Brock gives tough love speech to renewable energy industry crowd

Randy Brock, GOP candidate for governor, speaks at the 2012 Renewable Energy Vermont Conference. Photo by Nat Rudarakanchana

Randy Brock, GOP candidate for governor, speaks at the 2012 Renewable Energy Vermont Conference. Photo by Nat Rudarakanchana

Gubernatorial candidates Gov. Peter Shumlin and state Sen. Randy Brock couldn’t have more divergent views on renewable energy. Shumlin, a Democrat, is an avid supporter of government subsidies for wind, solar and other forms of green power, while Brock, the GOP challenger, believes the renewable industry should receive no special treatment.

Industry representatives greeted Shumlin with enthusiasm but gave Brock a cooler reception at the Renewable Energy Vermont Conference in Burlington on Tuesday.

Shumlin pledged that the state would continue to fund the Clean Energy Development Fund (CEDF), even in the face of state budget challenges. He said the state’s push for renewable energy is vital in the struggle against climate change. The governor also sees alternative power as an economic driver for Vermont.

“Anyone who says that the renewable transformation in Vermont is a job killer is not looking at the facts,” said Shumlin.

The governor defended energy policies like the standard offer, which fixes retail rates for renewable energy purchases, and net metering, which allows Vermonters to generate their own small-scale renewable power.

Shumlin wouldn’t say where funding for the CEDF would come from in light of the recent lawsuit filed by Entergy Corp., the owner of Vermont Yankee, the state’s only nuclear power plant. Entergy has refused to pay a new generating tax that would help support the program. The governor said the state is looking at raising wind power tax rates and is examining energy tax models in nearby states like Connecticut.

Brock doesn’t see renewable energy as a panacea for climate change and the state’s economic woes. He questions the value of Vermont’s renewable energy subsidies and programs and argues that they often unfairly burden poor ratepayers.

“I had an underlying question in my mind: Is it appropriate for government to pick industrial winners and losers in the renewable energy industry?” asked Brock.

He said the state’s subsidy program for solar and wind energy might not withstand a rigorous cost-benefit analysis.

“Are we asking the taxpayer and the ratepayer to become investors in technology? What’s the ratepayer going to get in return? … Are they going to get any benefit? Folks weren’t able to answer that question, at least to my satisfaction,” said Brock.

Brock suggested that the renewable energy industry avail itself of existing grants and subsidies, through the Vermont Employment Growth Incentives program and the Vermont Economic Development Authority, rather than rely on renewable energy-specific subsidies.

Brock concluded his speech by challenging members of the industry to prove that they could be successful in a competitive free market environment. He maintained that state government could help, but chiefly through programs which remained “fully transparent to taxpayers.”

While the audience applauded and laughed through Shumlin’s meandering speech, Brock’s was met with a less convivial response. He joked that he’d been advised to wear a Kevlar vest to the conference.

At one point Shumlin cracked that he could only help the industry if elected governor: “If not,” said Shumlin, “you guys might be out of luck.” To which talk moderator and Renewable Energy Vermont executive director Gabrielle Stebbins replied, “Agreed.”

After the forum, Stebbins praised Shumlin’s commitment to the Clean Energy Development Fund, which has funded more than 2,500 renewable installations statewide, mostly for small businesses. She described it as “a great return on investment.”

Stebbins disagreed with Brock’s assessment of the value of the standard offer program and the Clean Energy Development Fund. At a press conference the day before, Brock said he’d consider eliminating the CEDF.

At that press conference, Brock also criticized certain interactions between the state and renewable industry companies as examples of “crony capitalism,” a charge to which Shumlin responded on Tuesday by arguing that Vermont “has been very balanced in ensuring that we have cheap affordable power, and the right incentives in place,” and “that to turn back the clock … will be a jobs killer.”

Nat Rudarakanchana

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30 Comments on "Brock gives tough love speech to renewable energy industry crowd"

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Mike Kerin
3 years 7 months ago

I guess Brock doesn’t have a problem with subsides for nuclear, oil, and coal though.
They all get much bigger subsidies than wind and solar do. Solar works very well even here in Northfield Vermont. My array makes all my power since 8-08 and then some goes back into the grid!

