Blurt: Seven Days Staff Blog

NOTE: Blurt has been retired and is no longer updated regularly. For new content, follow these links:

OFF MESSAGE: Vermont News and Politics
BITE CLUB: Food and Drink Blog
ARTS AND MOVIES NEWS: Updated at sevendaysvt.com

41 posts categorized "Energy"

August 10, 2012

Aerial Shots Capture Lowell Wind Project Progress

Wright2Steve Wright last took to the sky in April to capture a series of dramatic bird's-eye photographs of construction at Kingdom Community Wind, the 21-turbine wind project that Green Mountain Power is constructing on a ridgeline above Lowell. He went airborne again on Wednesday this week — in the interest, Wright said in an interview with Seven Days, of documenting the ongoing construction on the mountaintop. "In some years we’ll look back at this and shake our heads," says Wright, a Craftsbury Common resident and outspoken opponent of ridgeline wind development.

"It's continually distressing that we would do this with a mountaintop, but we're moving on to a statewide campaign to make sure this doesn't happen anywhere else," adds Wright, a former commissioner of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. His concerns aren't aesthetic but rather biological. "Humans have a capacity to be able to tolerate looking at just about anything," he says. "That mountain has been forever changed in its hydrology and its entire ecological function."

Wright3Wright's photos first appeared on the Mountain Talk blog, where wind opponents post frequent photos, videos and updates. It's been a busy week for activists in Lowell. On Monday, around 45 protesters scrambled to the mountaintop to stage a peaceful protest blocking the main construction thoroughfare at the site, an event that culminated in six arrests. A day after the largely festive gathering (complete with square dancing and chanting), around 30 activists returned for a somber "funeral" for Lowell Mountain

Green Mountain Power previously said that Wright's aerial photos only present a snapshot of a moment in time and that much of the disturbed landscaped will be re-vegetated after construction wraps up.

UPDATE: This morning, GMP spokesman Robert Dostis added that concerns like Wright's were raised during the extensive permitting process for the wind farm, were "fully vetted," and eventually the Public Service Board deemed the project to be in the public good. Dostis says that construction at the site — where the crew is now finishing the fourth complete turbine — is on schedule for completion by the end of the year.

Dostis also says that while the total "project impact" is 135 acres, GMP has conserved more than 2700 acres to mitigate that environmental impact, and nearly all of the conserved land is protected in perpetuity. 

Photos by Steve Wright

August 06, 2012

Protestors Block Crane Path at Lowell Wind Project (VIDEO)

Photo17

Updated below — Six protesters arrested for blocking road.

After gathering at 5 a.m. this morning, a group of 20 or so "mountain occupiers" hiked to the ridge of Lowell Mountain to block construction of wind turbines. Their plan: Camp out in the crane path — a crucial thoroughfare for construction at Green Mountain Power's Kingdom Community Wind project — until "the situation is resolved," according to a press release put out by the demonstrators.

Protesters have formed a human blockade, where occupiers are singing, chanting and brandishing signs that read "Stop Destroying Vermont" and "Shumlin Lies." An additional 25 protestors have joined the barricade since early this morning, bringing their numbers to around 45. 

The protesters made the march to the ridge line by way of Don and Shirley Nelson's adjoining property, and were on site to block construction vehicles at 7 a.m.. They're making their stand on the same piece of land where, in December, six protesters and one reporter were arrested for trespassing. The ownership of the land is currently in dispute between the Nelsons and GMP.

Craftsbury Commons resident Steve Wright, an outspoken opponent of the wind development, is stationed near the access point on Route 100. Wright told Seven Days by phone that the drumming and chanting from the ridge line can be heard in the valley east of the project. While Wright hiked the ridge line for 25 years, his "aging legs" didn't let him join the protest this morning.

"This is not about stopping the project," Wright says, acknowledging that construction will inevitably continue at the 21-turbine wind development. "This is about stopping other projects that are as ill- thought-out and land abusive — projects that really don’t do anything for climate change action."

Continue reading "Protestors Block Crane Path at Lowell Wind Project (VIDEO)" »

July 30, 2012

Video: Police Clash With Protesters Outside Governors Conference in Burlington

ProtestPolice fired pepper balls and sting balls at protesters outside the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers Conference in Burlington yesterday.

