I recently watched the entire YouTube of testimony in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy on the Affordable Heat Act S.5 (It took place on February 3. YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/live/PHW__CsL1l4?feature=share This bill is a Trojan horse for Vermont, with a lot of money behind it from big banks and corporations.
After watching the testimony from oil and gas company representatives and owners from all over Vermont, it is blatantly obvious how detrimental the "UN-Affordable Heat Act S.5" will be to Vermonters, the environment, small business, our economy and the more rural and higher energy burdened areas of Vermont such as the NEK.
On Wednesday, February 8, Judy Dow -- a member of the Abenaki Tribe, the Vermont Climate Council’s Agricultural and Ecosystems subcommittee and the Biomass TaskForce -- shared testimony against the Affordable Heat Act S.5. She discussed how this bill is completely lacking in equity on all levels and will result in an increase in health problems, economic burdens and environmental and social injustice due to the use of biomass as a “renewable” and the failure of the council to use equity-probing questions in their decisions. She said the concerns of her committee were not properly acknowledged by the Climate Council.
There are social and environmental injustices that go along with heat pumps. They are mainly “supplemental" systems at this time and in this climate. Some Vermonters will be able to afford and install these but others even with the incentives that will be marketed along with partial rebates will not be able to justify these given that a fossil fuel-based backup system is still required. If one cannot or chooses not to engage in the offered measures, they still will carry the burden along with the small businesses throughout our state.
Most small fuel dealers in Vermont have been installing heat pumps and efficient, economical and environmentally sound alternatives for over a decade. They have been doing this good work to help their customers and now the state wants to interject itself, set the rules of the game, create a tax/credit system and regulate, control and limit the thermal sector. This is not equitable or affordable. Also many do not want to be solely tied to and dependent on the electric grid for heat. S.5 is coercive, illogical and even the senators in committee are starting to ask for examples of how this would work and what the actual impacts would be.
There are many dangers with the use of biofuels including deforestation and absolute destruction of ecosystems and healthy environments in the United States and many third world countries. Also, many biofuels are from genetically modified crops and algae and require high energy inputs, increased use of fossil fuel-based fertilizers, and toxic pesticides like glyphosate, all of which poison waters, lands, animals and humans.
Even Bill McKibben’s crew, 350Vermont, testified on February 8 and discussed the biofuel issue and their concerns about renewable natural gas and hydrogen fuel as these appear in the current bill. They emphasized reduced consumption, ensuring social equity and amendments to the bill to address these environmentally damaging ”green” alternatives.
Steve Crowley of the Vermont chapter of the Sierra Club explained Sierra Club’s concerns with the Affordable Heat Act S.5. Crowley discussed issues with biofuels and biomass. He also questioned the ethics around the carbon credit trading system in this design. Meanwhile -- as presented by Efficiency Vermont -- Vermont will receive $59 million in consumer home energy rebate programs from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). This is significant; yet, our workforce and electric grid are limited to implement this plan. This influx of money will take time, people and resources. There are also current issues accessing transformers which impedes building out the electric grid to support the expected load this will bring to Vermont.
If Vermont was to halt the Affordable Heat Act S.5 and work on getting this IRA money to people to help with weatherization, heat pump installs and other renewable measures, then after this big push, the Affordable Heat Act could be reevaluated. With this plan Vermonters, our businesses and our economy would not have to pay more for fuel while the IRA funding and supported measures get rolled out. There are deadlines, plans and people required to implement IRA. Emphasis on this program should be the first priority and most importantly used to help and not burden the people.
The senators have no idea what the cost impact will be. It is also not known who the obligated parties will be. The request is that it will be the distributors but legalities and logistics still need to be determined by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Regardless, the unknown costs will be passed to fuel dealers, small businesses and customers. This is an inherent problem and why the Governor vetoed the Clean Heat Standard last year.
This bill sells out Vermont to corporate-based, industry-driven environmental justice. It locks Vermont into a global corporate and Wall Street designed emission trading, carbon market game that does not serve Vermont or Vermonters. Vermont can implement its own plan that is collaborative and constructive and takes into account authentic environmental and social justice. This plan should acknowledge different incomes, different energy needs, regional and localized electric grid infrastructures, energy burdens and individualized home plans for efficiency and reduced consumption in order to best support communities and Vermonters. This is exactly what the fuel dealers and Efficiency Vermont have already been doing for decades as I saw in their testimonies on February 3.
People from all perspectives and backgrounds are sharing their concerns and pointing to the many problems with this current bill. This bill does not offer environmental and social justice. Vermont can forge its own path to seek real sustainability and environmentalism not corporate-driven schemes that bring burden and future problems for us to solve. The Affordable Heat Act S.5 needs an overhaul. Please contact our legislators and senators and implore them to vote no on this harmful bill.
Brown lives in Fayston.