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April 18, 2013

IBM Advises City: "Make Burlington Synonymous With Green Tech"

IBMOn April 1, the city of Burlington welcomed a team of six international experts from IBM's "Smarter Cities Challenge Initiative." Their goal: Spend three weeks meeting with Burlington stakeholders to figure out how to reduce the city's carbon footprint. Seven Days previewed their arrival in the March 27 story, "IBM Wants to Help Burlington Reduce Its Carbon Footprint — No Strings Attached."

On Thursday night, April 18, after more than 40 meetings with over 150 people, the IBM team reconvened in Contois Auditorium with their findings and recommendations. Their advice was summed up in six words by IBM team member Christian Raetzsch of Prague: "Make Burlington synonymous with green tech." In other words, Raetzsch advised, build off Burlington's unique strengths, culture and infrastructure and use them to create a "new ecosystem" of sustainable, renewable energy.

The IBMers, who hail from Germany, France, the Czech Republic, Brazil and the United States — and whose consulting services over the past two weeks are worth an estimated $400,000 — focused their efforts on five areas: transportation, Burlington's new smart grid metering system, renewable energy, energy efficiency and stormwater lake protection. The team offered up four major recommendations, all of which will be spelled out in greater detail in a written report available within a month. Those recommendations include:

Continue reading "IBM Advises City: "Make Burlington Synonymous With Green Tech"" »

In New Ad, Vallee Hits Sanders on Wind Development

Gasoline magnate Skip Vallee is lashing out once again at Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — this time targeting the senator for opposing a moratorium on industrial wind development.

The Maplefields owner and gasoline distributor has ponied up $10,000 to run a new, 30-second attack ad on WCAX-TV for a week, according to the station. In it, Vallee accuses Sanders of seeking to "industrialize our mountains with giant wind turbines."

"Once we sacrifice our mountains to big corporate interests, it will change Vermont forever," the ad's narrator says. "Tell Bernie Sanders we won't let him and his corporate cronies spoil our Green Mountains." 

The ad appears to be referring to a press conference Sanders held in January to express his opposition to a proposed three-year moratorium on industrial wind development in Vermont. The state legislature has since mostly abandoned that proposal.

Here's what Vallee's ad looks like:

Continue reading "In New Ad, Vallee Hits Sanders on Wind Development" »

March 22, 2013

Environmentalists Rally to Landowners' Defense in Vermont Gas Pipeline Fight

Photo (2)In the fight against Vermont Gas' proposed Addison County natural gas expansion, it's largely been landowners piping up with concerns about the project, which would run a natural gas transmission line south through Vergennes and Middlebury — and potentially on to Ticonderoga, N.Y. Until now.

A rally last night at Champlain Valley Union High School illustrated that property owners aren't the only ones balking at the pipeline extension. A growing grassroots coalition of environmentalists and workers' rights advocates, singing solidarity songs and brandishing banners, gathered in front of the high school to make their objections known prior to the start of a Public Service Board public hearing on the project.

Chief among their concerns is the environmental impact of extending a pipeline that carries fossil fuel deeper into Vermont. In particular, the protestors are unhappy that the pipeline would carry a portion of gas obtained in Canada using hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as "fracking" — Vermont Gas concedes that this is the case. Vermont lawmakers last year passed a law making the Green Mountain State the first in the country to ban fracking. It's a technique oil and gas companies love, because it opens up vast reserves of shale gas previously too costly or difficult to extract. Environmentalists have long raised the alarm, however, pointing to problems with groundwater contamination, waste water disposal and even earthquakes in places where fracking is underway.

Photo (3)"I am concerned about the hypocrisy of Vermont to on the one hand ban fracking and on the other use gas from somebody else's devastated landscape," said Rebecca Foster, a Charlotte resident who turned out for the rally and PSB hearing.

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February 27, 2013

First Sound Study at Lowell Shows Wind Project Noise (Mostly) Within Required Standards

LowellThe first round of noise studies is in from Kingdom Community Wind, the contentious wind-energy development straddling a ridgeline between Lowell and Albany.

The verdict?

For the most part, the 21 Vestas turbines strung along the spine of the Lowell Mountains did not generate enough noise to violate the conditions under which the Public Service Board approved the Green Mountain Power project. But in a few instances, noise at the remote Northeast Kingdom wind project did spike high enough to violate GMP's permit. 

That’s according to a report GMP filed yesterday (PDF) with the PSB. Wind opponents and neighbors, however, aren’t satisfied with the study, and say the noise generated by the 400-foot-tall turbines is still loud enough to disrupt the quality of life for nearby residents.

