Rep. Sibilia: 2023 Clean Heat Vote in the Vermont House

The Affordable Heat Act passed the Vermont House by a vote of 98-46 this week.

My floor report below:

S.5 Floor Report


Madame Speaker,

I’ll be reporting today on S.5 which is An act relating to affordably meeting the mandated greenhouse gas reductions for the thermal sector through efficiency, weatherization measures, electrification, and decarbonization.

Members can find S.5 as it passed the HEE Committee on our webpage for April 13th. 

Let’s talk about how we got here: 

In 2020, this Vermont Legislature passed the Global Warming Solutions Act. This law did two important things:

  1. First, it committed Vermont to meeting the emissions reductions that had been agreed to as part of the 2015 Paris Accords. Vermont’s 2020 Global Warming Solution Act requires our state to reduce greenhouse gas pollution to 26% below 2005 levels by 2025. Emissions would need to be 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80% below by 2050. Vermonters overwhelmingly want us to act on climate, and in 2019 76% of Vermonters said they were either very worried or somewhat worried about global warming. On behalf of my children and grandchildren I thank our Governor for his courageous urging of the Trump Administration in 2017 to maintain the U.S. commitment to the Paris Accords and for supporting the Biden Administration’s 2021 decision to rejoin the Paris Accords. Climate change affects all life on our planet.
  2. Second, the GWSA required the creation of a Climate Action Plan to be developed using a public process – to meet those statutory goals. In Vermont, the two sectors with the biggest GHG emissions are Transportation and RCI Thermal. A Clean Heat Standard, designed to reduce RCI thermal emissions, was proposed as a part of the initial 2021 Climate Action Plan.

So how are we proposing to do this?

For the last 18 months members of the governor’s administration, representatives from many different heating fuel sectors, environmental advocates, climate scientists, legal organizations, government specialists, alongside eight different legislative committees, the Vermont Climate Council, two iterations of the legislative climate caucus and hundreds of Vermonters have been working to bring forward, debate, fine tune and improve language that would create a Vermont Clean Heat Standard.

The bill in front of us is the product of all of that work, and will establish the Clean Heat Standard to reduce Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions from the thermal (heating) sector. The Public Utility Commission will develop the Clean Heat Standard with assistance from two advisory groups: the Technical Advisory Group and the Equity Advisory Group. The Department of Public Service will be a partner in providing assistance and in completing a potential study which will tell us: about the potential market for clean heat measures and the characteristics of the workforce available to install the measures. 

The bill in front of us has the PUC develop the marketplace and the rules for implementing a Clean Heat Standard through a public process and with these technical and equity experts. The 2025 legislature will vote to approve the rules to implement the Clean Heat Standard or they may change the rules, do nothing with the rules, or repeal the statutory provisions of S.5. And if the 2025 legislature approves, the governor will also have to approve.

If we vote in 2025 to implement the Clean Heat Standard, each year obligated parties must retire clean heat credits – a tradeable, non tangible commodity that represents the amount of greenhouse gas emissions reductions caused by a clean heat measure. Clean heat credits may be retired by delivering fuel and technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions (clean heat measures) or by contracting out or purchasing clean heat credits. The Commission would establish the number of clean heat credits obligated parties must retire each year to set a pace for Vermont’s thermal sector to achieve the greenhouse gas emission reductions required by 10 V.S.A. § 578(a)(2) and (3), as amended by the Vermont Global Warming Solutions Act of 2020.

We have heard folks say that stopping all of Vermont’s emissions will do nothing to change the weather patterns we are seeing with climate change. I mostly agree.

If Vermont can’t stop climate change, then why bring forward sweeping climate change bills like GWSA and CHS? 

There are at least three important reasons that I bet most of us would agree with:

  • One: Fixed income Vermonters, rural Vermonters and low and moderate income Vermonters are being exposed to greater and greater financial and health risks as a result of the unregulated and volatile global pricing of thermal heating fuels. Vermonters this year paid $2.00 more a gallon for heating oil then they did in 2021. Vermonters with means are already reducing their use of fossil fuels to save money.
  • Two: Larger local, state and national governments are exerting tremendous legal pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as part of the 2015 Paris Accords.
  • Three: This activity is changing markets and those changing markets are and will impact Vermonters. If we don’t help Vermonters try to stay in front of the energy transition, it is our most vulnerable who will suffer and be left behind with more and more costs and less and less choices.

    There have been some wild claims about what we are voting on here today. Some of those wild claims are fueled by monied interests, some from not reading the bill, but most are probably fueled simply by fear of the unknown.

    So I’d like to start by summarizing what we are voting on here today.

    Today we are voting to:
  • Create the Clean Heat Standard in statute 
  • Have the PUC develop the marketplace and the rules for implementing a Clean Heat Standard through a public process utilizing technical and equity experts
  • Provide the 2025 legislature and governor with rules to implement the Clean Heat Standard and then change, pass, or repeal the statutory provisions of S.5 

That’s it, that is all we are voting on today.

To be clear, a yes vote today will not increase the cost of Vermonters’ fuel, and a no vote will not protect the cost of Vermonters fuel.

Your vote today will neither require Vermonters to rip out their fuel systems nor install heat pumps.

Your vote today will not incentivize the clear cutting of forests or the importation of Palm Oil.

We are not voting on those things today. We may be voting on those things in 2025 – with a lot more certainty and detail if we pass this bill today.

Sadly, your vote today will also not stop the propaganda and misinformation being mass communicated to Vermonters, so I hope, however you vote today, you will make time to talk with your constituents about our changing climate and the changing global fuel markets and that you will help them stay connected to the conversation and work being done over the next two years so that there fears may be eased with knowledge.

Now I will walk through through the sections of the bill:

SECTION BY SECTION:

TIMELINE:

WITNESSES: HEE heard from more than 40 witnesses in our committee. These witnesses included representatives from the Vermont Fuel Dealers, The Agency of Natural Resources, the Department of Public Service, the Public Utility Commission, The Vermont Department of Taxes, The Attorney General, members of the Climate Council, advocates for Vermont businesses, environmentalists, housing developers, LMI advocates and others.

VOTE: The vote out of our committee was 8-3 and we ask for the body’s support

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