Four years ago the VPIRG plan for the Extreme Green Makeover suffered a severe setback when Gov. Jim Douglas vetoed Sen. Peter Shumlin's bill to levy a $25 million tax on the state's leading generator of clean electricity, Vermont Yankee, to fund a new state entity to go about persuading Vermonters to stop wasting money on heating fuels.
The Democratic Legislature failed to override the veto, but the Senator from VPIRG vowed to come back with an even more far reaching Green plan in 2008. And he did.
Shumlin's S.350 of 2008 proposed creation of a climate supergovernment to mastermind what has been called a Manhattan Project for Green Social Engineering. It also featured strict "smart growth" land use control strategies, cap-and-trade control of greenhouse gas emissions, , new Act 250 rules to impose "carbon neutrality" on developments, mandates for the protection of "dead and dying wildlife trees," doubling (heavily subsidized) passenger rail traffic by 2028, getting all single-occupancy vehicles off the highways, steeply increased vehicle sales and use taxes and registration fees on low-mpg vehicles, energy efficiency standards that must be met before homeowners could sell their houses, and biofueled bus tours to visit biofuel producing farms.
Happily, cooler heads prevailed, and the bill was reduced before passage to report making and a continuation of various working groups.
But now Peter Shumlin is governor. Together with his Climate Cabinet, he has in place the supergovernment envisioned in 2008. He has enthusiastically adopted the ambitious plan of his Department of Public Service to make Vermonters get 90 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2050.
His administration is committed to forcing ratepayers to subsidize a vast increase in renewable energy. That is largely because it needs some new power sources to replace Vermont Yankee's 280Mw of dependable low cost base load electricity.
Shumlin's key legislative allies of 2008 have now introduced bills (S.170 by Sen. Ginny Lyons, H. 468 by Rep. Tony Klein) to move more quickly in the direction of the bill he championed back then.
The main feature of both bills is adoption of a "Renewable Portfolio Standard," whereby Vermont's utilities will be required to buy ever more electricity from "renewable" sources, regardless of price.
Under current law, the Clean Energy Development Fund subsidizes favored renewable energy producers. The state also mandates that the utilities make a "standard offer" to buy up to 50 Mw of in-state renewable energy (wind, solar, landfill and farm methane, biomass) at prices ranging from three to four times the market price.
The Lyons bill doubles the standard offer to 100 Mw, and levies a 3 cents/kwhr penalty tax on utilities that fail to meet the fiendishly complex requirements of the new Renewable Portfolio Standard (their ratepayers will pay it, of course.) The tax proceeds will go directly into the Clean Energy Development Fund, now almost out of money since the Vermont Yankee cash cow will stop making forced contributions in March.
What a sweet strategy! Extinguish the low-cost competition (Vermont Yankee) to drive electricity prices higher, then subsidize favored renewable energy producers, then mandate that utilities buy their product at far above market prices, and send the bill to their captive ratepayers!
The Lyons bill dropped the gas guzzler tax of the earlier Shumlin bill, but found suitable replacements in the requirement that every residence in the state obtain its hot water from solar collectors 13 years from now, plus a 5 percent "fossil heating fuel efficiency tax" to make heating oil, propane and natural gas more expensive. This new tax will take effect two months after the 2012 election.
Another feature of the reborn 2008 Shumlin bill is the all-out taxpayer financed "climate change educational campaign," also known as the "Green Madrassah," through which the next generation of Vermonters will be thoroughly indoctrinated in Al Gore and Bill McKibben's apocalyptic climate theology. This is designed to reduce resistance to the increasingly desperate tax and regulatory schemes that will likely be needed to push Vermont to the goal of 90 percent of energy from renewables by 2050.
One recent blog comment on the Shumlin energy plan hit the mark: "These people believe they can power the state on the combustion of unicorn flatulence." One might note that the collectors and sellers of unicorn flatulence will make out handsomely in the process, while Vermont's energy consumers take a hell of a beating.
John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute (www.ethanallen.org).