“I don’t call it that we have a quality of life anymore,” says Shirley Nelson, who along with her husband, Don, lives on more than 580 acres on the eastern slope of the Lowell Mountains. Their property borders the Lowell project, and the Nelsons have been vocal opponents of it. The Nelsons and GMP are entangled in a lawsuit over disputed ownership along a section of the ridgeline.

“I sometimes wake up with headaches, and can’t sleep the night through anymore. My ears ring almost constantly when the turbines are going,” says Shirley Nelson.

Don Nelson likened the noise inside the couple’s farmhouse to the sound of rushing water. Outside, he says, the turbines sound like “a jet plane on the horizon.” The noise isn’t steady, the Nelsons say, but pulses in and out. Nearby neighbors, they say, have to run a fan at night in order to block out the turbine noise and get to sleep.

One condition of GMP's permit to operate the wind farm is that sound levels not exceed 45 decibels outside of any existing homes near the project and 30 decibels in interior bedrooms. (GMP equates 45 decibels to the ambient noise level inside a library.) The utility must collect noise measurements from the project for at least two weeks, four times a year, for the first two years of operation. GMP hired White River Junction-based Resource Systems Group, Inc., to collect and analyze the first round of noise data, and submitted the data to a third party for confirmation that it was sufficient for a thorough analysis.

Continue reading "First Sound Study at Lowell Shows Wind Project Noise (Mostly) Within Required Standards" »

Media Note: Green Mountain Power to Pay Barton Chronicle Reporter's Legal Bills

Fourteen months after Green Mountain Power had a Vermont reporter arrested for trespassing, the electric utility company has agreed to foot the reporter's legal bills.

Barton Chronicle editor Chris Braithwaite said Tuesday afternoon he planned to drop a lawsuit against the company after it promised to compensate him $22,500 for legal fees he racked up defending himself against a previously dismissed trespassing charge.

The dispute stems from Braithwaite's December 2011 arrest for failing to leave GMP-owned property on Lowell Mountain as he covered a protest against the company's Kingdom Community Wind project.

In a written statement, Braithwaite called the settlement "a fair resolution of this matter."

GMP spokeswoman Dotty Schnure, meanwhile, said the company's decision to settle the suit in no way indicates it did anything wrong.

"We're confident we would have prevailed based upon all the facts and the law, but we didn't see how it benefits our customers to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to litigate the case," Schnure said.

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February 18, 2013

Vermonters Urge 'Separation of Oil and State' in Climate March on Washington

DC Climate RallyIt was famed Vermont activist and author Bill McKibben who led the 35,000-strong "Forward on Climate" march in Washington on Sunday. But it was the scores of uncelebrated Vermonters who helped infuse the largest-ever outpouring of its kind with a vocal mixture of hope and fear.

Three buses filled with students from the University of Vermont and from Middlebury and St. Michael's colleges made the 23-hour round trip along with three more buses carrying Vermonters of all ages. They came to urge President Obama to stop the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would pump oil extracted from Canadian tar sands 1700 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. Tar sands oil is an especially carbon-rich fossil fuel that, opponents warn, could push the climate crisis to a tipping point.

Climate polar bearsBut the rally alongside the Washington Monument and a subsequent march around the White House were motivated by more than the Keystone project. There were loud and urgent calls for investment in clean forms of energy, making the event feel at times like a wonky exercise in lobbying. But plenty of raw emotion was expressed on a bitterly cold afternoon.

"I don't want to bring children into a world they can't live in," said Corinne Almquist, a Middlebury vegetable farmer and Nordic ski instructor who plans to become a midwife. "Climate change is the biggest issue of all. It affects everything."

Gary Beckwith of Richmond also expressed worry about how a hotter, more tempestuous planet will affect the lives of his own three children and "all the children of the world." But climate change "isn't just about the future," said the inventor of a bus that runs on solar energy. "It's about today. It's happening now."

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February 05, 2013

Sterling College Pledges to Divest From Fossil Fuels

DivestmentThough they've been snagging the headlines, it wasn't Middlebury College or the University of Vermont that nabbed the distinction of being the first college in the state to divest from fossil fuels. That honor goes to little Sterling College in Craftsbury Common, where the board of trustees voted on February 2 to strip its $920,000 endowment of the 200 top fossil-fuel companies as identified by the environmental organization

Unlike other colleges in Vermont, where the push to divest is coming primarily from student activists, Sterling's decision originated in the board room: President Matthew Allen Derr says it was the 18-member board that hatched the plan to divest, and voted unanimously to pursue divestment.

"This was a board that was really able to speak with one mind," says Derr. He adds that the thinking at Sterling, a college devoted to a mission of environmental stewardship, was, "If not Sterling, than who would do this?" 

