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December 21, 2012

Vermonters Form Fuel-Buying Cooperative to Leverage Lower Prices


While Sen. Bernie Sanders has been railing against the high price of gasoline in Chittenden County, a buyers' cooperative in northwestern Vermont is focused on the cost of a different kind of fuel.

The Hilltop Energy Buyers Group, a new fuel-buyers' cooperative that launched over the summer, uses the collective buying power of its members to negotiate below-market prices for home heating fuel.

Peter Katz is co-founder of Hilltop Energy Buyers Group. Since June, when Katz and his partner, Jason Marias, first began negotiations with local fuel providers, the group has signed up about 200 members, who were able to lock in a one-year fixed rate for propane at below-market prices.

"We’re definitely getting some favorable feedback," says Katz. "People are talking about us, and I know the [fuel] companies are talking about us. They now know we’re out there."

Katz explains how the buyers’ group works: Members pay a $50 annual fee to join, which allows Hilltop Energy to act as their fuel "broker" and negotiate the lowest price for members. Customers still continue dealing with the provider — which this year is Amerigas — for service and maintenance, and pay their bills directly to that company.

For now, propane is the only home heating fuel for which Hilltop has been able to secure a discounted price. Still, the savings have been impressive. For the 2012-13 season, Hilltop clients are paying $2.60 per gallon for up to 400 gallons, $2.25 per gallon for 400 to 899 gallons, and $2.10 per gallon for 900 gallons or more. Those prices are fixed until August 2013.

How do those rates stack up to current market prices?

Continue reading "Vermonters Form Fuel-Buying Cooperative to Leverage Lower Prices" »

December 13, 2012

Vallee Airs Anti-Sanders Ad on WCAX

BernieMaplefields1Updated with further comment from Sanders' spokesman

Mobil mogul Skip Vallee is putting his money where his mouth is.

Two days after releasing an online ad attacking Sen. Bernie Sanders' environmental record, the gasoline distributor and retailer has ponied up roughly $1500 to air the ad three times tonight on WCAX-TV.

Vallee says he's spending his own money on the ad in order to "highlight counter-arguments to Bernie's unilateral support for Costco."

Sanders has been hammering Vallee and fellow gasoline distributors for months, alleging they're gouging customers in northwestern Vermont. The senator has also urged environmental regulators to expedite their review of a proposed Costco gas station in Colchester, arguing that increased competition will help drive down prices.

BernieMaplefields2Vallee, on the other hand, has sought to slow down the Costco review, citing environmental concerns. He happens to own a gas station right down the road from the proposed new pumps.

Vallee, who owns nearly 40 Mobil stations in Vermont — many of them under the Maplefields brand — declined a request for a phone interview Thursday. Reached by email, he wrote, "I challenge Bernie to a VPR debate on the Keystone Pipeline and Lake Champlain cleanup."

Sanders did not respond to that challenge Thursday, but he did push back on Vallee's ad in a written statement:

Continue reading "Vallee Airs Anti-Sanders Ad on WCAX" »

December 12, 2012

This Week's Paper: Burlington's Library Becomes a Haven for the Homeless; Use Your Smartphone to Fight Illegal Dumping

LM-FletcherFree-1Here's the newsy stuff in this week's commemorative 12/12/12 edition of Seven Days...

Library photo by Matthew Thorsen

December 11, 2012

Gasoline Magnate Skip Vallee Slams Sanders in New Ad

Vallee.TonnUPDATED at bottom with additional comment from a Sanders spokesperson.

In his escalating feud with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), gasoline magnate Skip Vallee is preparing to go nuclear.

The owner of nearly 40 Vermont Mobil stations has produced a 30-second political attack ad accusing Sanders of siding with "big business" to damage the state's environment. And he's threatening to plunk down a chunk of cash to put his ad on-air.

Sanders and Vallee have been duking it out since July, when the senator launched a campaign against fuel dealers he believes are overcharging for gasoline in northwestern Vermont. Sanders has singled out Vallee for attempting to block Costco's plan to build a self-serve gas station at its Colchester warehouse — just a stone's throw away from one of Vallee's own Maplefields gas stations.

