The legislature is updating the Renewable Energy Standard. What does that mean?

In 2015, Vermont passed its Renewable Energy Standard, requiring Vermont electric utilities to provide 75% renewable electricity to their customers by 2032, of which 10% needed to be from smaller, newly-built renewables from here in Vermont. 

Last week on a vote of 9-1 the House Environment and Energy Committee voted to pass H.289, the first update to that law in the near-decade since its enactment. The bill would nearly quadruple the amount of new renewable energy Vermont electric utilities are required to deliver to their customers in the next decade, and would get Vermont to 100% renewable electricity. 

In 2020, VPIRG made our first push to update the Renewable Energy Standard, getting the bill we were supporting out of its first committee before the legislative session shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, we’ve been working towards a bigger overhaul of the law.  

Last year, we successfully urged the legislature to pass legislation authorizing a working group of legislators and stakeholders to meet this past summer and fall, to work to develop draft legislation to do just that. Starting in September that working group, which included VPIRG’s Ben Edgerly Walsh, met and worked towards an approach that would both dramatically increase the pace at which Vermont’s utilities are getting renewable energy built, and do so in a way that advances the affordability and reliability of Vermont’s electric system.  

The bill voted out of committee last week does just that. 

The truth is, we’re here today because Vermonters have made clear over and over again that addressing the climate crisis must be a priority, and that the status quo is simply unacceptable. The momentum behind this bill is yet another sign that Vermont legislators have heard that message loud and clear. 

So, what exactly does this bill do? In part: 

  • It doubles the amount of new renewables Vermont utilities are required to get built here in Vermont – in particular small and medium-sized renewables – from 10% to 20% of the electricity delivered by a given utility. We expect this to be met mostly with new solar power. 
  • It creates a new requirement for Vermont utilities to provide their customers with additional new renewable energy of any size from anywhere in the region (inside or outside Vermont). This requirement is over and above the in-state requirement described above – an additional 20% no later than 2035 for Green Mountain Power, and an additional 10% by 2035 for Vermont’s other electric utilities.  
  • It requires all Vermont utilities to provide 100% renewable electricity to their customers – by 2030 for Green Mountain Power and Vermont Electric Coop and by 2035 for other utilities that are not already at 100% renewable. 
  • Starting in 2025, it requires the three utilities that have already voluntarily achieved 100% renewable (Burington Electric, Washington Electric, and Swanton Electric) to meet most of their new electric load (as their customers adopt more EVs, heat pumps, etc.) with new renewables. 
  • Starting in 2035 (after their other requirements max out), it requires Green Mountain Power and most of Vermont’s municipal electric utilities to meet all of their new electric load with new renewables. 

To distill all of that and put it in everyday terms – in terms of cutting carbon pollution, this bill will be the equivalent of taking approximately 160,000-250,000 cars off the road, for good. 

In terms of new renewables, the bill will get approximately 600 MW more in-state solar built than what’s required currently, plus roughly twice that much again in terms of new, regional renewables (much of which is expected to come from regional wind power). To give a sense of scale, current law requires roughly 20-25 MW of new solar a year. 

This bill represents the largest single move towards renewable electricity and away from fossil fueled power that Vermont has ever taken, by a wide margin. Despite that, it’s far from the only bill we need to pass or work we need to do in the electric sector.  

The bill phases out offsite or “virtual” net metering – a program that we for years hoped would be a scalable opportunity for all Vermonters to participate in community solar, which unfortunately never lived up to that potential, despite a number of great projects happening over the years – without putting in place a replacement program. The bill does require an analysis and recommendations on a “successor program” to offsite group net metering, to go beyond other options Vermonters who can’t go solar on their own property have today or will have in the future (VEC’s “Co-op Community Solar Program” and GMP’s “Shared Solar” and ARPA-funded “ACRE” programs, for instance). That’s something we’re committed to rolling up our sleeves on going into next year’s legislative session.  

It also doesn’t do anything to streamline the permitting process to make it easier to get all this new renewable energy built. Again, that’s work that we’ll have to tackle in future sessions. 

What’s next for this bill? First, it needs to make stops in a couple of other committees in the House. Then, it will head to the floor of the House, likely in the next week or two, before heading to the State Senate.  

Between now and then, please take a moment to make clear to your state representative(s) that you support this expansion of Vermont’s Renewable Energy Standard and that you want them to as well. 

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