New Energy Clinic REC Report: Solar and Wind Provide Zero Percent of Vermont Electric Supply

Despite the recent growth in solar and wind projects, Vermonters’ consumption of energy from solar and wind is 0-percent, according to the Department of Public Service, as revealed today in a report by Vermont Law School’s Energy Clinic.

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’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. 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,” stated Heather Huebner, Community Solar Team Leader for Vermont Law School’s Energy Clinic and a second year law student at VLS.

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. These goals will only be achieved if existing and future policies encourage the retirement of RECs in Vermont,” noted Gregg Freeman, report coauthor and third year law student.

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,” noted report coauthor Aaron Kelly, a Master of Energy Regulation and Law student at VLS and an 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, and this report is being presented to the Committee at the request of the Chair, Senator Christopher Bray.

The report, prepared by Gregg Freeman, Heather Huebner, and Aaron Kelly, students in the Institute’s Energy Clinic, 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 green house gas reduction benefits.
  • Allowing Vermont net metering customers to retain and retire RECs from home and community solar arrays without financial penalty
  • 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 Institute for Energy and the Environment and energy clinic supervisor, has worked with the student clinicians on the research. Professor Jones, an expert in RECs and net metering policy, stated, “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 goals in Massachusetts and Connecticut.”

The Energy Clinic’s report can be found here.

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