Affordable Heat Act looks more affordable than the alterative

There’s a lot of information (and misinformation) flying around about S.5, the Affordable Heat Act, which comes up for a House vote this week after moving out of the Senate. It’s a bill that aims to lessen carbon emissions, incentivize Vermonters to use cleaner heat methods and provide a path for fuel dealers to diversify their businesses.

I encourage you to read the bill.

Initially, I shared the same concerns that many people currently have about the financial impact this bill would have on Vermonters, especially without a clear vision of exactly what the costs will be and who will eventually end up paying them. As I’ve mentioned before, bills frequently look very different by the time they are presented for a vote, and this bill is no exception.

Chea Waters Evans Running for Chittenden-5 Representative
Chea Waters Evans
Chittenden-5 Representative

The bill does establish a Clean Heat Standard, much like the climate bill from last year, but it does so with some provisions that I think really address some of my issues with last year’s bill.

OK: the cost. The 70-cents-per-gallon cost increase that many are worried about came from an admittedly non-rigorous financial analysis of the possible cost by someone who said it was a “back-of-the-envelope” calculation. The backs of envelopes are for jotting down phone numbers that you immediately forget about and throw away; they’re not for figuring out the complicated financial impact of a climate change bill and the future costs of not making changes to current fuel-use practices.

So, what will it actually cost? Honestly, it’s hard to be sure. The Vermont Climate Council estimates that by the year 2030, the bill will save each household an average of $7,500, around $2 billion for the state. But who will pay the fuel costs? Hopefully, Vermonters and fuel dealers will be able to find a path forward that doesn’t increase costs for consumers. But if it should …

The bill requires the Legislature to create detailed studies on the costs, benefits and logistics of the Affordable Heat Standard, including the projected impact on fuel prices. The next two years will be setting the stage for a finalized Clean Heat Standard, and the required check-back in 2025 will require the Legislature to review and amend the program. That makes me feel a lot more at ease with the bill and allows me to support it with confidence.

When that check-back occurs, the Legislature will do all the things we usually do when we’re learning about a bill — listen to expert testimony, have an opportunity to influence amendments, or even in this case, scratch the whole thing and start over. The appropriated cost at the moment to implement the program is $1.8 million; this does seem like a pretty significant amount of money to spend on a program that’s still in development.

In my mind, though, the financial and environmental costs will be much greater if we don’t start doing something about it now. Last week, students from all over the state were on the Statehouse lawn, marching in support of climate change action. I had the opportunity to meet with a bunch of students from our district; their passion, sincerity and concern was a good counterbalance to my more fiscally moderate concerns about the costs of this program.

I’m more than happy to get more specific with anyone who wants to talk about this more; I have a lot of information I can share with you. And if you really want to do a deep dive, I suggest hopping on YouTube and watching the Senate and House energy committee hearings. You can see how the language and the ideas evolved over time, and how many concerns were addressed.

I’m free for phone calls, texts and emails any time, and can meet on Mondays in town. My number is 917-887-8231 and my email. We’re wrapping up the legislative session in mid-May; you’ll hear from me in the paper again right before we finish up.