VFDA 2021 Legislative Report
Updated July 18, 2021
More than $7 billion in coronavirus relief funds have been injected into Vermont’s economy over the past year. This infusion of federal funds includes unprecedented increases for programs and services across state government..
The Big Bill Governor Phil Scott signed a $7.3 billion spending plan in June for FY 2022. Some important details in 275 page budget are highlighted below.
‣ The Vermont Home Weatherization Program will receive $16.4 million. $750k was set aside for the replacement and repair of home heating equipment.
‣ The Vermont Fuel Assistance Program will have about $46 million to spend next winter (more than double its usual amount) due to federal ARPA funding. Not all will go to fuel: 15% of the money will go to the Home Weatherization Program and $5 million be used for heating system or oil tank replacement initiatives. Cold climate heat pumps can also be installed using Weatherization funds.
‣ The Vermont Housing Finance Agency will receive $9 million for a statewide weatherization initiative and Efficiency Vermont will get $7 million for Weatherization and workforce development. $1.5 million will pay for Financial and Clean Energy Coaches to assist low and moderate income Vermonters.
‣ As one of the state’s leading providers of technical training, the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association was named to a Weatherization Workforce Group to develop plans for the coordinated delivery of a standardized statewide Building Sciences curriculum that includes weatherization.
‣ Recognizing electricians and plumbers as essential critical occupation careers, Vermont State Colleges will receive $5 million to provide free last dollar tuition for a number of programs, including electrical and plumbing apprenticeships. Journeyman plumbers are still required to have 8,000 hours of on-the-job training and 576 hours of instruction at Vermont Tech. An S-License Plumber (P-1 and P-2) must be a registered apprentice with Vermont State Apprenticeship Council and have 2,000 hours of on-the-job training OR have 4,000 hours of on-the-job training and 144 hours of formal instruction.
‣ The Agency of Transportation will receive $6.9 million for electric vehicle incentives and electric vehicle supply equipment grants.
Economic Recovery Funds While Vermont is on the road to recovery, there are still businesses that need help. The Vermont Economic Recovery Bridge Program has $10 million in funding to help businesses get back on their feet. Details at accd.vermont.gov/covid-19/economic-recovery-bridge-program
More Help for Renters A program to help Vermonters pay their past due utility bills has been activated. The Vermont Emergency Rental Assistance Program (VERAP) can provide up to $10,000 in financial assistance. VFDA has confirmed that this money is available for oilheat, kerosene, and propane customers who rent their home. Go to vermontfuel.com/fuelaid to learn more about this program.
Foam Fix A new law bans toxic chemicals from a slate of consumer products in Vermont. The ban includes certain types of firefighting foam used at oil and gas terminals. Act 36 as signed into law allows foam that contains PFAS chemicals to be purchased until January 1, 2024. A terminal operator can apply for a limited exemption after that deadline if there are no commercially available alternatives.
Unemployment Compromise After months of negotiations, lawmakers finally agreed to not penalize employers for laying off workers when the government ordered them to shut down last year. The legislation ensures the 2020 experience rating is removed from the unemployment insurance rate calculation. The fix came at a cost as lawmakers added $25 per week for anyone with children collecting unemployment. The benefit bump is estimated to cost employers $100 million over the next several years.
No Reform Despite several proposals that would have made significant adjustments to Act 250, nothing happened. While Governor Scott pushed for a more predictable and less costly permit process, others sought to use the reform enthusiasm to put further restrictions on development.
Contractor Registry Legislation that requires contractors to register with the state and pay a fee collapsed on the one-yard line. VFDA successfully amended the bill (H.157) on the Senate floor to ensure that heating technicians and the companies that employ them would not have to register and pay the $250 fee to the Office of Professional Regulation (a division of the Vermont Secretary of State). However, lawmakers shut down the virtual session before the House could approve the Senate changes. It will be back in January for further review
Power Price Green Mountain Power is the second electric utility in Vermont to ask for more money in 2021. This week GMP asked regulators for a bump of nearly 5%. Last month Burlington Electric asked for a 7.5% increase.
Fix for Four Finalized Legislation (H.433) passed by the House and Senate will eliminate the requirement that trucks obtain a permit when driving on Route 4. The town of Woodstock rakes in about $25,000 per year from truckers who forget to pick up a permit. Woodstock charges up to $962 if a driver doesn’t have a permit in the truck. No other town in Vermont has the ability to fine truckers for simply driving on a state road. If Governor Scott signs the legislation as expected, Woodstock’s ability to penalize truckers for driving on Route 4 without a permit will expire on July 1, 2022.
Getting Connected A good chunk of the federal money ARPA money will try to connect the estimated 60,000 Vermont homes that are still without high speed internet, with $150 million going to broadband buildout projects across the state.
Energy Planning The Vermont Public Service Department will be hosting four virtual regional forums in June focused on energy planning efforts as they update the Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan. The PSD wants to hear comments from citizens and stakeholders around the state before they publish the new plan in January 2022. Go to publicservice.vermont.gov/content/2022-plan to learn more.
The Vermont Climate Council and the Global Warming Solutions Act
On December 1, the Vermont Climate Action Plan will be released. It will likely outline a series of new rebates and incentives beyond what is currently offered to replace fossil fuel equipment. Lawmakers have set aside $100 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to implement the still unwritten plan. While the money has been identified, it isn’t clear whether it can be spent as directed. A review of U.S. Treasury guidance clearly states that ARPA funds can only be used to address the negative economic impacts of the public health emergency. Key lawmakers have admitted they are not sure whether climate change spending is “ARPA-able.”
The alternatives if ARPA money is not available is to fund electric appliance and vehicle incentives with a tax on fossil fuels. Restrictions on the combustion of fossil fuels or the equipment and engines that depend on them will also be considered. This includes internal combustion engine vehicles and gas/oil burners. This approach is becoming more desirable from the climate lobby as efforts to tax fossil fuels have faltered. This is evident in the failure to impose a carbon tax and the likelihood that the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI) never gets off the ground. The regional plan to reduce vehicle emissions started with 13 states, only Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia have signed on to the cap and trade program that would require fuel companies to buy permits to sell gasoline and diesel. Despite these setbacks, supporters have published a model rule outlining the program and committed to reviving the plan as soon as January 1, 2022.
The burner ban in Burlington is on pause but will likely prove successful in 2022. Voters in Vermont’s largest city overwhelming approved a resolution back in March that could lead to a ban and/or a tax on heating equipment that burns fossil fuels. The House Committee on Government Operations held an initial hearing on a proposal (H.448) that would change the charter of the City of Burlington and allow the City Council to “regulate heating equipment.” There was not enough time in 2021 to pass the charter change, but it will be back in January. The proposal to regulate heating equipment has also been proposed in the Act 250 energy efficiency stretch code and in permitting for public buildings.
Click here to read the heating oil industry's letter to Congress from July 2021.