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Vermont House finalizes its version of the 'Affordable Heat Act'

A photo of curved wooden desks on a red and gold rug. No one is sitting at the desks
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public File
The Vermont House advanced the Affordable Heat Act Friday.

Lawmakers in Vermont’s House of Representatives gave their final approval Friday to the Affordable Heat Act.

The climate bill aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from heating buildings. Home and commercial heating is the second-biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont, behind transportation.

It directs the Public Utility Commission to start the process of creating new market regulations on the companies that import fossil heating fuels for sale in Vermont.

Under the policy, those companies will have to pay an entity that will likely look like Efficiency Vermont for the heat sector, to do things that help their customers use less fossil fuel every year.

Companies will be able to apply to do the work themselves if they prefer. The amount they’re required to fund or do will depend on how much heating fuel they sold the year prior and the emissions it caused.

Rep. Scott Beck, a Republican from St. Johnsbury, introduced an amendment Friday morning that proposed three changes to the bill.

One looked at the way the bill treats “renewable natural gas,” or natural gas that is refined from organic materials, rather than from fossil fuels.

When captured from sources that would otherwise be emitting methane into the atmosphere, burning that gas can have a climate benefit. But natural gas pipelines are leaky— and many climate scientists have raised questions about the emissions benefit of transporting that gas over many miles.

“Everyone in this room, all across the political divide, are aware of the dangers of global warming.”
Rep. Jarrod Sammis, Republican from Castleton

Rep. Beck’s amendment called for eliminating a provision in the bill that requires any piped natural gas derived from organic sources like cow manure, food waste or landfills, have a demonstrated pathway to Vermont consumers if a company wants to use it to comply with the new regulations.

This amendment failed in the House on Friday morning, along with a change that would have required the PUC file draft regulations with lawmakers ahead of the 2024 election, rather than at the start of the 2025 Legislative session.

The amendments drew strong support among House Republicans, but not from Democrats and Progressives.

House votes to advance the bill

Republicans on Friday again voiced concern about how this bill would affect fuel prices in Vermont and the cost of living.

“Everyone in this room, all across the political divide, are aware of the dangers of global warming,” said Rep. Jarrod Sammis, a Republican from Castleton, who voted against advancing the bill. “I think that is not the question we’re trying to answer… but how to address it.”

But Rep. Gabrielle Stebbins, a Democrat from Burlington who co-chairs the Climate Solutions Caucus, said the bill that’s advancing out of the House includes more guardrails to protect Vermonters and their businesses.

She said the bill acknowledges the transition away from fossil heat can’t happen overnight.

“As we make this transition, how do we keep an eye on all of the variables and all of the concerns that we have heard from Vermonters and make sure we move forward in a deliberate, methodical, thoughtful, cost-effective way?” Stebbins said.

“The House really dug in to put additional guardrails around what the potential cost impact might be and what the benefits will be.”
Rep. Gabrielle Stebbens, Democrat from Burlington

Among other changes from the Senate's version of the bill, the House bill reduces the fines that regulated companies will have to pay if they fail to deliver their share of emissions reductions.

It also creates a provision to allow the Public Utility Commission to waive those penalties if a business demonstrates it’s made a good-faith effort to comply and was unable to do so.

The House added a provision to exclude fuels used for both tractors and heavy machinery and home heat.

“We also added in some measures to really zero in on residents of manufactured homes, making sure we’re really frontloading our support for low- and moderate-income Vermonters and working Vermonters,” Stebbins said. “The House really dug in to put additional guardrails around what the potential cost impact might be and what the benefits will be.”

Rep. Gina Galfetti, a Republican from Barre, said those guardrails aren’t enough for her constituents. She voted against advancing the bill. “The blowback for passing this bill will be enormous,” Galfetti said. “I for one will be on the record for having stood up for the people of Vermont.”

Rep. Kathleen James of Manchester voted in favor of the bill. Speaking on the House floor Friday, she said the transition away from fossil heat is well underway in Vermont — for people who can afford to invest in new technology that saves them money in the long-term.

“The question that we need to resolve for our state and for our communities, for our families and for our economy is: how are we going to make sure that the most impacted and vulnerable Vermonters are not left behind in that transition?”

The bill goes back to the Senate for review next.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Abagael Giles@AbagaelGiles.

Abagael is Vermont Public's climate and environment reporter, focusing on the energy transition and how the climate crisis is impacting Vermonters — and Vermont’s landscape.

Abagael joined Vermont Public in 2020. Previously, she was the assistant editor at Vermont Sports and Vermont Ski + Ride magazines. She covered dairy and agriculture for The Addison Independent and got her start covering land use, water and the Los Angeles Aqueduct for The Sheet: News, Views & Culture of the Eastern Sierra in Mammoth Lakes, Ca.
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