Galbraith served on both the Committee on Natural Resources and Energy and the Shoreland Protection Commission this session, and introduced an amendment to a net-metering expansion bill, which would prevent utilities from selling renewable energy credits to other states while also counting them in Vermont. The state is aiming for 25% renewable energy by 2017, and net metering allows individuals to generate energy and offset the cost of a utility. Utilities that receive renewable energy credits can sell them to other states while counting them toward the state’s program. Galbraith calls this “double dipping,” and a cap on such practices would make the state less attractive for wind turbines, an energy source he has been vocal in opposing. “We’re the only state in New England that allows this double counting,” said Galbraith. “It makes our state more attractive for wind turbines even if they are more efficient somewhere else, or offset more carbon someplace else.”
Galbraith said that this system of double dipping does nothing to discourage global warming. “This allows utilities to sell renewable energy credits to other parts of New England. Say these credits are used to purchase gas in Massachusetts, it still makes it possible for other states to burn more fossil fuels. It’s global warming, not Vermont warming, and we’re not actually addressing it.”
While Galbraith’s amendment failed, the Shoreline Protection Act passed. Galbraith sees the act as a step in the right direction for helping one of Vermont’s most endangered vegetation grounds as well as water quality. “Vermont has the worst water quality of any New England state, and the reason was there was no law that required buffer zones around our lakes,” said Galbraith. “We have had development rights to the waterfronts, and buffer zones are very important for vegetation.”
Vermont became the first state to approve a GMO labeling bill. The bill got a yea vote from Galbraith for what he calls a straightforward issue. “Vermonters have the right to know what’s in their food. It’s an important achievement.” Galbraith also said the state shouldn’t fear lawsuits from corporations like Monsanto either. “In the end, we’re a state, and some litigation takes risk, but we shouldn’t be intimidated by a multinational company.”
Galbraith said he was opposed to House bill 883, which would have reduced the number of state school districts from 282 to 45 by 2020. The power currently vested in local control was a main reason he opposed the bill. “This would have gotten rid of nearly 170 school boards, and that didn’t make sense to me,” said Galbraith. “There is no evidence that this would have saved the state money. We have many small schools in Windham County, and many seem to function very well. I value the service of the people on our school boards and I didn’t think mandatory reorganization made sense.”
Galbraith also proposed a failed amendment which would have stopped the state from appropriating a $5 million incentive to IBM to encourage the company to stay in Vermont. IBM has a chip-making factory in Essex Junction, which employs nearly 4,000 people. “My view is that providing taxpayer credits is a sucker’s game in this instance,” said Galbraith. “It’s a race to the bottom with other states, and Vermont can’t win. Five million dollars won’t make a difference. It’s a plant that costs $400 million a year to operate, and IBM has $11 billion in cash, which is twice the amount of money in the entire state budget. I proposed an amendment that if we give this amount of money to a company, the state should share on the upside if the investment is successful.