Gov. Peter Shumlin wants the state to satisfy 90 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2050, largely eliminating its reliance on fossil fuels.
Shumlin joined Public Service Commissioner Elizabeth Miller and other officials on Thursday to unveil a comprehensive energy plan that lifts what had been a moratorium on construction of renewable energy projects on state land; calls for more use of electric vehicles coupled with energy efficiency in the electric sector; says large-scale hydroelectric power like that imported from Canada should be considered renewable; and calls for expansion of piped natural gas in the state.
"Vermont needs to move forward to protect our environment, gain greater energy independence and drive innovation and jobs in the energy sectors. This plan puts us on that path," Shumlin said in a statement. "I am proud of the incredible work put in by the many agencies involved and the thousands of citizens who took the time to participate in shaping the ideas and actions that are included."
Key provisions in the document, which resulted from a year of work by Miller's department and other agencies, five public hearings and heavy lobbying by interest groups, include:
— An end to reliance on the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. The state is pushing to close the Vernon reactor when its initial 40-year license expires in March, but plant owner Entergy Corp. is suing in federal court to keep the plant open. A judge's decision is expected any day. Even if Entergy wins and the plant operates for another 20 years, as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has given it permission to do, Miller said the state does not plan to rely on it for power supplies.
— A push to reduce energy use in transportation, which accounts for more than half the state's current energy demand, by getting more residents to use public transportation, ride bikes and walk. At the same time, many vehicles are expected to be powered by electricity. Energy planners see this as a way to even out energy use, with cars charging their batteries overnight, when demand for power currently is very low.
— Greatly expanded use of biomass fuels, including wood pellets, corn and other crops grown to be burned, in the heating of buildings. Shumlin said this is key to the state's efforts to reduce its reliance on foreign oil.
— A continued push for energy conservation, a field in which Vermont frequently has been ranked as a national leader.
The plan is drawing criticism from some quarters.
Guy Page, of the Vermont Energy Partnership, a business group that supports continued operation of Vermont Yankee, said increased reliance on natural gas would increase the state's carbon emissions. He maintained Vermont would be better off getting energy from low-carbon-emitting nuclear power.
Paul Burns, of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, faulted the plan's support for an existing state policy of classifying large-scale hydroelectric imports from Canada as renewable. He warned they could squeeze home-grown renewable energy projects out of the market.
Another area of debate has been whether the state should allow energy projects on public land and, if so, what types. Large-scale wind power projects have drawn criticism from some quarters as despoiling mountain vistas and damaging wildlife. The plan calls for some limited development of renewable energy projects on public land, providing they meet strict permitting criteria.