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41 posts categorized "Energy" Feed

April 19, 2012

Rep. Olsen Takes Merger Fight to Citizens United Debate

PhotoEver the clever amender, Rep. Oliver Olsen (R-Jamaica) on Thursday took his fight against a proposed utility merger to — of all things — a resolution condemning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

What would Olsen’s amendment do?

It would prevent U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies from contributing to domestic political campaigns or “any fund established to finance an inaugural or similar post-election celebration of a candidate’s victory.”

Sound familiar? That’s because opponents of Gaz Metro’s proposed acquisition of Central Vermont Public Service — opponents like Olsen — repeatedly cite Gov. Peter Shumlin’s 2011 inaugural ball as Exhibit A that Shummy's too chummy with the Montréal-based energy company.

Continue reading "Rep. Olsen Takes Merger Fight to Citizens United Debate" »

April 18, 2012

At Press Conference, Shumlin Clarifies Position on Utility Merger — Kind Of

One of the key questions in the debate over Gaz Metro’s proposed acquisition of Central Vermont Public Service is this: Is it ever okay for the legislature to stick its nose into a regulatory process governed by the independent Public Service Board?

As we reported in this week’s Seven Days, Gov. Peter Shumlin’s answer last week appeared to be no, not ever. Outside an energy conference in Burlington last Monday, he said, “It’s absolutely inappropriate for the legislature or the governor to weigh in through law on a pending [Public Service Board] case.”

But later that week, Shumlin was asked at a press conference whether he did just that when, as Senate President Pro Tem, he orchestrated a 2010 vote denying Vermont Yankee a new operating license.

The gov’s answer?

No, he said. He was just following Act 160 — a law passed during his four-year hiatus from the Senate — which gave the legislature an up-or-down vote on Yankee’s relicensing. He further added that Act 160 — a law he utilized when trying to shut down Vermont Yankee — wasn’t such a hot idea in the first place.

At a press conference today, however, Shumlin shifted — ahem, elaborated on — his stance.

Asked about his effort last spring to charge Entergy, which owns Vermont Yankee, for any legal expenses the state incurred defending a lawsuit brought by the company, Shumlin today established a new standard of interference: If it has to do with Vermont Yankee, the legislature can do whatever the hell it pleases. If it has to do with utility acquisitions, leave well enough alone.

“The role of the legislature is different in Entergy than it has been in other regulated cases,” Shumlin said, because the legislature authorized the plant’s construction in the first place and then gave itself a role in the relicensing process.

Wait, what? Don’t worry, he explained:

Continue reading "At Press Conference, Shumlin Clarifies Position on Utility Merger — Kind Of" »

April 10, 2012

In Utility Merger Fight, A Battle For Votes — Or For Hearts and Minds?

If supporters of a proposed merger between the state’s two largest electric companies made one thing clear Tuesday it’s this: They’re winning the inside game in the Statehouse.

At a hearing held by two House committees Tuesday morning, an all-star lineup of current and former regulators, business leaders and the execs of the merging companies — Green Mountain Power and Central Vermont Public Service — stepped up to the microphone to say, “Hey legislature, mind your beeswax and quit meddling with the merger.”

House Energy Committee chairman Tony Klein (D-East Montpelier), who organized the hearing, said that with the merger battle royale focused on a disputed $21 million component, his goal was to broaden the scope of the debate.

“It’s a $700-million-plus deal and we’re only focused on $21 million. Part of this hearing was to find out what’s in the rest of the $700 million,” he said.

To opponents of the deal, Klein — who, like House Speaker Shap Smith, believes the legislature shouldn’t weigh in on the merger — was simply trying to change the subject. They say Smith and the merger’s chief elected booster, Gov. Peter Shumlin, are bottling up two bills that could be amended by detractors to change the terms of the merger.

“I think they’re just trying to run out the session and then we’ll all go away,” says Rep. Patti Komline (R-Dorset), who coauthored an amendment that would force the merging companies to cut $21 million in checks to ratepayers.

