MONTPELIER >> Anyone who drives around Vermont past ridge-top wind towers and fields full of solar panels may be surprised to learn that the state's utilities get 0 percent of their power from wind and solar energy.
Vermont Law School students cited that number, contained in the state's own energy plan, in a report on the state's practice of allowing renewable energy credits to be sold to utilities in southern New England.
Each of the credits represents the environmental benefit of getting a set amount of electricity from renewable sources, rather than coal or nuclear generators. Vermont law currently allows developers to sell the credits to out-of-state utilities that need them to meet their own states' requirements that they get a percentage of power from renewable sources.
Three law students, Greg Freeman, Heather Huebner and Aaron Kelly, testified Friday before the state Senate's Natural Resources and Energy Committee.
Kelly said that if, for example, a Vermont developer builds a wind project and sells that project's credits out of state, Vermont technically doesn't receive renewable energy from the project.
"It never did, and in fact the electricity that Vermont uses, because it has been stripped of its environmental character, is nonrenewable energy," he said. "That in essence is why Vermont is getting 0 percent of its power from solar and 0 percent from wind and its greenhouse gas emissions have been rising."
The testimony came as the committee considers legislation to tighten the state's rules for picking the locations of wind and solar projects and to give local communities more say on where they can go. Critics maintain energy developers are running roughshod over Vermont's mountaintops and fields for insufficient gain in the battle against climate change.
Sen. John Rodgers, a Democrat representing rural Essex and Orleans counties, has maintained Vermont has become a favorite target for more populous and wealthy states looking to export their energy problems. "We've got lots of poor people, and no siting standards," he said Friday.
Supporters say development needs to be speeded up to combat an unprecedented environmental threat.
As for the 0 percent figure, Asa Hopkins, director of energy policy and planning for the state Public Service Department, confirmed to the committee that in 2014, a Vermont utility customer "could not legally claim that any of the power ... they were getting was from wind or solar," because the energy credits connected with Vermont solar and wind projects had been sold out of state.
The department's deputy commissioner, Jon Copans, argued that some projects could not have been built without the money earned from the sale of energy credits. He pointed to the renovation of an old mill site on the Walloomsac River in North Bennington into a power project that improved water quality.
Hopkins also noted that as of next January, Vermont will join neighboring states in requiring utilities to get a set amount of their power from renewables. That's expected to help keep the energy credits in state.
He called the law school's report "a passionate response to what is wrong with the system that we are in the process of moving away from."