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September 03, 2013

Forbes Calls Vermonters "Stupid" For Closing Vermont Yankee

Images-1This week's winner of the "Ignoranus Award" — what the Washington Post Style Invitational once defined as "someone who is both stupid and an asshole" — goes to James Conca for his Sept. 1, 2013 Forbes piece titled, "Who Told Vermont To Be Stupid?" In it, Conca writes that:

"The Great State of Vermont threw away cheap clean energy this week out of ignorance and fear. Vermont chose to be stupid, and will hurt the environment as a sidebar."

After paying lip service to the "official reasons" Entergy cited for closing the 41-year-old plant, Conga declared that "we all know the real reason. Nasty politics and ignorance. The latter is forgivable and rectifiable with a little homework. The former is not."

Ugh. There's nothing more infuriating than someone smugly calling you stupid and lazy for not doing your homework — who was too lazy to do his own. Here are some quotes from the author who claims to "cover the underlying drivers of energy, technology and society." It appears he could use some extra time in study hall: 

Continue reading "Forbes Calls Vermonters "Stupid" For Closing Vermont Yankee " »

August 30, 2013

The Scoreboard: This Week's Winners and Losers

ScoreboardPaul Heintz is on vacation, so this week's scores have been tallied by Seven Days digital media manager Tyler Machado. (CONFIDENTIAL TO HEINTZ: You picked a hell of a week to take off, dude!)

So who won and lost the week in Vermont news and politics?

Stoners, Catamounts and Lake Monsters, oh my!

Here's the Scoreboard for the week of Friday, Aug. 30: 


Almost Everyone — Entergy's announcement that it will shut down Vermont Yankee in 2014 was good news for everyone — except, of course, the folks who work there. Entergy saves some loot. Vermont ratepayers won't notice the difference since local utilities weren't buying its power anyway. Environmentalists will close the book on decades of activism. And nearly every political entity in Vermont (and elsewhere!) scored an easy layup — even if cheap natural gas was the final death blow for the state's sole nuclear power plant.

Pot smokers — Attorney General Eric Holder says the Justice Department won't challenge state laws legalizing marijuana. That should ease the minds of Vermont's marijuana reform opponents, including House Speaker Shap SmithRunner-up winner: Sen. Patrick Leahy, who may have forced Holder's hand on the issue.

More winners, and losers, after the jump...

Continue reading "The Scoreboard: This Week's Winners and Losers" »

August 28, 2013

This Week's Issue: Natural Gas, Intervale Angst and a Look at Lisman


After you're done with the big cover story about the future of Burlington's urban farmers, dig into this week's news and politics stories:

Get this issue now in print, at the links above or via our iOS app.

August 27, 2013

BREAKING: Nuclear Expert Says It'll Take At Least 20 Years — and More Money — to Clean Up Vermont Yankee

GundersenIn the end, it wasn't the attorney general's federal lawsuit, the Vermont Legislature, the Public Service Board or any of those pesky enviros nitpicking about underground tritium leaks and collapsed cooling towers that shut down Vermont Yankee.

It was the invisible hand of the marketplace.

On Tuesday, New Orleans-based Entergy Corporation announced plans to close the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station in Vernon by the end of 2014. Praising Vermont Yankee's talented, committed and dedicated workforce, Entergy chairman and CEO Leo Denault called it "an agonizing decision and an extremely tough call for us."

Denault touched on some of the economic forces that compelled Entergy's decision, including a "transformational shift" in the natural gas market that has driven down electricity-generation costs, high maintainence costs on the 41-year-old trouble-prone plant and "wholesale market design flaws" that have kept energy prices "artificially low" throughout New England.

So what happens next? Presumably, the plant spends the next decade or more decommissioning the plant and cleaning up the radiation. According to Entergy's press release, the Vermont Yankee decommissioning trust has a balance of $582 million, in excess of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's minimum financial assurance of $566 million for terminating the plant's license.

But one nuclear-engineer-turned-industry-watchdog isn't comforted by that figure. Burlington-based Arnie Gundersen was the first to raise a hue and cry in 2007 about projected shortfalls in the VY decommissioning fund.

Continue reading "BREAKING: Nuclear Expert Says It'll Take At Least 20 Years — and More Money — to Clean Up Vermont Yankee" »

August 09, 2013

Electric Cars: Climate Friendly in Vermont, Not in Kentucky

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 3.20.42 PMSure, we all want to be nice to Mother Earth, but let's be real — if you live in Middle-of-Nowhere, Vt., you're going to need a car to get around. If you want the cleanest, greenest vehicle on four wheels, you'll want an electric car, right? In Vermont that's the case, but in other states ... maybe not!

