The Public Service Department is hard at work updating the state's 2011 Comprehensive Energy Plan. This herculean task requires putting together the products of at least nine working groups and reports over the past five years, ever mindful of the 2006 mandate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to as much as 75% below the 1990 baseline by 2050, to "lower the state's contribution to global warming."
The central driver of these plans is Governor Shumlin's 2011 decree that the state must obtain 90% of its total energy from renewable sources by 2050. This decree, incidentally, has never been voted on by elected legislators, even though every year they are asked to approve ever more legislation to achieve it.
In a submission destined to be widely ignored, the Ethan Allen Institute observed that "a state can achieve the decreed '90% by 2050'only if its political leaders can persuade its taxpayers and ratepayers to provide the enormous subsidies, and submit to the ever increasing mandates, that reaching that goal will require." (Online at www.ethanallen.org.)
"The new Plan's vision of a state obeying the Shumlin Decree can only be achieved by heroic, costly government intervention into the energy market, over the growing protests of taxpayers and ratepayers called upon to finance the ever expanding renewable industrial complex."
"Whether the taxpayers and ratepayers could do more good for the people and economy of this state by making their own decisions on how to spend their own money is an important question, which of course the Plan will assiduously avoid."
In place of all the renewable energy and climate change goals, EAI recommends a Plan "to set Vermont on a path to assure safe, reliable and competitively priced energy that will make possible a strong, competitive and growing economic base, both for creation of new wealth and income for the people of the state, and for expanded tax revenues to enable the state to meet its fiscal obligations."
EAI's energy expert Meredith Angwin has pointed out that the Plan expects most vehicles to increasingly become electric and most home heating to rely on electric heat pumps. Where this all new electricity will come from is a mystery. To get it from "renewables" -- which today provide only 16% of total energy - will require truly heroic coercive measures, unless the gap is largely filled by more power from HydroQuebec, which would have Vermont largely at its pricing mercy.
Among the 19 specific recommendations are these:
â?¢ Repeal the requirement that Vermonters be forced to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to 50% below the 1990 baseline by 2028, or any other year.
â?¢ Repeal the state's "climate action plan", inasmuch as nothing the people of Vermont can do, even at crippling economic cost, will ever have any detectable effect on any metric of "climate change" (formerly "global warming").
â?¢ Repeal the RESET mandate that utilities must meet a fraction of their demand with high priced renewable electricity.
â?¢ Repeal the Standard Offer mandate that requires ratepayers to pay far above market prices to the producers of government-favored renewable electricity.
â?¢ Abandon the idea of instituting a carbon tax -- a "climate pollution tax" to its backers. Such a tax, levied on gasoline, diesel, natural gas, home heating oil and propane, would, its backers say, include a rebate of 90% of the proceeds to people and businesses burdened by the tax; the remaining 10% would finance more renewable adventures. Opening an (eventual) $700 million a year revenue source would be an irresistible temptation to legislators to solve their chronic overspending problem, not their constituents' energy cost burdens.
â?¢ Assess electric vehicle owners, who pay no fuel tax, a charge for using the state's highways, instead of making gasoline and diesel fueled vehicles absorb all the costs. Require that publicly installed EV charging stations charge EV owners enough to at least cover the energy they are drawing.
â?¢ Continue to require utilities to purchase electricity offered through net metering connections, up to the point that grid stability becomes a problem; but set the rate of credit for net metering customers so that they pay their share of the fixed costs of maintaining power grid service.
â?¢ Consistently remember that markets work, and that ordinary people usually turn out to make better use of their resources than what is prescribed for them by the experts who prepare "comprehensive energy plans."
In short, the PSD is working hard to carry out its assignment -- but in pursuit of a policy that "resolutely heads off in the wrong direction, anticipating enormous taxpayer and ratepayer costs, ever growing bureaucracies, and ever more extensive controls over the choices of the ordinary Vermonter, all to send Vermonters galloping after a wrong-headed goal of '90% renewable energy by 2050.'"
John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute (www.ethanallen.org).