Green Mountain State Looking Greener

States across the nation are looking to renewable energy sources to combat polluting power plant emissions, and create a stable energy mix. Vermont is trying to expand their energy mix by creating legislation for either mandatory or voluntary renewable portfolio standards (RPS) – an increasingly popular tactic that requires utilities to add a certain percentage of kilowatt-hours from renewable energy sources to their power portfolio.

State legislatures can face some long committee sessions working through the wording and intent of an RPS bill. Vermont has passed different versions of an RPS through the Senate a few times now, but always struggled to get a bill passed by the House of Representatives. Vermont Sen. Virginia Lyons (D-Williston) has sponsored SB 52, an RPS and energy efficiency bill, for the 2005 session. It’s the second RPS proposal to move through the state legislature in four sessions, and supporters think the proposal just might make it through the House this time. “The houses have been a little more evenly balanced in the past few years,” said Al Boright, who is Legislative Counsel for Natural Resource issues in Vermont. When the first RPS bill was proposed, the Senate had a progressive majority and passed the bill with a strong vote. The House was moderate republican, according to Boright, and didn’t approve the bill as it was written. This session the House is more on the progressive side and perhaps more willing to work with SB 52 and create legislation that is acceptable to both houses. There are lawmakers who have seen variations of an RPS bill every year since they were elected to the Legislature, according to Boright. And they’ve been talking about much more than just RPS goals. Senate amendments to SB 52 have addressed issues such as: energy efficient appliances, appliance standards, combined heat and power applications and if electricity rates should be based on performance. It’s a lot for any legislative body to work on. Jeffrey Wolfe, the vice president of renewable energy project contractor Global Resource Options of Vermont, said he would like to see the bill passed before this session ends in May because the state operates a two-year legislature. There is a chance that the House could hold the bill over until January of 2006 when the second session begins. Wolfe would like to see technology set-asides included in SB 52 so utilities would have to purchase or generate renewable energy from a variety of sources. But wind is the main power source that can benefit from the bill. “The real driver for the RPS in Vermont is creating an in-state market for wind power,” Wolfe said. Green Mountain Power supplies power to approximately one-fourth of the state’s population from a mix of energy sources. Part of that power is generated at the utility’s wind facility in Searsburg, Vermont. The facility has 6 MW of installed power, and provides over 2,000 homes in the state with power, according to the utility. One-third of the state’s electricity load is supplied by Hydro-Quebec, according to John Sayles, the deputy commissioner of the Public Service Department in Vermont. An additional 10 percent of Vermont’s power comes from small, in-state hydro plants and wood burning plants. This current mix of renewable energy sources raises the question of what the state will gain by requiring utilities to have a certain percentage of renewables in their generation portfolio, Sayles said. “It’s not clear that an RPS is needed in Vermont to keep the RE market moving,” he said. That’s also the standing opinion of the current administration under Gov. Jim Douglas, Sayles said. Douglas would veto any bill that creates mandates, and could possibly increase energy prices as well. Lobbyists and management from International Business Machines (IBM), which has a Vermont facility, testified against SB 52 before the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee. The company claims that mandatory RPS goals would increase power costs in the state, and that IBM couldn’t continue to operate in Vermont under the higher cost. IBM paid an annual premium of $10 million in electricity rates in 2004, which, according to the company’s testimony, was 141 percent more than the national industrial average for rates. Vermont is far from the first state to have a bit of a struggle when trying to pass a RPS, according to Susan Gouchoe, who is a Policy Program manager at the North Carolina Solar Center. She tracks state renewable energy incentives for DSIRE, a Web site that tracks renewable energy federal, state and local incentives for renewable energy. A few states, such as Illinois and Minnesota, that were having a difficult time passing mandatory RPS requirements decided to set voluntary goals first. “Now, both (states) are going back through and trying to turn a goal into a standard,” Gouchoe said. The Vermont Press Bureau recently reported that Scudder Parker of Vermont Business for Social Responsibility suggested amending SB 52 so that mandated RPS rules wouldn’t take effect “as long as utilities build enough renewable power generation facilities in the interim.” Whatever the RPS solution is, Jeffrey Wolfe said people should remember that power contracts with Hydro-Quebec and the nuclear facility Vermont Yankee are scheduled to end in 11 years. “We’re trying to get people to look beyond the present day,” he said. Wind power shouldn’t, and most likely couldn’t, replace all of the power provided by the two utilities. But the state should ensure a strong mix of power sources, he said. To read the latest amendments and progress of Vermont’s SB 52 visit the links below this story.

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Renewable Energy World's content team members help deliver the most comprehensive news coverage of the renewable energy industries. Based in the U.S., the UK, and South Africa, the team is comprised of editors from Clarion Energy's myriad of publications that cover the global energy industry.

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