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Shumlin Says Renewable Energy Generating Jobs

A new report says Vermont’s green energy industry is responsible for a growing share of the state’s economy. And while some industry groups blame renewable energy mandates for higher energy prices, Gov. Peter Shumlin said the policies have fueled job growth.

The Vermont Clean Energy Report is the first effort by the administration to calculate the role of the industry in the state’s job market. And Shumlin said its findings are instructive. 

“These jobs represent 4.3 percent of all jobs in Vermont,” Shumlin said. “That’s a big deal.”

Shumlin said that with jobs supported by the sector projected to grow by 12 percent over the next year, Vermont’s push for environmentally responsible energy sources is also turning out to be its economic salvation.

“This is not only about moving from oil to other ways to powering the future for our planet, it’s also about growing jobs and economic opportunities for Vermonters,” he said at a news conference Monday.

"This is not only about moving from oil to other ways to powering the future for our planet, it's also about growing jobs and economic opportunities for Vermonters." - Gov. Peter Shumlin

Vermont has invested heavily to advance the industry’s progress. Subsidies distributed through the Clean Energy Development Fund have poured tens of millions of public dollars into solar and other renewable energy projects. And the net metering program, which was expanded significantly by lawmakers earlier this year, requires utilities to pay premiums rates for electricity produced by smaller-scale solar installations.

William Driscoll, vice-president of Associated Industries of Vermont, Driscoll said favorable rates for solar producers means increased prices for everyone else. And he says those solar projects have become a drag on a manufacturing industry that cannot afford increases in the cost of doing business.

“Our commercial industrial rates are running 30- to 40- to 50-percent higher than the average in the country, and that’s a serious concern,” Driscoll said. “And driving us more and more toward renewable energy is not going to have beneficial effect on those rate issues.”

Renewable energy advocates and lobbyists argue the investments pay for themselves in the form of lower carbon emissions and avoided transmission upgrades. They say that the amount of Vermont taxpayer money going to renewables has diminished considerably in recent years, as the emerging industry gains a foothold in the market. And they say the subsidies flowing to solar and other technologies pale in comparison to the federal giveaways for traditional fossil fuels.

Shumlin unveiled the new jobs report at a news conference in Montpelier – the first stop in what he’s calling his “Summer Solar Tour.” He said the state-level financial intervention in the energy market won’t last forever.

“But I’m convinced as sure as I stand before you, that in the short term, the short term, decade or two, probably one … the subsidies will be less necessary, because renewables are going to compete and probably exceed the cost of oil in the long run,” he said.

Shumlin said the report underscores the need to proceed even more quickly to attaining the goal of having Vermont get 90 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2050.

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