Activists from New England and Quebec converged on the Queen City for a day of protests outside the conference, which took place at the Hilton Burlington. The protests centered on Canada's mining of tar sands oil and what environmentalists believe is a plan to ship tar sands oil through the Northeast Kingdom. Protesters also rallied in solidarity with Quebec's student demonstrations and representatives from the Innu First Nation denounced Hydro Quebec.

The rallies were peaceful and non-violent all day long, with protesters numbering in the hundreds. But late in the afternoon, a small group of protesters attempted to block buses believed to be carrying the governors and premiers from leaving the Hilton's side driveway on College Street. It was then that protesters and police clashed and some protesters were shot with "less-lethal" munitions.

From a Burlington Police Department press release:

[Protesters] were warned several more times before a crowd control team of officers with plastic shields and helmets was deployed to walk ahead of the bus following standard procedure to ensure that protestors were not struck and to assist the bus in leaving. As the officers walked forward they were physically confronted by the crowd. Some began pushing back toward the officers, others sat on the ground while at least two others laid down locking arms. 

Click here to read the full account of the incident from the police department.

Below are some videos and photos shot by protesters and onlookers.

Continue reading "Video: Police Clash With Protesters Outside Governors Conference in Burlington" »

July 26, 2012

Activists From Québec's Innu First Nation To Protest This Weekend's New England Governors' Conference in Burlington

Innu photo #1More than a dozen protesters from Quebec's Innu First Nation are due to arrive in Vermont this weekend to protest the Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers, being held in Burlington. They are protesting against the construction of a new hydroelectric dam on the Romaine River by Hydro-Québec, which they say would destroy their entire way of life. Vermont purchases the vast majority of its power from the Canadian utility giant and Gov. Peter Shumlin currently chairs the New England Governors' Conference.

This new dam is but one aspect of a much larger development project in the region known as Plan Nord. According to the Québec government's official website, Plan Nord is "one of the biggest economic, social and environmental projects in our time." The 25-year, $80 billion project will create or consolidate an average of 20,000 jobs per year, the Québec government says.

The Innu people — not to be confused with Canada's Inuit people — come from the community of Mani-Utenam, near the city of Sept Iles.  They are an indigenous population from northeastern Quebec and Labrador who claim they have never ceded their rights to the land to the Québec or Canadian governments.

In March of 2012, members of the Mani-Utenam community, which numbers roughly 4000 people, erected a blockade along Québec's Highway 138, the main artery along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. The blockade was a protest against Plan Nord and dams being built along the Romaine River, about two to three hours northeast of their community. Highway 138 is the only way, except by boat, to access the inland areas along the north shore. It's also the only road into this part of Québec, and facilitates most of the industrial development that happens in this region.

Among the activists coming to Vermont is Elyse Vollant, an Innu grandmother who in June was arrested at the blockade, along with several others from the community. After the blockade was removed by dozens of riot police and Surete du Québec (Quebec state police), the Innu erected an encampment alongside 138.

Many Innu feel that the Charest government has ignored their concerns and traditional right to the land.  While some tribal councils have signed on to the Romaine project, other Innu view these councils as colonial forms of government that were set up by the Québec government without much consent from Innu decades ago.

According to Vermont activists working with the Innu, Mani-Utenam has not signed any agreements around the Romaine project.  However, Hydro-Québec has started clear cutting swaths of forest near their community for the transmission lines that will will carry power from the dams. For more on the Innu protests from earlier this year, check out this piece by Alexis Lathem in Toward Freedom.

Seven Days spoke with Vollant last weekend by phone in advance of her trip to Burlington. (French interpretation courtesy of Andrew Simon.)

SEVEN DAYS: Under Canadian law, do the Innu people have any legal rights or say over how this land will be used?

ELYSE VOLLANT: In general, First Nations have the right to a say over what happens in their territory. The communities affected held two referenda and said no to the dam being constructed. Hydro-Quebec, even after the referenda, has continued their construction work, putting in pylons for the dam... We have a right to determine what goes on in our territory and Hydro-Québec is not really listening to us when they continue the construction. 

Continue reading "Activists From Québec's Innu First Nation To Protest This Weekend's New England Governors' Conference in Burlington" »

July 16, 2012

Wind Protest At Lowell Sparks Two Arrests

Dscf3198Ira Powsner spent part of his 26th birthday in the back of a police cruiser today after a protest at the construction site of a 21-turbine wind installation in Lowell sparked an exercise in civil disobedience. 

