Lawmakers Look To Vermont Yankee For New Revenues

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(Host) Several Vermont energy programs are running out of money. So some lawmakers are looking to a familiar source for new revenues: The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.

Advocates have also proposed other tax increases to raise money for state weatherization programs

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Now that Vermont Yankee has a new lease on life, some in the Legislature see it as a continuing source of cash.

And that’s true for even ardent opponents of the nuclear power plant.

(Klein) "If Yankee is going to continue to operate then they need to continue to be paying their fair share for certain things."

(Dillon) East Montpelier Democrat Tony Klein chairs the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee. He wanted Yankee to close this year when its original federal license expired.

But last month a federal judge threw out a state law that required legislative approval for the plant to continue to operate.

Over the last seven years, Yankee has paid more than $30 million into the Clean Energy Development Fund, which helps launch renewable energy projects. The money stops flowing this year. Klein says the fund is worth continuing.

(Klein) "This is a fund that’s been responsible for really jumpstarting a large sector of renewable generation that small businesses and local residences have really been able to take advantage of."

(Dillon) Klein says Governor Peter Shumlin last year promised to come with his own proposal to fund the Clean Energy Program. Klein says he’s still waiting for the governor’s suggestions. But in the meantime, Klein proposed other revenue sources, such as applying the sales tax to home heating fuels. However, that idea was dead on arrival with the governor.

(Klein) "I don’t mind telling you I got cold water poured on me on that one big time quickly."

(Dillon) Money is also tight for weatherization programs run by community action agencies around the state. Low income people who qualify for fuel assistance subsidies are supposed to get their homes weatherized to make them more energy efficient. But Bob Stannard, a lobbyist who represents community action agencies, says the programs have a lengthy backlog.

(Stannard) "We have a waiting list right now of about 18 months. So the need is most assuredly there. The concern is there. The goals have been set, but we’re going the other way."

(Dillon) The major revenue source for weatherization programs is a gross receipts tax on home heating fuel. Stannard would like to see the tax doubled to eliminate the weatherization backlog.

(Stannard) "The stories are not pretty for Vermonters. I mean we have people that are living in one room of their house. We have people who won’t get out of bed because it’s too cold. There are people in this state who are really, really hurting and they really do need our help."

(Dillon) The Vermont Fuel Dealers Association says Vermonters already pay an average of about $22 a year in taxes to heat their homes. The association questioned whether consumers would want to pay additional taxes to fund weatherization efforts.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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