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Vermont fuel dealers face tight deadline to register under Clean Heat Standard

Jim Cole
Associated Press
A law passed last year is setting up a clean heat standard. The Public Utility Commission is collecting information from businesses to help design the program, but is pushing tight deadlines.

Every business in Vermont that sells heating fuel must register with the Public Utility Commission by the end of this month.

The registration is required by a law passed last year to set up a clean heat standard. The policy aims to reduce climate warming greenhouse gas emissions from heating buildings in the state — the second-largest source of emissions in Vermont.

Lawmakers narrowly overrode Gov. Phil Scott's veto of the policy last session. Their bill tasks the Public Utility Commission with working with stakeholder groups to flesh out the policy this year.

Essentially, they are designing a credit-based marketplace, where fuel dealers will have to earn credits every year in proportion to how much emissions their products emit.

They can earn credits by doing things that help their customers emit less climate-warming carbon, like installing cold climate heat pumps or weatherizing homes.

The PUC is still working out which sorts of fuels will earn the most credits — though lawmakers tasked them with designing a program that rewards heating options that do the most to lower emissions compared with what a homeowner uses now.

However, a key step in designing the program is for the PUC to collect information about how much fossil heating fuel each business sells.

If the policy is approved by lawmakers a second time in 2025 and ultimately goes into effect, it will be the first time fuel dealers have ever been regulated by the PUC in Vermont. This sort of data collection by regulators has never been done before for the largely unregulated industry.

The commission announced its reporting criteria just this week, with the longstanding deadline to register being Jan. 31.

Are you a business looking to register? You can do so here.

Matt Cota is a lobbyist who represents fuel dealers. He says January is the busiest month of the year for those businesses. And he says although the clean heat standard won't go into effect without subsequent legislative approval to authorize the PUC to collect funds from fuel dealers, this moment is an important one for the program.

"There are significant penalties for fuel dealers that do not register," Cota says. "And fuel dealers have not been given, in my opinion, ample time to understand the forms that they've been provided."

If fuel dealers miss the deadline, they could be subject to hefty fines from the Attorney General's Office under the Consumer Protection Act, starting at $10,000 per infraction.

Cota says he's worried that it's not clear how uniformly the PUC will enforce registration for different companies over the next year. He says if this happens, it could create inequity in fuel prices for customers down the line once the program is fully developed, with compliant businesses being forced to charge more for their product.

"One of the primary concerns is that there is no credible enforcement," Cota says. "So that those honest local dealers who register, who file, who pay the fees, who pass those on to their customers, that those who don't will get away with it."

He says fuel dealers are worried that the PUC has not decided whether the information they share about their sales will be private or public.

Still, the full program still has to come back to lawmakers for approval in 2025, and the PUC can't enforce the policy until then.

The PUC is hosting an online information session about how to register on Jan. 23 from 2 to 5 p.m.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or contact reporter Abagael Giles:


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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