In fact, there are only 11 states where an electric car is better for the environment than a high-efficiency gas hybrid, and Vermont is one of them, according to a new study by Climate Central. Here, the best electric car emits as much carbon as a gas-powered car that gets 2600 miles per gallon. Good luck finding one of those.

What's the difference? When your car is powered by the grid, it matters where the grid gets its juice — because what's the point of a plug-in car if it's plugging into mountaintop removal? Vermont is the only state in the nation that doesn't get any electricity at all from coal or natural gas sources — here it's all nuclear, hydropower and a little bit from "other renewables."

Continue reading "Electric Cars: Climate Friendly in Vermont, Not in Kentucky" »

The Scoreboard: This Week's Winners and Losers

Scoreboard.newWho won and lost the week in Vermont news and politics?

Switch-bumpers, snake-haters, calculators, power companies, TV stations, defense attorneys, creepy travel writers and more!

Here's the Scoreboard for the week of Friday, Aug. 9: 


Brooks McArthur — The Burlington defense attorney played some serious offense this week on behalf of his client, Burlington Police Department Deputy Chief Andi Higbee. When the Vermont State Police refused to give the Burlington Free Press a copy of a cruiser cam video of Higbee's July DUI arrest, Brooks took it upon himself to hand over a copy. A savvy way to score points with Freeps transparency czar Mike Donoghue and shift the conversation to why Higbee was pulled over in the first place. 

WPTZ-TV — Last month WCAX-TV announced that, come September, it would expand its news coverage to weekend mornings. But the station's main competitor, WPTZ-TV, beat Channel 3 to the punch, launching its own weekend news programming last weekend without fanfare. What's more? Channel 5 will feature four full hours of news coverage — twice as much as Channel 3's promised.

The Timothy Szad Beat — The recently-released sex offender is back in town after a brief trip to California. And that's got the state's cops and courts reporters in a tizzy reporting his every last move. Public service journalism or tabloid reporting?

Patrick Leahy — Because the U.S. Senate President Pro Tem's got some very special friends in the entertainment, defense, telecom, legal, tech and beverage industries.

Peter Welch — A BuzzFeed puff piece on the Vermont Congressman's bipartisan street cred netted something even better for Welch: a glowing editorial from the Saint Albans Messenger's Emerson Lynn echoing Welch's — ahem, BuzzFeed's — talking points.

Losers and tie score after the jump...

Continue reading "The Scoreboard: This Week's Winners and Losers" »

June 25, 2013

Morning Read: Environmental Activists Take Pipeline Protest to Montpelier

VGS_BannerVermont environmentalists are ramping up their opposition to a proposed natural gas pipeline that, if approved, would extend Vermont Gas’s service south into Addison County.

A group of 20 to 30 protesters took to the halls of the Department of Public Service yesterday, asking the DPS to reconsider its support of the project and complaining that the process for approving the pipeline — overseen by the Public Service Board — is neither transparent nor inclusive for Vermont citizens. 

VTDigger's Andrew Stein has the skinny on the protest, which came in response to pre-filed written testimony the DPS submitted to the PSB earlier this month. That testimony, activists claim, doesn't represent the concerns of Vermonters opposing the project. As Stein reports:

“The Public Service Board process is not participatory, and it’s not accessible,” said [23-year-old Vergennes resident Avery] Pittman. “You have to have enormous financial and human resources to intervene. Now, our only recourse is the Department of Public Service, which ostensibly represents the people of Vermont. But the testimony they submitted on June 14 is a complete rubber stamp of this project.”

Continue reading "Morning Read: Environmental Activists Take Pipeline Protest to Montpelier" »

May 14, 2013

Green Mountain College Joins Growing Divestment Movement

DivestGreen Mountain College today announced that it is divesting its $3.1 million endowment from fossil fuel companies, making the Poultney liberal arts school the fifth college in the nation — and the second in Vermont, after Sterling College — to endorse a campaign playing out on more than 300 campuses across the country. 

The goal isn't necessarily to hit companies like Mobil, Exxon and Royal Dutch Shell in the pocketbook; most divestment advocates agree that even the wealthiest universities won't make much of a ding in these corporation's profits by divesting. 

