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May 25, 2017

2017 Final Vermont Legislative Update: Energy & Telecommunications

An analysis from DRM's Government & Public Affairs Team

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ENERGY & TELECOMMUNICATIONS

Codifying Legacy Net Metering Rules (H.411)

Electricity Storage on the Grid (S.52)

New Directions for Efficiency Vermont (S.34)

Telecommunications Plan and Lifeline (H.347)

Telecommunications Tower Siting (H.50)

Telemarketers, Data Brokers and Telecommunications Privacy Rules (S.72)

Codifying Legacy Net Metering Rules

H.411

A bill that was aimed at maintaining existing federal energy efficiency standards for appliances in view of a skeptical Congress became the vehicle to solve a more local energy problem. The bill, H.411, locks in existing energy efficiency standards for appliances, and also became the means to deal with legacy net metering systems.

The Vermont Public Service Board recently rewrote the rules for net metering systems and disallowed existing systems the right to be paid for the portion of their electric bill that covers the cost of poles and wires to deliver it after 10 years. Although rules for new systems state as such, many legacy systems allow the cost of energy sold back into the grid from renewable energy systems to cover non-electricity costs.

Some members of the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules felt the board had made changes to existing rules without authority. A majority of the legislature disagreed, and the net metering language in H.411 codifies the board rules.

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Electricity Storage on the Grid

S.52

Legislators were impressed by the advancing technology that allows for the storage of electricity on the grid and wanted to encourage its growth, but utilities said it was premature to enact legislation. Thus, they passed a study.

S.52 requires the Department of Public Service to submit a report by Nov. 15, 2017, on the issue of deploying energy storage on the electric transmission and distribution system. Among other items, the report is required to:

  • summarize existing state, regional and national actions affecting deployment of energy storage;
  • identify and summarize federal and state jurisdictional issues regarding deployment of energy storage;
  • identify the opportunities for, the benefits of, and the barriers to deploying energy storage;
  • identify and evaluate regulatory options and structures available to foster energy storage, including the potential cost to ratepayers; and
  • assess potential methods for fostering the development of cost-effective energy storage in Vermont and identify challenges and opportunities.

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New Directions for Efficiency Vermont

S.34

The legislature continues to focus on the value commercial and industrial customers receive for their investments in the state’s main energy efficiency utility and how its programs can be improved. In testimony this winter in the Senate Agriculture Committee, directors of several regional development corporations complained about high energy efficiency and energy demand costs relative to other states and perceptions of a low return on investment by commercial payers.

Complaints about the program were detailed in a January 22, 2016 report by the Vermont Department of Public Service. A provision in the Rural Economic Development bill, S.34, will lead to both another report and a new pilot project. The report will detail how companies can manage their own efficiency programs. The pilot will study how the energy efficiency investment can be applied against total energy consumption.

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Telecommunications Plan and Lifeline

H.347

A bill that originated in the House Energy and Technology Committee, H.347, adds requirements to the surveys that the Department of Public Service must conduct in preparation of its 10-year Telecommunication Plan, a process that is currently underway at the department. The bill mandates surveys of service needs in the sectors of education, health care and human services, public safety, and workforce training and development.

The bill also includes changes to the state’s Lifeline program, which provides telephone subsidies to low-income Vermonters. Federal regulations have significantly increased the administrative requirements for the Lifeline program, so the state is transferring operation of the program to private carriers, who will be eligible to receive federal funds for administrative costs. Under the bill, private carriers will be required to make eligibility determinations.

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Telecommunications Tower Siting

H.50

The legislature extended the sunset of a statute, known as section 248a, that provides for the permitting of telecommunications facilities by the Public Service Board. The law now expires on July 1, 2020. The bill also includes a requirement that notices to the legislative body and planning commission of a municipality of a permit application itemize the rights and opportunities that are available to those bodies, as well as informs them of a guide prepared by the DPS that outlines the 248a process.t

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Telemarketers, Data Brokers and Telecommunications Privacy Rules

S.72

Telemarketers will be required to make available their caller identification and, if made available by the caller’s carrier, the caller’s name, following the passage of S.72.
 
The legislature added to the bill a study of data brokers, which are entities that package and sell consumer data. The bill requires the Department of Financial Regulation and the Attorney General to prepare a report to the legislature that defines data brokers and makes any recommendations for the regulation of the industry.

The bill also includes a requirement that the Attorney General make recommendations to the legislature concerning whether the state should adopt privacy and data security rules applicable to telecommunications service providers that are subject to the jurisdiction of the Public Service Board.

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