Vermont has the reputation of being a progressive solar state, but a report from the Energy Clinic at the Institute for Energy and the Environment (IEE) at Vermont Law School makes the case that all of its solar development hasn’t benefited the state itself all that much. According to the report, despite the recent growth in solar and wind projects, Vermonters’ consumption of energy from solar and wind is 0 percent.
The report also reveals how greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont’s electric sector have approximately doubled over the last decade, despite the rapid development of solar- and wind-generating facilities in the state. The State of Vermont’s policies covering renewable energy certificates (RECs) are responsible for this paradox, according to the report’s authors.
“The sale of RECs out of state resulting from Vermont’s past and current energy policies has contributed to a near doubling in greenhouse gas emissions from Vermont’s electric sector,” said report coauthor Heather Huebner, community solar team leader for the Energy Clinic and a second-year law student at VLS. “This startling outcome from a policy meant to boost clean, renewable energy is proof of why it is so important to better understand RECs, and to get the policies that guide them right.”
The Vermont SPEED program, the dominant state renewable energy policy, was designed to increase development of renewable energy in the state, but has actually resulted in an increase in Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions by incentivizing out-of-state REC sales.
“It is not possible for Vermont to both sell RECs out of state and to meet its ambitious renewable energy goals,” said Gregg Freeman, report coauthor and third-year law student. “These goals will only be achieved if existing and future policies encourage the retirement of RECs in Vermont.”
Newly proposed net metering rules by the Public Service Board discourage Vermont net-metering customers from retaining and retiring the RECs associated with their solar projects and will likely lead to reduced solar development in Vermont. Vermont net-metering customers who retain and retire their RECs can legally “go solar” and reduce their own carbon footprint.
“As explained in the report, retaining and retiring the RECs is the only way that Vermonters can go solar,” said report coauthor Aaron Kelly, a Master of Energy Regulation and Law (MERL) student at VLS and Energy Clinic community solar team member.
The Vermont Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy is currently considering how to address RECs in future energy policies. The report is being presented to the committee at the request of its chairman, Sen. Christopher Bray, D-Addison.
The report, prepared by Freeman, Huebner and Kelly, recommends changes to Vermont’s net-metering and utility policies as they concern RECs. Policy recommendations include:
• Prohibiting the out-of-state sale of RECs from net-metering projects given that Vermont pays a premium for this power and should claim the renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction benefits;
• Allowing Vermont net-metering customers to retain and retire RECs from home and community solar arrays without financial penalty; and,
•Modifying Vermont’s Renewable Energy Standard to phase in retirement of RECs from Vermont utility SPEED resources.
Professor Kevin B. Jones, deputy director of the IEE and Energy Clinic supervisor, worked with the student clinicians on the research. An expert in RECs and net-metering policy, Jones said, “to meet Vermont’s ambitious renewable energy goals, we have to be able to count the solar and wind projects developed here in the state. The sale of RECs out of state makes that impossible. Any policy that allows for such sales makes it harder and harder to achieve these legislated goals. And in the meantime, more and more of the state’s best solar and wind sites are being developed to meet the RPS [renewable portfolio standard] goals in Massachusetts and Connecticut.”