Powsner, 26, of Ira, Vt., (pictured in red hat) was among dozens of protestors at Green Mountain Power's Kingdom Community Wind project who stepped onto Route 100 this morning to physically block a tractor trailer carrying a section of a massive wind turbine onto the construction site. The protest held up traffic along the highway for two hours, backing up cars between two and five miles in either direction. Photos from the day's action are up on the Lowell Mountain Talk blog. 

Protestor Steve Wright of Craftsbury Commons says demonstrators had planned a roadside rally — similar to one that took place last October — to draw attention to what Wright calls "the bad energy policy that ends up blowing up Vermont mountains."

By 9 a.m., more than 100 protestors had flocked to the roadside. And when the truck showed up, Powsner says, a murmur went through the crowd. Wright was among the first to step out into the road, carrying a Vermont state flag, and he was quickly followed by Powsner and his younger brother, 21-year-old Jacob Powsner.

"I was feeling frustration and anger, and that I was left with nothing else to do but a symbolic act," Wright says.

Continue reading "Wind Protest At Lowell Sparks Two Arrests" »

June 15, 2012

Vermont Public Service Board Approves GMP/CVPS Merger

UnknownThis morning, the Vermont Public Service Board OK'd the proposed merger of Vermont's two largest electric utilities, granting final approval for Green Mountain Power (GMP) to acquire Central Vermont Public Service Corporation (CVPS). The deal is seen as an unqualified victory for Gov. Peter Shumlin, who supported the deal, and GMP President and CEO Mary Powell, who took over leadership of GMP in August 2008. Powell will continue to run the newly combined utility under the GMP name.

Supporters of the deal had touted the merger as a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" that would reap more than $144 million in savings and efficiencies for Vermont ratepayers in the first 10 years, and almost $500 million over 20 years.

Evidently, the PSB took those words to heart. In its 173-page order, which can be read in detail here, the board described the merger as "a historic opportunity to achieve significant, immediate and enduring benefits for all retail customers of CVPS and GMP." 

Continue reading "Vermont Public Service Board Approves GMP/CVPS Merger" »

May 04, 2012

Vermont Becomes First State in Country to Ban Fracking

Lm-frackingVermont lawmakers put the kibosh on a controversial method of drilling for natural gas today, making Vermont the first state in the country to ban hydraulic fracturing (known more commonly simply as "fracking"). The ban earned final legislative approval today in a 103-36 vote in the House of Representatives, and is on its way to Gov. Peter Shumlin's desk.

Fracking is a method of extracting natural gas by injecting water, sand and chemicals into dense underground rock formations. The oil and gas industry loves it — fracking opened up vast reserves of natural gas that was previously too difficult or expensive to extract. But conservationists have raised the alarm, pointing to problems with groundwater contamination, waste water disposal and even earthquakes in places where fracking is underway. 

Seven Days covered the debate most recently in February, shortly after the House passed a three-year moratorium on fracking. At the time, lobbyists opposed to the practice were angling for even tougher restrictions — and in the end they prevailed. 

Continue reading "Vermont Becomes First State in Country to Ban Fracking" »

May 02, 2012

In Merger Lobbying Fight, Who Outgunned Whom?

During the pitched Statehouse fight over a proposed merger between Vermont’s two largest electric utilities, both sides raised the specter of the big, bad opposition quashing the just and the true with lobbying and advertising cash.

Rep. Patti Komline (R-Dorset), who opposed aspects of the merger between Green Mountain Power and Central Vermont Public Service, repeatedly accused electric company lobbyists of intimidating lawmakers who signed on to an amendment she supported. Meanwhile, Gov. Peter Shumlin, who backed the merger, said he and the electric companies were drowned out in the message war by an out-of-state advocacy group: AARP.

So who outgunned whom?

Lobbying disclosure forms recently filed with the Vermont Secretary of State’s office paint a portrait of the opposing armies — though not a complete one.

Continue reading "In Merger Lobbying Fight, Who Outgunned Whom?" »

May 01, 2012

Wind Opponent Gets Bird's-Eye View of Lowell Development

DSC_7788The logistics of snapping aerial photographs of Green Mountain Power's Kingdom Community Wind project weren't all that difficult, says amateur photographer Steve Wright. 

