Governor Peter Shumlin, who was sworn in for a third term as governor of Vermont on Thursday, Jan. 8, used his inaugural address to outline Part I of his Agenda For Progress, focusing on initiatives critical to working families, economic growth, energy and the environment, and citing Vermont’s special quality of life.
The Governor’s multifaceted agenda, detailed in two speeches — the inaugural address and his following budget speech — focuses on expanding the state’s economy, containing health care costs, reducing education spending while ensuring quality education for Vermonters, expanding Vermont’s clean energy sector, protecting our lakes and waterways, building on the progress made battling opiate addiction, protecting the state’s most vulnerable children, and developing a balanced budget that puts the state on a more sustainable long-term fiscal footing.
“No one knows better than Vermonters how to turn a challenging adversity like climate change into opportunity,” Governor Shumlin said. “Just look at our burgeoning green energy industry. Through Vermont innovation and collaboration, partnered with creative public policy and regulation, we are pioneering the development and deployment of locally generated, low carbon energy, creating jobs and putting money in Vermonters’ pockets while we do it.”
As an example, he pointed to Vermonters like Dayton Brown and Graham Fisk, who work at SunCommon in Waterbury. Brown, a Vermont Tech graduate who served in Afghanistan as a member of the Vermont Air National Guard, now works as a solar system designer. Fisk, a Middlebury College graduate, returned to Vermont from New York to work as a solar home advisor. Both are members of a growing clean energy workforce that consists of over 15,000 Vermonters.
To further Vermont’s efforts to harness the economic potential of the clean energy economy, the governor is proposing the Energy Innovation Program (EIP) to replace the SPEED program, which is set to expire in 2017. If implemented, the EIP is projected to create over 1,000 new jobs, save Vermonters money on their energy bills, and cut greenhouse gas emissions by nearly a quarter of the total reduction needed for Vermont to be on track to meet its 2050 climate goal.
The EIP would accomplish this by setting new renewable electricity requirements for Vermont while prioritizing community-scale renewable projects to add hundreds of megawatts of new local energy generation to Vermont’s electric portfolio and creating incentives for utilities to help customers save money and cut fossil fuel use through energy innovation projects such as leasing or on-bill financing to install renewable-energy or energy-saving technologies and improvements.
To highlight that last point, the governor invited Mark and Sara Borkowski of Rutland to join him for the speech. They received financing assistance to help retrofit their home in Rutland, in partnership with their utility, Green Mountain Power. The Borkowskis have virtually eliminated their home heating oil use and cut their electric consumption by half. Under the governor’s EIP proposal, thousands of additional Vermonters would have the same opportunity to significantly cut their energy use.
“If we work together to enact this legislation, it will mark our single biggest step so far toward reaching our climate and renewable energy goals,” the Governor said. “Jobs, energy savings, and emissions reductions make this program a true win for our economy and our environment.”
The governor also identified the need to clean up Lake Champlain and other Vermont waterways.
“We know what makes Vermont the best place in America. Without our mountains, hills, and valleys; our farms, streams, lakes, and forests–remote, quiet, and rooted in rugged marble, slate, and granite–Vermont would be just another place to live,” Shumlin said. “Our natural habitat binds Vermonters tightly to our state, and it inspires others to put roots down here.”
Noting that Lake Champlain alone supports hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity in the state each year, the governor called deteriorating water quality here “the greatest threat to our local environment. Protection of this lake is critical to protecting our economy.”
The Shumlin administration will work to implement the Lake Champlain restoration plan submitted to the EPA last spring, the most comprehensive and strategic effort yet undertaken by Vermont to protect and restore the state’s waters. The plan focuses on areas of greatest pollution where Vermont can make the most impact with the resources it has.
To pay for that agenda, the governor will use increased federal dollars, as well as money from the capital budget, Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) and a new dedicated state Clean Water Fund.
Concluding his speech, the governor said that Vermont has a bright future but must leverage its strengths to grow the state’s economy.
“It is a competitive world out there–other states are offering millions of dollars in tax breaks to lure companies, but there are things the great little state of Vermont has that cannot easily be created elsewhere–our natural beauty, our clean air, our rural nature, and our resilient, innovative, and entrepreneurial people. These represent our competitive strengths and are treasured parts of our economic engine that we must protect, nurture and grow. I hope you will agree that the proposals I’ve outlined today will help us do that.”
The governor will outline Part II of his Agenda for Progress in his annual budget address on Jan. 15.