If that is indeed the House leadership’s not-so-secret plan, it certainly appears to be working. Though Komline says she’s convinced 80 House members to support her amendment — a majority of the 150-member body — you can’t amend a bill that's not going to the floor.

Over in the Senate, antagonism toward the merger has been louder but less organized. While Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell has bucked the Shumlin administration by indicating ambivalence toward the deal, it’s anyone’s guess whether he'll organize his chamber to oppose it. Campbell did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

So with merger proponents winning the inside game at the Statehouse, it’s time for those who want to tweak the deal to take their ball and go home, right?

Not if you ask Greg Marchildon, Vermont state director for AARP. His interest group is the loudest proponent of returning the $21 million — the value of a 2001 ratepayer-financed bailout of CVPS — to consumers and businesses, rather than investing it in energy efficiency, as the electric companies and the Shumlin administration have proposed.

Continue reading "In Utility Merger Fight, A Battle For Votes — Or For Hearts and Minds?" »

April 09, 2012

Shumlin Quibbles With Quibblers Over Utility Merger Deal

DSC03406Lest there be any doubt, Gov. Peter Shumlin has dug in deep behind the deal struck by his Department of Public Service and Green Mountain Power in the company’s bid to merge with Central Vermont Public Service.

Speaking Monday morning in Burlington at a clean energy summit organized by Sen. Bernie Sanders, the governor twice brought up the growing debate over the merger, calling it “ironic” that Vermonters would “quibble” over a contested $21 million portion of the deal instead of focusing on what he sees as, overall, a good deal for ratepayers.

“It’s ironic to me that [when] we talk about a merger that’s gonna save Vermonters $150 million in 10 years, that we quibble over whether or not we should be putting another $21 million into energy efficiency measures instead of sending out small checks to people we can’t find 12 years later,” he said, before returning to his scripted remarks.

After simmering for weeks, tensions boiled over last week in the Vermont Senate, with legislators grilling DPS Commissioner Liz Miller on Thursday about whether she negotiated the best deal possible for ratepayers. Specifically contested is a $21 million “windfall” payment owed to CVPS customers for bailing out the company in 2001 when it faced bankruptcy. While the Shumlin administration believes the money should be invested in weatherization and energy efficiency measures, AARP and a growing number of legislators believe it should be refunded to consumers.

Continue reading "Shumlin Quibbles With Quibblers Over Utility Merger Deal" »

March 23, 2012

Burlington State Senator Among 130 Arrested at Vermont Yankee Protest

Thursday was a big day for Burlington’s own Sen. Philip Baruth (D-Chittenden). He played hookie from the legislature, got himself arrested at a protest, spent a few hours in the Brattleboro clinker, and made it back to South Burlington for the premiere of The Hunger Games at the Palace 9.

All in a day’s work, I guess.

Marking the first day of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant’s operation after its 40-year federal license was set to expire, more than 1000 opponents of the Vernon plant marched Thursday afternoon from a Brattleboro park to the local headquarters of VY owner Entergy Corp. (Some estimates pegged the number of protestors closer to 1500.)

Baruth bookingAccording to Brattleboro Police Chief Gene Wrinn, more than 130 of them were arrested for unlawful trespass as they sought to approach Entergy’s corporate office building.

Among them: Sen. Baruth, who has advocated for years against the plant’s continued operation — first as an activist and blogger and now as a member of Chittenden County’s six-member senate delegation. (Pictured is the BPD's makeshift booking station, as captured by Baruth.)

Baruth says he first considered engaging in civil disobedience in January during a weekly appearance on WKVT’s “Live and Local” radio show with Steve West. The two — and Newfane activist Dan Dewalt — were discussing Federal District Court Judge Garvan Murtha’s decision to allow VY to continue operating despite Vermont lawmakers’ efforts to close down the plant.

“The more I thought about this particular moment with the 40-year anniversary and the closing date, I thought it was the thing to do,” Baruth says.

Continue reading "Burlington State Senator Among 130 Arrested at Vermont Yankee Protest" »

March 19, 2012

Montpelier Playwright Tackles Ridgeline Wind Debate

DSC_3248Feuding neighbors. Life-altering decisions. High tempers and even higher stakes. If Vermont’s pitched debate about ridgeline wind power doesn’t have the makings of a drama, I don’t know what does.

