no longer includes an RPS, but does increase the Standard Offer Program to a total of 127.5 MW over the next 10 years. It includes several studies, including a report regarding how to move Vermont towards comprehensive energy planning via a Total Energy Standard (includes thermal, transportation and power mandates). The bill also sets a new policy directive to utilize distributed generation as a means to address transmission and distribution constraints, and peak load issues. Click here to read this bill.
House Bill 782: This tax bill should ensure the Clean Energy Development Fund receives approximately $3 million/year through a generation tax on Vermont Yankee. Estimated availability is Fall 2012, which does not necessarily prevent a funding gap that may occur prior to Yankee’s payment in 2013. It will also require that the renewable energy community and REV go to the bat annually to ensure this funding is appropriated from the General Fund to the CEDF, as opposed to other competing needs.
House Bill 679: This tax bill ensures all solar projects 10 kW and smaller are tax exempt, for solar projects larger than 10 kW it requires a $4/kW annual state property tax, and brings wind projects 1 – 5 MW in size into the same tax rate as projects wind projects 5 MW and larger. Click here to read this bill.
Senate Bill 148: A hydro bill that allows for preliminary reviews regarding retrofitting existing hydro sites, without going through an expensive FERC process first. Click here to read this bill.
Senate Bill 237: The Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont is now tasked with developing a genuine progress indicator (GPI) to be used by the state of Vermont along with the state’s gross domestic product when assessing the overall economic health of the state. A GPI broadens the GDP economic analysis to include not just economic impact, but also environmental and social impacts resulting from economic activity. This is important because it means our economic analyses may start to include the upsides of clean energy – a cleaner environment, better air and water quality and resulting human health impacts, etc. Click here to read this bill.
Are there any specific pieces of legislation that are lacking, that you’re pushing for in Vermont? How, specifically, can private companies help push this legislation forward?
Ideally, we need to move towards a place where an increase in electricity generated by renewables is part of the energy plan. Our buildings need to be made as efficient as possible, making it more easily feasible for renewables to heat them, and to enable electric vehicles to move into Vermont and address the challenges that our rural state face – with a considerable amount of oil and money spent on transportation.
The RPS did not pass this year, but this allows for the opportunity that in a next round, we have a Total Energy Standard – one that addresses heating/cooling, transportation and power needs.
If you do business in Vermont, there’s a number of things you can do to help develop the renewable energy industry in Vermont.
- Keep up to date and help with legislative action. Right now there is nothing press because the Vermont legislature is not in session, but this is the best place to keep up to date with –> http://www.revermont.org/
- Join Renewable Energy Vermont –> http://www.revermont.org/
- Attend REV’s yearly conference: http://www.
- Join the Friends of Vermont Wind at www.windworksvt.org . This group can write letters to the editor, get facts from the wind worksite website about how wind energy works, etc. Ideally, REV hopes to develop a large enough group of players that we can give the people who support wind energy (more than 70% in VT) enough support so that they will speak up at public meetings when others are shouting against wind energy….but that will take time to develop.
- Subscribe to the newsletter. If you you want to watch what is happening an get involved at a later date, the newsletter is the best way to keep in touch http://www.