“I don’t think financially we can cripple them. They’re so big and so rich,” Vermont resident and environmental activist Bill McKibben told Seven Days in December, as the divestment campaign was gaining steam. Rather, McKibben said divestment represents an “inherently moral call, saying if it’s wrong to wreck the climate, it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.”

GMC's board of trustees voted on Friday to immediately divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies targeted in the nationwide divestment campaign headed up by the environmental activism organization founded by McKibben, Currently 1 percent of GMC's endowment is tied up in these companies, which collectively own the vast majority of the world's coal, oil and gas reserves.

"We see this as another step in an ongoing effort to connect our investment decisions with our ideals,” said GMC president Paul Fonteyn in a statement released today. "Investing endowment funds on the basis of social, economic and environmental criteria is one of the ways Green Mountain College expresses its values."

Continue reading "Green Mountain College Joins Growing Divestment Movement" »

April 26, 2013

Could Germany's "Bottom-Up" Approach to Renewable Energy Work in Vermont?

Wind IllustrationHere's the problem: Most Vermonters support renewable energy, but when it comes down to individual proposals — be it for wind turbines, solar panels or biomass plants — these projects can be divisive, controversial and unpopular. 

One solution, according to Andreas Wieg, of Berlin's German Cooperative and Raiffeisen Federation: energy cooperatives. Along with Belgian energy consultant Dirk Vansintjan, Wieg is barnstorming through Vermont this week on behalf of the Heinrich Boell Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes civil society and a healthy environment. The pair will be in Burlington tomorrow, April 27, for a forum called "Vermont's Energy Choices: Old Dirty Problems, Clean Energy Solutions." 

Both European energy experts are promoting a grassroots, "bottom-up" approach to the so-called energy transition. Germany in particular has experienced meteoric growth in new cooperatives in recent years; roughly 650 new energy cooperatives have been founded in the last five years, encompassing about 100,000 members.

Wieg attributes the growth to a German law called the Renewable Energy Sources Act, which established a "feed-in tariff" system guaranteeing investors a set per-kilowatt-hour price for energy generation. (Vermont enacted a similar tariff in 2009.) Cooperatives allow residents — typically in rural areas in Germany — to band together and invest collectively in renewable energy projects.

This isn't to say that Germans wholeheartedly embrace renewable energy development. In a telephone interview, Wieg says that, just as in Vermont, Germany has experienced backlash against proposed turbines, solar panels and biomass plants. The problem of acceptance for renewable energy — "especially for wind turbines," Wieg says — "is a huge problem in Germany, and it is one of the key problems we must solve in the future."

Continue reading "Could Germany's "Bottom-Up" Approach to Renewable Energy Work in Vermont?" »

April 22, 2013

Spotted on Route 74: Landowners Protesting the Pipeline

Photo (8)As the lone member of Seven Days' Addison County bureau (I live in Shoreham), I spend a fair amount of time schlepping back and forth along Route 74, the two-lane highway that runs from Cornwall through Shoreham to Lake Champlain. In recent days and weeks, it's been impossible to ignore the growing number of homemade signs sprouting along the roadside. 

The sentiment is clear: Neighbors here are not pleased about the possibility of a natural gas pipeline cutting through this neck of the woods.

The proposed pipeline would carry natural gas — some of which is derived from the controversial drilling technique known as "fracking" — from Middlebury to the International Paper plant in Ticonderoga. Vermont Gas is pushing the pipeline as part of its effort to expand its natural gas network. The company currently serves customers in Franklin and Chittenden counties, and plans to expand south to Middlebury and across the lake.

The pipeline proposal has incited protests from neighbors and environmentalists alike; neighbors are raising concerns about health, safety and environmental impacts, while environmentalists are pointing out the hypocrisy of Vermont's willingness to expand natural gas access after becoming the first state in the nation to ban fracking.

The so-called "Phase II" project (the section of the pipeline that would run to Ticonderoga, which would be funded by International Paper) is still in the early stages of planning. Vermont Gas identified five possible routes for the pipeline, which they narrowed down to two "feasible" options; both would run through Cornwall and Shoreham before cutting under Lake Champlain. The company's timeline calls for selecting a route this spring, securing the necessary permits next year, and constructing the pipeline in 2015. The planning group that is hashing out the Phase II leg will meet next on Thursday, April 25, at 7:30 a.m. at the Addison County Regional Planning Commission.

What do Vermont landowners have to say so far about all of this? The signs speak for themselves. Here's a recent sampling:

Continue reading "Spotted on Route 74: Landowners Protesting the Pipeline" »

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