"I got in a plane ... stuck my upper body out the window, and pushed the shutter," says Wright, a Craftsbury resident who has pushed hard against the 21-turbine industrial wind project atop the Lowell mountains.

Easy enough, right? 

It's what came after that was difficult for Wright to bear. He's been hiking in the Lowell mountains since 1971, but now "this older body" prevents Wright from visiting. So he took to the air with pilots from Newport-based Lakeview Aviation to see for himself how construction for the ridgeline wind development had changed the once-familiar landscape.

"I was concentrating on the shots, and getting the shots, and that allowed me to work without losing it," Wright says. "But I have to tell you, when we turned and headed back, I was choked up."

Wright captured the bird's-eye view of the development from between 500 and 1000 feet above the construction site, where GMP is rushing to complete the wind project by the end of the calendar year. Wright finds himself on one side of a fierce debate over wind power in Vermont that pits environmentalists worried about habitat destruction against environmentalists worried about renewable energy. Wright retired two years ago after a long career in environmental education, and says his long emotional connection to the Lowell mountains spurred him to action when he learned about the GMP project.

He took to the sky to document, Wright says, the extent to which the landscape is being altered to make way for wind turbines. 

DSC_7873"It’s my contention that the carbon emissions reduction and the amount of electricity that’s gained from these projects are not nearly worth the landscape alteration that occurs." Wright says. "That’s based on my fundamental belief that the best climate change action that we can take in Vermont is to keep our landscape in one piece."

Opponents of the Lowell project realize it's too late to prevent development on their local ridgeline, but Wright hopes his photographs might help neighbors near other proposed projects — such as the Seneca Mountain project near Brighton and the Grandpa's Knob project in Pittsford — think twice. He has another motivation for snapping the aerial photographs: Wright says some may be used to dispute trespassing charges brought against six protestors arrested for trespassing in December.

DSC_7883GMP spokesman Robert Dostis counters that Wright's photographs only present a snapshot of a moment in time, and that much of the disturbed landscape will be revegetated after construction wraps up. 

"If you take pictures of an active construction site, it’s not going to look all that pretty," says Dostis. "Once all the slopes have been revegetated, they will all be covered with green."

Wright isn't convinced that the trouble will end there. "When you cut a big road like that into an existing, intact ridgeline, you are altering the entire ecology of the system," he says. 

DSC_7887
Photographs by Steve Wright

April 27, 2012

In Senate Smackdown, Lawmakers Say "No Way, Jose" to Shumlin Merger Deal

Galbraith

**Updated below with results of Friday's House vote**

Despite a reputation for discord and disorganization, the Vermont Senate on Thursday summoned unity from chaos and delivered a mighty spanking to Gov. Peter Shumlin and the utility merger he supports.

It was a spanking heard ’round the Statehouse.

By a lopsided vote of 27 to 3, the Senate approved an amendment that would force utility companies bailed out by their customers to pay them back directly — in cash or credit. In so doing, the upper chamber sent an unambiguous message to the Shumlin administration and the state’s two largest electric companies: the deal you cut doesn’t cut it with the Senate.

“The water temperature in the Senate has been rising for weeks now,” said Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden), an architect of the amendment that passed Thursday afternoon.

The vote came nearly a month to the day after the Shumlin administration signed off on an agreement with Green Mountain Power’s Montreal-based owner, Gaz Metro, on the terms of its proposed acquisition of Central Vermont Public Service. In that time, discontent has slowly grown over how the companies planned to repay CVPS customers the $21 million it charged in higher rates when it faced bankruptcy a decade ago.

Critics of the merger deal say the companies would be fleecing their customers by investing the $21 million into energy efficiency programs, and then charging that back to their own ratepayers. But the Shumlin administration and the utilities argue the $700 million merger will save Vermonters $144 million over 10 years — substantially more than the $21 million in question.

None too pleased, Shumlin lashed out at the Democrat-led Senate following the vote, calling the move "an extreme overreach of legislative jurisdiction."

Continue reading "In Senate Smackdown, Lawmakers Say "No Way, Jose" to Shumlin Merger Deal" »

Stuck in VT (VIDEOS)

Solid State (Music)

Mistress Maeve (Sex)

All Rights Reserved © Da Capo Publishing Inc. 1995-2012 | PO Box 1164, Burlington, VT 05402-1164 | 802-864-5684