Daily Archives: December 16, 2014

The need for SPEED

Vermont’s SPEED program is in the news again. And, as is usually the case, much of the coverage misses the point. As does all of the criticism.

SPEED, for those just joining us, is short for Sustainably Priced Energy Enterprise Development. It was enacted by the legislature in 2005; its aim was to encourage development of renewable energy, which at the time was in an embryonic stage and suffered from competitive disadvantages.

(It was more expensive than fossil fuels. Which, of course, benefit from tax credits and other forms of government largesse, and the harm they do to the environment is not factored into their pricing, so they are much cheaper than they ought to be.)

As I explained in a nice long 2013 thumbsucker on Green Mountain Daily:

SPEED was designed to surmount the chicken-or-egg problem with renewables: the upfront investment is relatively large, making renewables uncompetitive at the beginning. Over time, their costs drop dramatically because, well, they’re renewable: no need to keep on buying fuel. SPEED provided a market-based solution to the initial-investment problem by allowing utilities to sell long-term contracts for renewable power. Without SPEED, adoption of renewables in Vermont would have been much, much slower.

The program’s critics say the trading scheme means that our renewables are, in effect, enabling the use of dirty energy elsewhere. In particular, SPEED’s been used as a punching bag by opponents of wind and solar power.

Today, there are stories on VTDigger (pretty good) and VPR (not so good) about the Shumlin administration definitely (VTDigger) or possibly (VPR) planning to phase out SPEED in 2017.

Well, hell. That was the plan from the very beginning. SPEED was meant to goose the renewables market. And it’s worked: according to VTDigger, “The state has built wind, solar and other renewable power generation that could supply about 15 percent of the state’s electric retail sales.” That’s substantial progress.

Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, displays some of his vast knowledge.

Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, displays some of his vast knowledge.

SPEED was designed to be temporary, and was set to expire in 2017. It could have been extended, to be sure; but one of the House’s top energy people, my own state representative Tony Klein, has been saying for a long time that SPEED would sunset on time.

And on Saturday, Governor Shumlin told the House Democratic caucus that SPEED would be scuttled on schedule. VPR’s John Dillon somehow missed this; he has the administration merely considering a change to SPEED. (The VTDigger story has the administration “calling for an end” to SPEED, which is closer to the mark but not quite there.) In his story, Dillon gives extensive time to the Vermont Law School’s Kevin Jones, who’s had a bug up his butt about SPEED for a long time.

“For me, it’s at least a step in the right direction for the Public Service Department and the Shumlin administration for finally acknowledging that the SPEED program does not work in terms of providing any climate mitigation,” he said. “As a matter of fact, it has increased Vermont’s carbon footprint, by something, according to their analysis, like 70,000 tons in greenhouse gas emissions in 2013 alone.”

Jones’ interpretation is ignorant at best, disingenuous at worst. The DPS and administration are not “finally acknowledging” anything; they are letting SPEED expire on schedule.

And the purpose of SPEED was not to immediately mitigate Vermont’s carbon footprint; it was to hasten development of renewables so our longer-term footprint would decrease.

Also, SPEED may have “increased Vermont’s carbon footprint,” but only technically: the renewable credits were sold out of state, but the energy was still being produced, thus reducing the region’s carbon footprint while  — again, technically, and only in the short term — increasing our own.

Finally, a misperception from VTDigger’s article:

The state’s goal is to generate 20 percent [of electricity via renewables] by 2017, but there is no requirement in state law that this power is to be sold to Vermont customers.

This reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of electric markets. In the absence of large-scale storage technology, electricity is produced, transmitted, and consumed all at the same time. The power grid is a regional creature, networked to the national grid. There is no way to tease out which energy came from where and ensure its consumption within the state of origin. Such a “requirement in state law” would be technologically laughable.

Vermont’s power — renewable, dirty, Vermont Yankee, whatever the source — goes into the grid at the same time as power from out-of-state sources; it’s shunted around the grid to where it’s needed at that moment, and consumed. It’s like taking a cup of your tap water, pouring it into a bucket of water, and then wanting to take back your own water. Can’t be done.

Which is at the heart of the anti-SPEED absurdity. The renewable energy whose development was fostered by SPEED went into that big bucket. Whether or not it was immediately credited to Vermont’s account, it exists, and it helps reduce the region’s dependence on dirty energy.

The SPEED program has had a purpose. It has served that purpose well. Now it’s time to move on. And we will.

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He labored mightily, produced a mouse, and looks on it with pride

Mark Snelling, about to be mollywhopped by Phil Scott in 2010.

Mark Snelling, about to be mollywhomped by Phil Scott in 2010.

In a move likely to improve the financial condition of the Vermont Republican Party, Mark Snelling has stepped down as treasurer.

Okay, that first part was added by me. But Snelling’s four-year tenure has seen the party’s finances plunge from “healthy” to “dismal” and then slowly rise to “pathetic.”

And he’s proud of that.

During his time as treasurer, the party’s budget rose from a $50,000 deficit to a $50,000 surplus, Snelling said, adding that he does not take credit for that improvement.

Well, if that ain’t a big fat slice of humblebrag. He points out an improvement during his tenure, but good golly, he’s not claiming credit.

Beyond that bit of disingenuousness, there’s a bigger question: Accepting his numbers at face value, is improving a nearly bankrupt party’s finances by $100,000 in four years that much of an accomplishment? $25,000 per year? Really?

To be fair to Snelling, the treasurer isn’t in charge of fundraising; he keeps the books. But party officers do play a crucial role in beating the bushes for money, and Snelling is a (presumably) well-connected scion of one of Vermont Republicanism’s royal families.

His four-year cutoff is highly convenient. In the time just before he took office, the Republicans and Democrats were on more or less equal financial footing. The Dems had the electoral edge, but the GOP had the business community and other deep-pocketed denizens. In the 2010 Dubie/Shumlin gubernatorial campaign, the two men raised basically the same amount of money — in the range of $1.5 million.

Coincidence or not, while Snelling was party treasurer, the money shifted almost entirely to the Democrats. He wasn’t responsible for that, but he sure didn’t make it any better. And improving the fortunes of a major party by $25K per year, at a time when it had nowhere to go but up, is nothing to brag about.