Trade Group Calls For Big Build-Out Of Renewable Energy

Oct 29, 2013

Renewable energy businesses are calling on Vermont to meet 20 percent of its energy needs in six years from sustainable energy sources.

The goals include more solar and wind systems, plus a carbon tax to fund new investments in efficiency programs.

Vermont now meets about 11 percent of its energy demand through renewable generation.

Renewable Energy Vermont, the trade association for wind, solar, biomass and other renewable developers, says it’s past time to up that percentage.

At its annual meeting Tuesday in South Burlington, members laid out steps they say the state should take to meet the 20 percent renewable goal by 2020.

David Blittersdorf, a REV board member and CEO of All Earth Renewables, said all areas of energy use – such as transportation and home-heating – need to be included in the 20 percent target.

“This is all energy we must electrify; we must have a paradigm change,” he said.   

Blittersdorf said new technology such as air source heat pumps will allow people to use electricity to heat their homes, with far more efficiency than old electric heaters.

“These things will heat your house and they will run to 15 below zero. They’re more efficient than almost any other way to heat your house,” he said.

The state energy plan sets out an ambitious goal of 90 percent renewables by 2050. Advocates say the interim goal of 20 percent by 2020 is an important first step.

Gabrielle Stebbins, the executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont, said the group wants changes to the state’s permit process to put more energy projects on line.

“How do we streamline permitting, and make sure that we’re doing a good solid job of protecting our environment, but also building projects?. So it’s a full suite, and we kind of need them all,” she said.

The proposals include building more wind, solar and biomass energy projects, as well as increasing energy efficiency efforts. The renewable energy businesses called for a carbon tax to fund the new efficiency measures.

Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, chairs the House Natural resources and Energy Committee. He plans to introduce carbon tax legislation, but said Vermont can’t go it alone.

“It (the tax) will be based upon a trigger mechanism. So whatever it is that we come up with, if it’s  successful, will only come into place if X amount of states in our region – or whether it’s California or New York pass it – then we’re not an island,” Klein said.

Some are skeptical of the Renewable Energy Vermont plan, which calls for 68 more megawatts of wind generation. Annette Smith is executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment. She said the plan has too much emphasis on large, utility-scale wind developments.

“Primarily what we need to be looking at is community energy, how to develop our communities in a way that we are working together and providing energy for our communities,” she said. “And I don’t see any of that in what Renewable Energy Vermont is putting out there. It just seems to be more of the big utility model.”

The debate over how to reach the 20 percent goal is likely to continue. Renewable Energy Vermont says a big part of its effort in the months ahead will be outreach and education.