Sterling is the third college in the country — after Unity College in Maine and Hampshire College — to pledge to divest its endowment from major fossil-fuel companies. Those promises are in the vanguard of a growing movement calling for divestment on college campuses nationwide. To date, tallies 234 "Go Fossil Free" campaigns in the U.S., including four in Vermont at Middlebury, UVM, Green Mountain College and Goddard College.

Continue reading "Sterling College Pledges to Divest From Fossil Fuels" »

January 24, 2013

Middlebury Tiptoes into Divestment Conversation

MiddleburyEnvironmental activist Bill McKibben's latest campaign to lead colleges, foundations and churches to divest their fortunes from fossil fuel companies is catching on like wildfire. McKibben's "Do the Math" tour launched divestment campaigns on more than 200 college campuses, and two colleges and the city of Seattle have already pledged to yank their investments from companies McKibben and his group charge with environmental destruction.

But McKibben's own Middlebury College, where the Vermont writer serves as a scholar in residence, isn't rushing to jump on the bandwagon. Cautious exploration was the theme of the night on Tuesday, when Middlebury made good on its promise to broach the topic of divestment with a panel discussion about the college's $900 million endowment. The panel discussion follows a heated campus debate this fall about the topic of divestment, which students — along with McKibben, who was on Tuesday's panel — are promoting as the newest tactic in the fight against climate change. At Middlebury, students are also targeting arms manufacturers in their divestment campaign.

According to Alice Handy, the founder and president of Investure, the company that manages Middlebury's endowment, those funds actually make up just a very small portion of the school's $900 million endowment. College president Ron Liebowitz announced in December that roughly 3.6 percent of the endowment — around $32 million — is tied up in fossil fuel companies. Handy further clarified on Tuesday that less than 1 percent of the endowment is invested in arms manufacturing companies, and that slightly more than 1 percent is invested in the 200 fossil fuel companies McKibben's group is targeting with their national divestment campaign.

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December 28, 2012

Voices from the Energy Debate — Looking Back on 2012 (Part Two)

LowellThe previous year was a big one in Vermont's unfolding energy debate — from wind to solar, fracking to divestment. Seven Days went back to some of the big players in the energy debate — opponents and proponents, citizen activists, onlookers and developers — for their thoughts on a busy, sometimes tumultuous year. What did 2012 mean for energy development in Vermont and what might 2013 bring? (Don't miss yesterday's post with comments from some of industrial wind power's biggest critics.) 

Bill McKibben, writer and climate activist

"Vermont punched above its weight in 2012. Becoming the only state in the union to ban fracking was a big deal — it gave great heart to others in places where the fight is still raging. I think Vermont has also made it increasingly clear that there will be no tar sands pipeline through the state — some combination of Peter Shumlin's words and the truly powerful organizing by lots of folks should, I think, be enough to put a real crimp in the plans of the tar sands tycoons.

"2013 will have all kinds of fights, I'm sure, but the one that intrigues me most is about divestment. What Middlebury does will be closely watched, including, I hope, by other colleges around the state. (Wouldn't be surprised if Green Mountain or Sterling tried to steal their thunder!). And UVM will be a wonderful stage on which to debate the issues at the heart of the biggest crisis humans have ever faced."

Continue reading "Voices from the Energy Debate — Looking Back on 2012 (Part Two)" »

December 27, 2012

Voices from the Energy Debate — Looking Back on 2012 (Part One)


What a year 2012 was for energy development in Vermont: Controversy swirled around projects both large and (relatively) small. Opposition to the construction of a 21-turbine project on the Lowell Mountains drove some protestors to civil disobedience, and prompted a few arrests. Watching the turbines rise on the Northeast Kingdom ridgeline prompted dismay in somepride in others — and no shortage of opinions and headlines all around.  

For this two-part post, Seven Days went back to some of the big players in the energy debate — opponents and proponents, citizen activists and wind developers — for their perspectives on a busy, sometimes tumultuous year. What did 2012 mean for energy development in Vermont — and what might 2013 bring?

Today we hear from the more outspoken critics of recent energy developments. We'll be back tomorrow with more voices. 

Lukas Snelling, director of Energize Vermont

"This was the year that a lot of Vermonters started to recognize where their electricity came from, and became active in making decisions about where they’d like to see their future energy come from. That goes well beyond the wind issue. In a lot of ways, 2012 was the first year when the renewable energy movement hit the road running. ...The ability to have a meaningful conversation hasn’t yet caught up to the number of people who are actively engaging — but I think it will. The more the merrier."

Continue reading "Voices from the Energy Debate — Looking Back on 2012 (Part One)" »

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