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Vermont’s House adopts the Clean Heat Standard – a major climate bill aimed at reducing emissions from buildings

This story will be updated.

Lawmakers in the Vermont House of Representatives voted 96 to 44 on Wednesday to advance a bill that would create the state’s first-ever clean heat standard. The bill then goes to the Senate.

For more details on the Clean Heat standard, check out this story.

The standard would create a marketplace, where fossil fuel wholesalers and importers doing business in Vermont would have to buy or create so-called “clean heat credits” — in proportion to the amount of global warming emissions their products generate. .

More from VPR News: Journalist Debrief: Vermont Lawmakers Evaluate Historic Regulations on Fossil Fuel Companies

The idea is that credits will be generated by doing things that reduce emissions from heating buildings. This primarily means weatherproofing homes and businesses and helping Vermont residents switch to heat sources that emit less carbon into the atmosphere.

The bill includes a list of activities that could generate credits, including providing biofuels instead of traditional fossil fuels, weatherizing homes, and installing cold-climate heat pumps and wood-fired heating. high yield.

“The sooner we switch to cleaner heating options, the more money we save, the more economic and environmental benefits we will enjoy,” said Rep. Tim Briglin of Thetford, chairman of the House Energy and Technology Committee. “The longer we wait for the transition, the more costly, disruptive and inequitable this transition will be.”

Building heating accounts for about 34% of Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions. The state has committed itself by law to drastically reducing them – starting in 2025.

The Clean Heat Standard is the primary emission reduction measure recommended in the state’s climate action plan.

WATCH: How is climate change expected to affect Vermont over the next 30 years?

If passed into law, the bill would trigger a two-and-a-half-year process, whereby the Public Utilities Commission would create the credit system with public input along the way. It would enter into force in January 2025.

“The longer we wait for the transition, the more costly, disruptive and inequitable this transition will be.”

Rep. Tim Briglin, Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Technology

The legislation requires the PUC to consider the total emissions generated by an alternative fuel, an addition climate advocates wanted.

Life cycle emissions are the total greenhouse gas emissions created by a fuel, from when it is extracted or refined, to when it is shipped, until you burn it in your home or car. Some biofuels are as carbon intensive as the fossil fuels they are meant to replace. Proponents say this system would award credits based on the emissions they actually offset.

In an op-ed in VTDigger on Wednesday, West Dover’s Representative Laura Sibilia – vice president of House Energy and Technology – said she saw the action now as a boon for small businesses and customers.

“Our smaller dealers of fossil fuels, and Vermonters who depend on them to heat their homes, risk being left behind in this increasingly volatile global energy market,” Sibilia wrote. “…inaction threatens to be an anchor, dragging down small fossil fuel dealers and their most vulnerable customers.”

About 60% of Vermont homes are heated with petroleum products like fuel oil, propane and kerosene, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Right now, prices are at their highest.

With energy prices so high, some lawmakers have worried about whether the bill would increase costs for energy-hungry Vermonters.

Representatives Jim Harrison of Chittenden, Peter Fagan of Rutland City and Barbara Murphy of Fairfax proposed an amendment that would have required the Public Utilities Commission to study the financial implications of a standard before the legislature approves it, delaying its approval until 2023.

“We don’t know what the impact of H.715 will be on prices in the future…” Harrison said, referring to the invoice number. “We don’t know exactly what the program will look like in the future and how it will impact all of us.”

Modeling from the Energy Action Network shows that fuel oil and propane are much more volatile in their prices than options like wood pellets and electric heat pumps.

More from VRP News: Journalist debrief: Vermont’s new climate assessment finds the state is warming faster than previously thought. What does it mean?

Generally speaking, moving away from fossil fuel heat sources tends to reduce consumer costs over time, but requires an upfront investment.

The bill passed Wednesday would require that 16% of the clean heat credits that fuel wholesalers and importers must earn each year be earned by providing cleaner heat to low- and middle-income households, respectively.

In addition, the bill would create an equity advisory council for Vermonters from affected backgrounds.

It carries an appropriation of $1.2 million, to fund among other things: new staff at the Public Utilities Commission and the Department of Public Service to oversee and audit the program.

The bill is now going to the Senate.

Do you have questions, comments or advice? Send us a message or contact the journalist Abagael Giles @AbagaelGiles.