Lesley Becker thought so, too. The Montpelier playwright turned to the conversation about wind power in the Northeast Kingdom for inspiration for her latest play, Winds of Change. The play makes its debut on March 27 as part of the Fourth Tuesday Reading Series sponsored by the Vermont Playwrights Circle

Becker’s recipe goes something like this: Take one powerful utility company, add a landowner who has fallen on hard times, and mix. Her two-act play examines life in a town not unlike Lowell, Vt., before and after the installation of a utility-scale wind project. 

Becker stumbled on the story largely by happenstance. She works as a prevention coalition coordinator in the Northeast Kingdom, and about two years ago she was helping a group of teens in Craftsbury design a media campaign to discourage underage drinking. That’s how she found herself at a select board meeting where she heard an expert testify about the proposed Kingdom Community Wind project, now well on its way to completion.

“I was very inspired by the local people who were willing to take on this battle between the little guys and the big guys,” says Becker. She has an opinion — and not a favorable one — about the Lowell wind development, and expects that readers will pick up on the bias in her play. Becker says she didn't come at the project as journalist, but instead as a playwright trying to tease out the experiences of people living in and around the proposed project — those in favor and those against. 

Becker has been writing plays for eight or nine years, by her estimation, though she established a background in theater earlier in her life. She turned her back on that world for a time, disillusioned about theater’s relevancy.

“It seemed like theater was very far from what was important to anybody and what could make a difference,” she says.

She’s changed her tune now, having regained some faith in what the medium — and, she hopes, Winds of Change — can do. 

“I want to try to honor the people [in Lowell], and shed some light on the issues,” Becker says. “It would be very powerful and effective if it got out to enough people to be educational.”

Becker’s play will be read by a contingent of actors on March 27 at 7 p.m. at the Lost Nation Theater in Montpelier. The event is free and open to the public.

Photo by Kathryn Flagg

March 02, 2012

Can a Film Bridge Gaps in the Energy Debate?

JonbiopicbMark your calendars: March 21 is Vermont Energy Independence Day, and proponents of the movement want to hear from Vermonters far and wide about how the state should tackle issues of energy production in the future.

What's that, you say? You've never heard of Vermont Energy Independence Day? Don't fret: You've still got a chance to get in on the ground floor. This year marks the first-ever event of its kind, and it lands, not coincidentally, on the day Vermont Yankee's license would have expired. 

"It was back in November or December that we hatched this idea," says Jon Erickson, a professor with the University of Vermont's Gund Institute for Ecological Economics and a member of the team behind Bright Blue EcoMedia. The Bright Blue producers knew about the significance of the date, and figured that at least some other activists in the state would glom on to the timing, so they crowned March 21 Vermont Energy Independence Day. "So far," he says, "the gamble's paid off."

Continue reading "Can a Film Bridge Gaps in the Energy Debate?" »

February 20, 2012

Biomass or Biomess? Activists Protest Latest Biomass Development

Lm-mcneilThe debate over burning trees for electricity is heating up again as a wood-fueled power plant moves closer to construction in Fair Haven. The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation issued an air quality permit last week to Massachusetts-based Beaver Wood Energy to construct a biomass generation plant and accompanying wood pellet manufacturing facility in a part of Vermont that already suffers from the highest asthma rates in the nation.

Vermont is experiencing something of a biomass boom. Thirteen percent of the state's K-12 schools already heat with wood. Developers are eyeing a once-shuttered industrial site in North Springfield for the location for a new plant that would generate both heat and electricity.

The Fair Haven permit approval comes just a few weeks after the Biomass Energy Development Working Group released its final report to the Legislature, detailing 47 recommendations for encouraging the growth of Vermont's biomass industry while also maintaining forest health. Among the report's recommendations: encourage wood pellet production; incentivize the biomass industry with tax credits, low-interest loans, or renewable energy credits; and establish wood procurement standards.