If the solar panels ever stop working there is no waste that is dangerous for thousands of years. While they are working there are no spills that can pollute our streams and rivers and lakes.

Diane Grenkow
3 years 7 months ago
According to a Manhattan Institute study I was reading about this morning there is this: The Production Tax Credit (PTC) provides a subsidy to the wind industry that is at least 12 times greater than that provided to the oil and gas sector and 6.5 times greater than that provided to the nuclear industry. http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/ir_25.htm#.UGwmQkITsy4 The problem is scale: what you have at your home is world’s away from the projects standing on our ridges now and being proposed for more and more of them. Shumlin says as many and as fast as we can — and obviously as large… Read more »
Prospero Gogo
3 years 7 months ago
From the ThinkProgress website: Mapping US fossil fuel subsidies In a 2011 study of historical US energy subsidies published by DBL Investors, Nancy Pfund and Ben Healy analyse US federal government support for various energy industries during their formative years. For the coal industry this meant cheap land grants in the 19th century. For oil and gas it was tax incentives during the first half of the 20th century, followed by costs of regulation, civillian R&D and liability risk-shifting among others for nuclear power from the late 1940s. Finally, for modern renewables it was tax incentives from the early 1990s… Read more »
Paula Schramm
3 years 7 months ago

Thank you for this ! Gives some balance to the Manhattan Institute study, etc. I guess it all depends on what you’re comparing, and how big a picture you want to draw….

Bob Stannard
3 years 7 months ago

To answer Sen. Brock’s question about government picking winners and losers, the answer is yes. Government has been subsidizing oil, coal, nuclear and gas at the expense of wind, solar, hydro and other renewables.

It’s what government does, but it is now time to shift the subsidies away from well established sources of power to those newer technologies that genuinely need a boost.

Bryan Moore
3 years 7 months ago

Manhattan Institute is funded by Oil and Coal companies and of course, the Koch brothers.

The Manhattan Institute received $19,470,416 in grants from 1985–2005, from foundations such as the Koch Family Foundations, the John M. Olin Foundation, Inc., the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Scaife Foundations, and the Smith Richardson Foundation.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manhattan_Institute_for_Policy_Research

Also, according to NY Times, PTC costs taxpayers $1 billion a year. A drop in the bucket compared to the billions received by those in oil/coal/nuclear/gas.
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/21/business/energy-environment/as-a-tax-credit-wanes-jobs-vanish-in-wind-power-industry.html?pagewanted=all

Diane Grenkow
3 years 7 months ago

True. What I meant to say, and failed to, was that whatever numbers you want to use you can find to back up whatever position you want to take. I agree with Mr. Gill, it’s all the same thing. And speaking of which, how different are Brock and Shumlin ultimately? Both are for big business and industrial scale solutions to our problems. I’ll be voting for Annette Smith and hoping that the votes get counted properly…

David Usher
3 years 7 months ago

Baseload power, please. Except for hydroelectric, ‘renewables’ do not provide the reliability the grid demands.

James Gill
3 years 7 months ago

Here is an idea. Get rid of all energy subsidies, be it nuclear, oil, coal, hydro, solar, wind or biomass. It is all ‘corporate welfare’ anyway.

Also, are the ‘talk moderators’ suppose to take sides? Doesn’t sound very professional.

Rob Roy Macgregor
3 years 7 months ago

Gotta love that free-market approach. Any chance that the externalities like the cost of cleaning up after themselves will be accounted for in the free market pricing of coal, oil, gas and nuclear? Not too likely, Randy….

