Vermont papers over dirty energy use


BROOKLINE — Vermont's electric utilities claim that their power comes from 100% "carbon-free" sources. This claim bears closer inspection. Since the closing of Vermont's only nuclear plant in 2014, it is true that virtually 100% of the electricity generated in Vermont comes from so-called renewable sources. This includes the burning of wood waste, which, while renewable, is obviously not emissions-free.

Vermont has zero coal, oil, or gas-fired electric generating stations. However, more than half of the electricity used in Vermont comes from out of state, including a significant portion from the 81 oil- and natural-gas-fueled plants in the other five New England states. A significant portion also comes from nuclear plants in other states.

But, the largest portion of out-of-state power used in Vermont comes from Hydro-Québec, a network of dams that flooded 3.8 million acres of forest in northern Québec beginning in the 1970s.

Vermont is the only state in New England that allows so-called "large hydro" to be included in its "renewable" energy portfolio. This is critical because Vermont has a Renewable Energy Standard (RES) adopted in 2015 which calls for electricity used in-state to be 75% from "renewable' sources by 2032.

By Vermont's definition of "renewable," this includes power from Hydro-Québec, which could hardly be called environmentally benign.

Besides displacing thousands of indigenous residents without any compensation whatsoever, those millions of acres of buried forest no longer absorb carbon dioxide. In fact, they emit tons of greenhouse gases in the form of methane from all that decaying organic matter.

Vermont's Renewable Energy Standard also calls for a minimum of 10% of its electricity to come from "new in-state sources" by 2032. This is by far the least stringent requirement of any New England state. By comparison, Maine requires 50% of its power to come from in-state renewables, and Connecticut and Massachusetts, 40%. Vermont's RES therefore actually disincentivizes new solar and wind generation in the state.

Vermont utilities, as in other states, can also purchase Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) from so-called renewable sources (including Hydro-Québec) to meet their renewable energy goals while simultaneously purchasing power from non-renewable sources. In other words, RECs as currently structured allow a utility to claim that its energy portfolio is more renewable than it actually is.

Vermont needs a Renewable Energy Standard that makes the state a leader in green energy creation and use, not a standard that papers over its dirty energy use and puts a damper on incentives for new renewable energy. In fact, a series of reforms to the RES being discussed in the Vermont Legislature would do just that. The House Environment and Energy Committee has taken up discussion of H.320, a bill that would reform the RES to require 30% of Vermont electricity to come from new in-state renewable sources, with 30% coming from new out-of-state renewable sources, while capping the use of out-of-state "large hydro" at 40%.

Ask your legislators to support changes to Vermont's RES that tighten up the definition of "renewable" and strengthen incentives for development of new, actually renewable sources in Vermont.

This Voices Letters from readers was submitted to The Commons.

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