Vermont to publish energy compliance standards

By Katie Fletcher | October 03, 2016

The Vermont Department of Public Service has published a draft of recommendations for regional and municipal energy planning and standards for issuing a determination of energy compliance. Final recommendations and standards are required under Act 174 of 2016 by Nov. 1.

Renewable energy generation has become one of Vermont’s largest new land uses, resulting in more attention being focused on integrating energy planning with land use planning. Act 174 was created as a result of recommendations from both the governor’s Energy Generation Siting Policy Commission and the Solar Siting Task Force. The Act establishes a new set of municipal and regional energy planning standards, which, if met, allow those plans to carry weight in the siting process for energy generation. Municipalities and regions that plan to the enhanced standards envisioned by the Act will receive substantial deference before the public service board in respect to land conservation measures and specific policies included in their plans.

In order to demonstrate that enhanced energy plans are worthy of substantial deference, the plans must be judged against the published standards once finalized. According to the DPS, these standards are designed to allow towns and regions to show that their plans have taken a close look at energy in their community, have considered energy used for buildings and transportation, analyzed their current and future energy use, and planned carefully in alignment with state energy policy for the land use needs of energy generation. 

The recently released draft determination standards appear as a checklist-based application form. When submitting a plan for determination, a municipality or region will address each item on the checklist in turn, marking it as yes, no or not applicable. There is also the opportunity to provide explanatory notes with the submission. The standards structure divides the checklist into four parts: analysis, targets, pathways and mapping. Analysis and targets standards address how energy analyses are done within plans and whether targets are established for energy conservation, efficiency, fuel switching and use of renewable energy across sectors. Pathways standards identify actions to achieve the targets. Mapping standards address the identification of suitable and unsuitable areas for the development of renewable energy.

Along with the determination standards, the department is also publishing a set of recommendations from the 2016 Comprehensive Energy Plan tailored to local and regional action. In order to receive a determination of energy compliance, a municipal or regional plan must be consistent with the recommendations for energy planning pertaining to the efficient use of energy and the siting of development of renewable energy resources contained in the state energy plans, which are contained in the 2016 CEP.

The drafting of CEP was completed prior to Act 174, so it wasn’t written with municipalities and regions in mind. For this reason, the standards are accompanied by a modified set of CEP recommendations, with a list of potential actions or strategies that municipalities and regions could employ. Future CEPs will have these recommendations integrated directly and identified specifically, however.

There are several recommendations for biomass within the recommendations identified as relevant to regional planning commissions and municipalities excerpted from the CEP. Increasing the use of modern wood heating with biomass is encouraged in Vermont’s CEP. Chapter twelve was included in the excerpt document which discussed applicable recommendations for renewable resources. Both short-term and long-term recommendations for solid biomass were provided. The importance of education is stressed within the short-term recommendations, as well as supporting change-out programs to substitute fossil-fueled heating equipment with advanced wood heating equipment where appropriate to reduce net carbon emissions, promote local wood fuel sources and expand the use of this renewable resource.

Long-term, the CEP suggests improving local infrastructure and technology to support continued expansion of clean and efficient advanced wood energy systems in Vermont to help achieve the state’s goal of doubling wood’s share of building heating by 2035. Another recommendation was to develop a roadmap for further expansion of the use of advanced wood heat in the town or region, including strategies to increase the number of buildings heating with wood fuels, promoting locally sourced wood, expanding weatherization of buildings to keep heat in, and more.

Developing a sustainable biofuels industry in Vermont to enable the production and use of biofuels for transportation, agricultural and thermal applications, as well as specifically increasing the use of biodiesel in transportation and heating were included in the excerpted CEP recommendations as well.

Farm, non-farm and landfill methane biogas was included, encouraging municipalities that are remodeling their waste treatment facilities to consider implementing anaerobic digestion to capture methane as part of their treatment system.

The recently published draft of the determination standards and recommendations for energy planning follows an extensive period of stakeholder and public input that occurred over the summer, and feedback will continue to be accepted until Oct. 20. A public hearing to discuss the drafted standards will be held Oct. 11.