The Senate unanimously voted Friday to expand the state's net metering program. The program allows ratepayers to generate their own electricity and sell power to their utility.
The program was a stalled by its own success last year, net metering supporters say; several utilities maxed out their statutory limit on the amount of power they can receive from net metering installations, forcing them to deny applications from homeowners and businesses poised to generate their own electricity.
The bill lifts this cap from 4 to 15 percent the utility's capacity at peak demand. This allows the program to continue nearly unchanged for the next few years.
The bill, H.702, passed the House, received the Shumlin administration's support, and will now head to the House for a final vote.
The state's net metering law applies to backyard and rooftop energy projects smaller than 500 kilowatts in size - projects that have been largely small-scale solar installations. However, several Senate lawmakers used the bill Friday as a platform to resurface a debate on industrial-scale energy generation.
Members of the Senate Finance Committee proposed several amendments, including what some say was a moratorium on wind - a debate that began after Green Mountain Power constructed a 21-turbine wind project in Lowell, which the town supports.
Some lawmakers say it is not fair for local communities to host a project that benefits other states that share the region's electrical grid.
"We should not be destroying our ridgelines and dividing our communities for and economic development program that the surrounding communities don't want," said Sen. Peter Galbraith, D-Windham, who supported a three-year wind moratorium last year.
Galbraith put forth an amendment to prevent utilities from selling renewable energy credits (RECs) to other states while also counting the credits toward the state's renewable energy portfolio - the process of "double dipping," as many describe it.
Galbraith's amendment, which was shot down on the Senate floor, would have prevented utilities from cashing out on RECs for projects larger than 35 megawatts in size starting July 1, 2014.
"Most immediately, it might apply to electricity from several large scale wind projects that are in the discussion phase," he said, referencing a proposed project in Windham Country and Seneca Mountain Wind project in the Northeast Kingdom.