Vt. bans fracking, expands renewables program

By Anna Simet | May 22, 2012

Vermont has become the first U.S. state to ban fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, for natural gas. Gov. Peter Shumlin signed legislation on May 18, citing that it was essential to protect the quality of the state’s groundwater, and at the same time signed several other pieces of energy-related legislation, including the Vermont Energy Act of 2012.

Among many different components, the act expands the state’s CLEAN Program cap, otherwise known as Standard Offer Program, from 50 MW to 127.5 MW. It states that if a distributed generation facility provides sufficient benefits to the operation and management of the electric grid as a result of its location or other characteristics, it will not count toward the overall program cap of 127.5 MW. That means there aren’t any limits on the amount of clean local energy that can come online from facilities providing sufficient locational benefits.

While a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) component was stripped from the bill prior to passage, it does require the Public Service Board to further study an RPS, including consideration of a system that rewards efficiency. It also calls on the Vermont Department of Public Service to study moving toward a total energy standard, which would include goals for renewable fuels for heat and transportation fuels, not just electricity.

Additionally, the act requires the state to research and adopt greenhouse gas accounting protocols that achieve transparent and accurate life cycle accounting of greenhouse gas emissions, including emissions of such gases from the use of fossil fuels and renewable fuels such as biomass. For woody biomass specifically, the bill calls for the development of voluntary harvesting guidelines that may be used by private landowners to help ensure long-term forest health. These guidelines will address harvesting that is specifically for wood energy purposes, as well as other harvesting.

A final component of the bill authorizes a biomass energy demonstration project to be implemented in Chittenden County by the Biomass Energy Co-op Corp., in order to explore and showcase the development of community-supported wood harvest and pellet production in Vermont.