As the 2024 legislative session approaches, it’s a good time to comprehend the breadth, depth, and likely costs of the multiyear campaign to make Vermont the world’s splendid example of bold action to defeat the menace of climate change.
In 2011 Gov. Peter Shumlin decreed that Vermont would get 90% of its energy from renewable sources by 2050. Curiously, the legislature never acted to establish this requirement. Why not? Several years ago a Senate bill included a ratification of Shumlin’s decree, but it was quietly jettisoned when it occurred to Senators that achieving that goal might require billions of taxpayer dollars, which might be poorly received by taxpayers.
Nonetheless, the Democratic legislature has embarked on a campaign to put the state on the path to reach that goal by 2050 (when none of today’s legislators are likely to still be in office.)
The straightforward method for achieving the Shumlin-decreed goal was imposing a carbon tax to make fossil fuels unaffordable. Numerous bills were introduced to levy a carbon tax but the word “tax” set off alarm bells. The climate activists then switched to decreeing energy mandates that the utilities and the fuel dealers would have to meet, with the ultimate costs landing on consumers with no finger prints that legislators would have to explain.
In 2015 the legislature enacted Act 59, to create a more stringent Renewable Energy Standard. This measure mandated that electric utilities get 75% of their electricity from “qualified renewables” by 2032, 10% of it from Vermont generation. Now we learn from a December 14 WCAX report that negotiations are nearing completion to amend the RES to require utilities to get 100% of their energy from renewables by 2030, with 20% from Vermont sources.
Vermont utilities are probably not happy about this, but they have one major consolation: the Public Utility Commission, created in 1886 to protect consumers and businesses from higher prices set by monopolies, will cheerfully approve all rate increases sought by utilities forced to buy higher cost, intermittent wind and solar electricity. We know that because Anthony Roisman, the anti-nuclear warrior who chairs the PUC, told us 3 years ago that Vermont was facing a “Pearl Harbor moment” requiring a “wartime effort” to cope with the growing menace of climate change.
Already proceeding on the climate activists’ agenda is the Clean Heat Standard, enacted over Gov. Scott’s veto last spring. In 2025 the PUC will present to the legislature its final plan for requiring dealers of fuel oil, propane, natural gas and kerosene to buy PUC credits, the cost of which will be passed along to heating fuel consumers.
The motor fuel sector is the largest contributor to Vermont’s carbon dioxide emissions. This was to be dealt with by a multistate Transportation and Climate Initiative. This scheme, like the Clean Heat Standard, would lay a tax on motor fuel at terminals in New York and Massachusetts where most Vermont motor fuel dealers load their product. Vermont motorists would absorb the cost.
Happily the TCI collapsed in 2021when the final two supporting governors bailed out. But the Vermont Climate Council is seeking an appropriation next year to hire consultants to explain how Vermont can install its own disguised motor fuel tax.
The Council also has dozens more recommendations in its action agenda. Few if any of them are in Gov. Scott’s agenda, but with super majorities in both House and Senate the Democratic legislators and their vast Energy Action Network may be able to push through many more costly schemes to defeat the menace of climate change.
How popular are these climate change-fighting programs? In November Campaign for Vermont scientifically polled Vermonters on a number of emerging issues. With regard to combating climate change, it found that 63% of respondents opposed any new tax on home heating fuels, and 57.6% weren’t willing to pay any more at all to finance such a program. On increasing the motor fuel tax, 70.6% opposed and 62.9% weren’t willing to pay any more for it. Are our Democratic legislators listening? (The Republican legislators obviously are. Not a one supports this ambitious agenda.)
Earlier this month governments met at the Conference of Parties (COP 28) in Dubai and, while not agreeing to cut the use of carbon-based fuels, voted to promote a tripling of renewable energy by 2030. Despite all the supportive speeches, no one believes that any more than a handful of the 190+ governments involved will actually achieve that goal, or even try all that hard.
But the legislative majority in Montpelier seems to think that Vermonters will rejoice at their enactment of a similar agenda, even though it will have no detectable effect on the Earth’s future climate.