"You ask, why does [the ad] seem like a political campaign?" Vallee says. "Because I think Bernie's undertaking a political campaign to take a very public position on the Costco process. And this is meant to counteract his advocacy for the project."

In the ad — which Vallee provided to Seven Days, but which has not yet aired on television — a narrator ruminates over Vermont's "treasured history of protecting our natural environment." In the background, a waterfall kicks up spray and a kayaker paddles Lake Champlain.

"Leaders like Sen. Patrick Leahy have fought to provide resources to make Vermont a cleaner place. That's why we are so disappointed with Sen. Bernie Sanders," the narrator says as the soundtrack turns darker. "Bernie sided with a multinational, billion-dollar corporation over Vermonters — supporting development that will increase traffic and idling emissions and phosphorous runoff in Lake Champlain, leading to more algae blooms."

The ad concludes by asking viewers to "take action and tell Bernie he's wrong to side with big business."

Here it is:


Continue reading "Gasoline Magnate Skip Vallee Slams Sanders in New Ad" »

December 06, 2012

Trespassing Charges Dropped Against Barton Chronicle Publisher

Lowell Wind

One year after Barton Chronicle publisher Chris Braithwaite was arrested atop Lowell Mountain while covering a protest at the site of the controversial wind development, the state yesterday dismissed the trespassing charges leveled against the longtime Northeast Kingdom newsman. 

Braithwaite was arrested last December along with six protesters at the site of Green Mountain Power's Kingdom Community Wind development. As the Burlington Free Press this morning reports:

Orleans County sheriff’s deputies arrested Braithwaite along with six protesters who refused to leave. The Orleans County State’s Attorney’s Office pursued all the charges, claiming Braithwaite had no more right to be on the mountain that day than the protesters. The six protesters were found guilty of trespass by a jury in August.

Braithwaite's case was set for a jury trial starting December 13 in Vermont Superior Court in Orleans County. On Tuesday, Braithwaite's lawyer, Phil White, filed a motion to dismiss the charges after receiving subpoenaed documents from Green Mountain Power. Those documents are sealed, and the motion White filed is redacted (download that motion here). However, the Free Press is reporting the documents regarded GMP's "internal policy for handling protesters and media coverage of them."  

Deputy State’s Attorney Sarah Baker filed a notice of dismissal with the court yesterday afternoon, before the court could rule on White's motion to dismiss.

Seven Days snagged a few minutes with Braithwaite this morning, when he spoke to us by phone from his office in Barton. He says he signed a nondisclosure agreement in order to view the GMP documents, and couldn't say much about their contents — but added he's trying to get the documents unsealed, and hopes other newspapers will do the same. 

"I wish I could tell you why this was dismissed, but I can’t," he says. "We’ll try and change that."

Continue reading "Trespassing Charges Dropped Against Barton Chronicle Publisher" »

December 04, 2012

Middlebury College Takes First Step Toward Possible Divestment From Big Oil

DivestmentConsider it a good sign for the growing movement for divestment from fossil fuels: Middlebury College president Ronald Liebowitz announced today that the college is initiating a "formal process" to investigate divestment.

In an email to students, faculty and staff, Liebowitz also revealed that approximately 3.6 percent of the college's $900 million endowment — that is, roughly $32 million dollars — is invested in fossil fuel companies. That marks the first time the college has disclosed how much of is endowment is tied up in the industry.

While the announcement isn't, by any means, a firm commitment to divest, the email sparked encouragement among students on campus campaigning for divestment. The divestment movement is spreading to college campuses across the country as climate activist and Vermont resident Bill McKibben headlines a bus tour to encourage schools, churches and foundations to strip their endowment funds of investments in the 200 top fossil fuel companies. McKibben told Seven Days last month that while divestment won't financially cripple the powerful industry, it could represent an "inherently moral call, saying if it’s wrong to wreck the climate, it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage."