John Greenberg
3 years 7 months ago
There are a number of points in Brock’s and other comments worth addressing: 1) “Brock concluded his speech by challenging members of the industry to prove that they could be successful in a competitive free market environment.” Others have already addressed the question of subsidies, so I won’t go into detail, except to note that the discussion of subsidies is often skewed by cherry-picking the timeframe and by defining “subsidy” to meet the ideological needs of those doing the study. There is no question, however, that over the last 3+ decades, fossil fuels and nuclear have received far more subsidies… Read more »
Willem post
3 years 7 months ago
John, In the meantime Vermont is to build on about 200 miles of ridge lines, as Blittersdorf advocates, about 57 Lowell Mountains at a cost of $9.2 billion? $160 million x 57. Vermont will look like a pin cushion and will have noisy ridge lines all over the state and the cost of that variable, intermittent energy will be about 10c/kWh, subsidized, about 15c/kWh, unsubsidized, per GMP; grid prices have been at about 5.5c/kWh for the past 3 years, and likely will stay that way as utilities use more low-cost, low-CO2 emitting gas that will be in plentiful supply for… Read more »
Coleman Dunnar
3 years 7 months ago

A lot of loose numbers being thrown around here comparing apple to oranges. How about getting honest and do the comparitive subsidy analysis based on cents/btu. I’m willing to wager that on that basis oil/nuke is still considerably cheaper than wind/solar.

Doug Hoffer
3 years 7 months ago

Classic
Should the analysis include externalities?
If not, it’s meaningless.

Coleman Dunnar
3 years 7 months ago

Of couse include externalities – now which number should we chose and what extenalities do we chose. Or do we just grab a number and impacts that make the economics of our position look good. How far do you reach down the impact chain do you just consider that the shoe was lost cuasing the horse to be lost and finally the war?

Doug Hoffer
3 years 7 months ago

It is self-evident that we choose externalities that can be measured with some precision. To do otherwise is a waste of time. And to over-reach or cherry pick is unprofessional at best.

Rob Roy Macgregor
3 years 7 months ago

Well, once again, how about including the costs of the externalities?

Edward Jaffe
3 years 7 months ago
A few comments from someone who was a lighting engineer for many years: a) If the Emperor Constantine had nuclear power plants — that would still represent something we needed to deal with today. The NET PRESENT COST of all future nuclear waste management and all future nuclear clean-up — assuming there is never another accident — is probably in the Trillions — it’s incalculable. b) The RISK-ADJUSTED cost of generating power from Vermont Yankee (owned and operated by the Insane Risk Posse) is likewise astronomical — as it is one of the most dangerous plants in the US. (uprate/age/tons… Read more »
3 years 7 months ago
“Stebbins praised Shumlin’s commitment to the Clean Energy Development Fund, which has funded more than 2,500 renewable installations statewide, mostly for small businesses. She described it as “a great return on investment.” Stebbins was supposed to be an impartial MODERATOR, not a PROMOTER of RE during this meeting which was set up as a friendly forum for Shumlin so he could feed red meat to the RE lobby and get more of their campaign contributions. The CEDF has NOT been a good investment. It is a vehicle to get money for non-viable RE projects that could not get a dime… Read more »
3 years 7 months ago

We can all feel really good having renewable, clean energy but at what cost to our children’s future? We need to do a complete cost-benefit analysis, end all subsidies for energy, and then make a decision.