The question isn't if biomass use should be expanded, according to the report, but "how?" Gov. Peter Shumlin's Comprehensive Energy Plan states that although the state's forest resources require careful management to remain sustainable "it is clear that Vermont is poised to expand its use of biomass significantly in the coming decades."

But tensions are smoldering over biomass in general and the Fair Haven plant in particular. Supporters sell the plant as a clean and renewable power source that would create 50 full-time jobs and generate badly-needed tax revenue for Fair Haven. Josh Schlossberg, who is based in East Montpelier and writes a monthly national newsletter addressing concerns about biomass, says resistance is brewing behind the scenes in Fair Haven, but declined to reveal opponents' strategies for blocking the proposed plant.

Meanwhile, critics such as Chris Matera of Massachusetts Forest Watch say Vermont is guilty of "big time hypocrisy" for green-lighting a big carbon emitter the same week it joined a multi-state lawsuit against the federal Environmental Protection Agency over soot pollution. 

Photo: McNeil Generating Station in Burlington, Vermont’s largest biomass power plant, courtesy of Chris Matera.

Continue reading "Biomass or Biomess? Activists Protest Latest Biomass Development" »

February 14, 2012

'Troublemaker' Bill McKibben Talks Keystone XL With Colbert

Bill_McKibben_at_RIT-3Vermont's own globetrotting, carbon-fighting climate activist Bill McKibben cropped up on national television again last night, this time in a repeat visit to the Colbert Report. By way of snappy introduction, Colbert — eyes gleaming gleefully — had this to say of his visitor: "My guest Bill McKibben believes in global warming... so I'm going to deny that he exists."

McKibben was talking up the latest effort by and a coalition of environmental advocates to block the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. He's has been making headlines in his crusade to stop the proposed pipeline, which would carry oil from Canadian tar sands to Gulf of Mexico refineries. In August, McKibben was arrested in front of the White House at the beginning of a massive series of civil-disobedience protests undertaken by the environmental movement. The two-week sit-in led to the arrests of 1253 protestors and ended in what environmentalists considered a victory: In January the Obama administration denied a permit for the project.

Then, yesterday, came this bad news: On Monday afternoon, Senate Republicans filed an amendment to the transportation bill that would authorize the Keystone XL pipeline. Once again, environmentalists rallied in opposition to the project, which has inspired what some observers call a "too rare unity" in the movement. They set a goal to gather 500,000 signatures on an anti-pipeline petition in 24 hours — then blew that goal out of the water in seven hours instead.

Continue reading "'Troublemaker' Bill McKibben Talks Keystone XL With Colbert" »

February 10, 2012

VELCO Question Leads to Showdown in Vermont Senate

DSC01928A routine budget bill led to some drama on the Senate floor yesterday in Montpelier.

The Senate went into session to take up the budget adjustment bill, normally not the most controversial piece of legislation. But sparks flew over a proposal to have the state purchase a majority stake in VELCO, Vermont's electricity transmission system.

Three senators on the Economic Development Committee — Vince Illuzzi (R-Essex/Orleans), Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) and Peter Galbraith (D-Windham) — want the state to consider spending $500 million to become the majority owner of VELCO, which manages the high-voltage transmission lines that carry power from Canada through Vermont to New York and Southern New England.

To that end, they proposed an amendment setting aside $250,000 to study the pros and cons of the purchase.

Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell (pictured), who has called the idea of the state owning VELCO "crazy," faced a test of leadership in trying to put down the insurrection. He declared a recess and called Illuzzi into a closed-door meeting with the chairs of the Senate Finance and Appropriations committees to cut a deal to avoid the floor amendment. Campbell wanted just Illuzzi and the committee chairs in the meeting — not Ashe or Galbraith.

Illuzzi emerged from the meeting agreeing to postpone the amendment while the Finance and Appropriations committees took testimony on the feasibility study. It looked like the Senate had a deal. But Galbraith — ticked off that he was excluded from the discussion — went rogue, standing to offer the amendment on his own.

Continue reading "VELCO Question Leads to Showdown in Vermont Senate" »

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