McKibben, who also serves as a scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College, responded to Liebowitz's email on Tuesday with a statement through his environmental group "President Liebowitz used just the right tone and took precisely the right step," McKibben's statement read. "It won't be easy to divest, but I have no doubt that Middlebury — home of the first environmental studies dept in the nation — will do the right thing in the right way. It makes me proud to be a Panther." 

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Morning Read: Is Tar Sands Oil En Route to Vermont?

MorningreadVermont environmentalists are sounding the alarm: Groups such as, the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Defense Council are warning that new Canadian regulatory filings suggest a Canadian oil company may have plans to transport tar sands oil through Vermont to the Maine coast.

The Canadian company Enbridge Oil applied in November to the Canadian National Energy Board to reverse the flow of oil on a pipeline between Ontario and Quebec. The reversal would provide a route for exporting tar sands oil from the Canadian west. Environmentalists suspect that it's just a matter of time before Enbridge looks to the Portland Montreal Pipe Line, which cuts through a corner of the Northeast Kingdom on its way to Maine, to extend the route for tar sands oil. is taking a detailed look at these concerns — which, so far, Enbridge denies: 

Enbridge spokesman Graham White said the purpose of the company’s move to reverse the pipeline is to bring “Canadian light crude to Canadian refineries.” He said the company would be better served by focusing on its Canadian refining processes instead of exporting tar sands oil to foreign ports.

“The economics [of exporting through the East Coast] just don’t make sense, quite frankly,” White said.

But that doesn't comfort David Stember,'s tar sands campaign coordinator for the eastern region. "It's obviously to their advantage not to show their hand until they need to," Stember told Seven Days late last week. "That's strictly a process of trying to minimize the damage." 

Continue reading "Morning Read: Is Tar Sands Oil En Route to Vermont?" »

November 29, 2012

This Week's Paper: A Reporter With a Record; Marijuana Dispensaries Face Financial Pressures

618-f-drugwarIn this week's print edition of Seven Days, you'll find these bits of news:


October 29, 2012

350.Org Activists: Fossil Fuel Industry Stirred Up Sandy

Connect the DotsAs clouds scudded across Burlington's skies, about 50 activists gathered on Church Street Monday afternoon to "connect the dots" between weird weather and the fossil fuel industry.

The rally was sponsored by, a political-action group formed by Vermont author Bill McKibben to address climate change. About a dozen supporters of the movement stood on the steps of city hall holding signs with the logos of oil companies pasted at the center of the meteorological symbol of a hurricane.

The Burlington event took place the day after unfurled a giant circular banner in Times Square emblazoned with the demand to "End Climate Silence." The New York action was organized on the eve of the onslaught of Hurricane Sandy, described as the largest Atlantic storm in recorded history ever to hit the northeastern United States.

Katherine Blume, a local leader of, told the Burlington crowd that Sandy is the newest dot in a series that includes record-high temperatures, "glaciers melting all over the world" and a growing death toll attributable to climate change. "We saw one of the dots last year with Irene and unprecedented flooding in Vermont," Blume declared. "Why aren't we hearing over and over in the media and in our schools that we're facing a planetary emergency called climate change?"

Continue reading "350.Org Activists: Fossil Fuel Industry Stirred Up Sandy" »

October 23, 2012

Photos: Georgia Mountain Turbine Blades To Blow Through Downtown Burlington


Ever wondered why industrial wind power is running into so much heavy turbulence in Vermont? Anyone who's never gotten a close look at just how large those turbines are may want to head into downtown Burlington tomorrow morning starting at 3 a.m. That's when the first wave of turbine blades bound for Georgia Mountain, the 10-megawatt wind project in Milton and Georgia, roll out of the Burlington railyard, up Battery Street then attempt to make the right turn up Main Street.

"Attempt" is the operative word. According to Burlington Public Works Director Steve Goodkind, who was in the train yard Tuesday morning, it remains to be seen whether each of the 163-foot blades (not including the size of the extended cab truck and rear trailer) will be able to corner the turn without taking out trees, poles and other roadside hazards. "Three trees, two trees, one tree — we're not really sure how many will have to go."

Continue reading "Photos: Georgia Mountain Turbine Blades To Blow Through Downtown Burlington" »

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