Paula Schramm
3 years 7 months ago
When we are thinking about our children’s future, let’s please include the “externalities” of unmitigated climate change. Please read Bill McKibben’s 8/2/12 article in Rolling Stone, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math”, if you haven’t already. ” Terrifying” in this case is NOT fear-mongering or over-statement. This isn’t to say that tiny Vermont’s energy choices will have a sizable direct effect in mitigation. But it is to acknowledge that the affordable ways we can figure out in this state to move toward dependence on safe, sensible renewable energy will continue to inspire & motivate other states by showing what is possible,… Read more »
3 years 7 months ago
Randy Brock certainly has painted himself into a tight corner with his criticism of the incentive-based “renewable energy” boom. With that said, he is clearly taking the high road on this issue, while the Governor panders and the “moderator” is siding with Shumlin. ** At one point Shumlin cracked that he could only help the industry if elected governor: “If not,” said Shumlin, “you guys might be out of luck.” To which talk moderator and Renewable Energy Vermont executive director Gabrielle Stebbins replied, “Agreed.” ** This may or may not be an actual joke, but it is telling either way.… Read more »
John Greenberg
3 years 7 months ago
The implication of Matt Fisken’s last paragraph is that VY power is keeping VT electricity bills low. This flies in the face of all the known facts. Vermont’s utilities have no contracts with VY, so VY has no direct impact on VT prices. VT utilities do buy power through the ISO-NE markets (directly and through market-based contracts) where VY sells most or all of its power, but VY’s impact on this market is tiny: it accounts for about 2% of the grid’s total power. All of the information available to the public suggests that market prices are currently LOWER than… Read more »
3 years 7 months ago
Hopefully you’re right John, but I think it’s presumptuous to say there will be no impact on prices. Play the shell game all you want, but when Vermont’s largest generator stops generating power for an extended period of time, (to quote Dr. Emmett Brown) “you’re going to see some serious $#!†”. Whether VY keeps running for another 20 days or 20 years, the fact is that electricity is getting more expensive. We know that wind must be backed up by power plants, preferably ones that run on natural gas. We know that Tom Evslin, who was instrumental in bringing interval… Read more »
Avram Patt
3 years 7 months ago
Natural gas is the backup for the New England grid now. Natural gas generation is dispatched now, every day, to meet fluctuations in demand due to weather, time of day, season, or power plant outages. In order to accomodate industrial wind generation, natural gas plants do not need to be added to the New England grid. In fact, whenever the wind projects are generating, LESS natural gas needs to be burned than if they were not generating. All I know about the natural gas project is what was reported in the press, including here. It will truck compressed natural gas… Read more »
3 years 2 months ago
Avram, “In fact, whenever the wind projects are generating, LESS natural gas needs to be burned than if they were not generating.” A true statement, but it is not nearly as much less as claimed by IWT promoters, because these OCGTs and CCGTs will be operating at a lower output AND ramping up and down, and that is INEFFICIENT, requiring more Btus/kWh, just as a car would, and they wear out more quickly, just as a car would. Whereas the NE grid has a significant gas turbine capacity to deal with wind energy, the owners of that capacity will want… Read more »
John Greenberg
3 years 7 months ago
Actually, Matt Frisken, what’s “presumptuous” is to imply a VY impact on prices without specifying any mechanism. Yes, VY is Vermont’s largest generator. If I’m not mistaken, IBM is its largest manufacturer. In both cases, most of the product is consumed elsewhere. This is neither a particularly unusual situation nor an especially puzzling one. Electricity prices are quite volatile, but “the fact is that electricity is [NOT] getting more expensive;” in fact, in the last 4 years, its gotten much cheaper (at the wholesale level) thanks to falling demand and increasing supply of natural gas (see Avram Patt’s comment immediately… Read more »
3 years 7 months ago
John, I don’t think you’re wrong, but I do think you’re confusing my speculation with a presentation of the facts. I have no ability to see into the future, so I cannot possibly provide you with factual information about events that have yet to occur. I know that two years ago, ISO-NE said that closing VY will cause problems locally, possibly “melting transmission lines.” Like most worst case scenarios, this was quickly swept under the rug. If this is still a possibility, then it would be wise to consider the costs of replacing those melted lines and the economic impact… Read more »
krister adams
3 years 7 months ago
I work for a statewide, non-profit, affordable housing develper/owner/manager. If we did not receive funding subsidy thru RE Vermont, Efficiency Vermont, Vermont Fuel Efficiency program and others, we could not have performed desparately needed energy efficiency upgrades to well over 100 units in the past couple of years. This obviously benefits residents and the owner, keeps these properties viable for long-term taxes and affordable housing for the community, employed many VT contractors, significantly impacts greenhouse gas emmissions/pollution, impacts wastefulness, promotes energy independance, etc., etc. If Brock and others think that VEDA or othe grant programs can fill this funding gap… Read more »
Edward Jaffe
3 years 7 months ago
Structurally, power plants generally supply power to a grid — not to residents near its facility. When I lived in Bellows Falls — I could hear the falls — but the hydro facility pushed power up to the NE Grid and my house got power down from the NE Grid — via the transformer yard near the dam. The whole hydro plant is tiny — yet if I recall — generates around 60MW. A while back Bellows Falls — in an astonishing attempt — tried to seize the dam via Eminent Domain! Anyway — when VY boasts it supplies “1/3rd… Read more »
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