Energy

Monday, June 6, 2016

Shumlin Vetoes Renewable Energy Siting Bill

Posted By on Mon, Jun 6, 2016 at 1:48 PM


Gov. Peter Shumlin arrives for his State of the State address in January. - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Gov. Peter Shumlin arrives for his State of the State address in January.
Updated June 6, 2016 at 7 p.m. 

Gov. Peter Shumlin on Monday vetoed a renewable energy siting bill — a decision that will bring lawmakers back to Montpelier on Thursday.

What might happen then? That’s not quite clear.

While some lawmakers are pushing to override the governor’s veto, others — including House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morristown) — want to pass a new bill, pledging that will take just a day.

The bill, S.230, was designed to give local communities more say in the siting of solar and wind projects. The bill led to a long and difficult tug-of-war between those who want more renewable energy in Vermont and those who’ve found wind and solar projects to be obtrusive neighbors. It was finalized in the last hours of the legislative session.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Sorrell Suffers Supreme Court Loss in Controversial Pollution Case

Posted By on Wed, Jun 1, 2016 at 6:35 PM

Attorney General Bill Sorrell - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Attorney General Bill Sorrell
In a unanimous opinion, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled last week that the state had missed its chance to sue a slew of oil refiners over generalized claims of groundwater contamination. 

The ruling was a significant setback for Attorney General Bill Sorrell, who two years ago accused ExxonMobil and 28 other companies of knowingly polluting state waters with the gasoline additive MTBE. A similar lawsuit filed a decade earlier in New Hampshire won that state a $236 million jury verdict from ExxonMobil and a $90 million settlement from two dozen other companies.

In the Vermont case, the oil companies argued that the state had known about the perils of MTBE since at least 2005, when the legislature banned the chemical, and therefore had exceeded a six-year statute of limitations. A trial court judge agreed and dismissed the blanket claim in January 2015. The state appealed, but in Friday’s decision the Supreme Court upheld the dismissal. 

Sorrell’s suit drew significant scrutiny last year due to the unusual manner in which it came to be filed. By the attorney general’s own admission, representatives of the Texas law firm Baron & Budd handed him an envelope filled with $10,000 worth of checks directed to his reelection campaign at a December 2013 fundraiser. They subsequently asked him to sue the oil refiners over MTBE contamination and offered their services to the state.

Within months, Sorrell’s office assented. It hired Baron & Budd and three other firms as outside counsel, guaranteeing them 25 percent of any verdict or settlement — potentially tens of millions of dollars. Another of the outside firms, the Law Office of L. Michael Messina, brokered the deal between Sorrell and Baron & Budd, according to the New York Times, and also contributed to the attorney general’s reelection campaign.

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Monday, May 30, 2016

Lawmakers Brace for Possible Veto of Energy Bill

Posted By on Mon, May 30, 2016 at 6:44 PM

People seeking more energy project siting regulations turned out in force during the legislative session. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • TERRI HALLENBECK
  • People seeking more energy project siting regulations turned out in force during the legislative session.
Lawmakers are bracing for the possibility that Gov. Peter Shumlin will veto an energy project siting bill that was a source of contention right up through the final hours of the legislative session earlier this month.

Shumlin wouldn’t say Monday whether he will veto S. 230, a bill that is supposed to give local communities more say in the siting of wind and solar energy projects. But he said his staff is poring over the legislation’s details.

“We’re still trying to figure out what it does,” Shumlin said Monday morning as he prepared to march in the Vergennes Memorial Day parade. “You know, I love the bill. I love the part that gives the public more say in decisions. I think we’re trying to figure out what was cobbled together in the halls actually does.”

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Friday, May 6, 2016

Energy Siting Bill Passes, But Doesn’t Guarantee Peace

Posted By on Fri, May 6, 2016 at 10:44 PM

Reps. Kesha Ram (D-Burlington), Mike Hebert (R-Vernon) and Marianna Gamache (R-Swanton) speak about an energy siting bill Friday at the Statehouse. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Reps. Kesha Ram (D-Burlington), Mike Hebert (R-Vernon) and Marianna Gamache (R-Swanton) speak about an energy siting bill Friday at the Statehouse.
After four long months of angst-filled debate over a renewable energy siting bill, a group of wind-energy critics sat late Friday afternoon in the Statehouse cafeteria munching on not-very-fresh-looking turkey sandwiches.

“We’re not happy,” said Penny Dubie, a Fairfield resident who has been hotly fighting the siting of wind projects since a seven-turbine Swanton project was proposed near her house.

Legislators had just reached a final agreement on the bill and it didn’t go as far as the critics would have liked.

“I’m between a rock and a hard place,” said Rep. Marianna Gamache (R-Swanton), who favored portions of the bill designed to give towns more say in locating energy projects but was disappointed that new sound standards wouldn’t apply to the proposed Swanton project.

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Senate Approves Panel to Explore State Purchase of Hydroelectric Dams

Posted By on Fri, May 6, 2016 at 3:46 PM

Sen. Ginny Lyons briefs the Senate on a bill with provisions authorizing consideration of the purchase of hydropower dams on the Connecticut and Deerfield rivers. - NANCY REMSEN
  • Nancy Remsen
  • Sen. Ginny Lyons briefs the Senate on a bill with provisions authorizing consideration of the purchase of hydropower dams on the Connecticut and Deerfield rivers.
The Senate has approved the creation of the Vermont Hydroelectric Power Acquisition Working Group, with funding and a process to follow to research the potential purchase of a string of 13 power-producing dams on the Connecticut and Deerfield Rivers.

TransCanada, owner of the dams, has put them on sale, along with a wind farm in Maine and three gas-powered plants in the Northeast, to raise money to help the Canadian energy giant buy a gas pipeline.

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Creditors Get In Line As Jay Peak Development Scandal Unfolds

Posted By and on Thu, Apr 28, 2016 at 9:41 AM

Q Burke Hotel & Conference Center under construction last July. - FILE: DON WHIPPLE
  • File: Don Whipple
  • Q Burke Hotel & Conference Center under construction last July.
As Northeast Kingdom developers Ariel Quiros and Bill Stenger face civil fraud charges in federal and state court, many of those who have done business with their companies are going unpaid.

Among them: Vermont Electric Cooperative, the Johnson-based utility that keeps Jay Peak Resort’s lifts spinning.

“They’re in arrears,” VEC CEO Christine Hallquist said Wednesday.

She declined to reveal how much Jay Peak owes or how long the ski area has owed it. But Hallquist acknowledged that the company has a hefty electric bill: It’s the co-op’s second-largest customer — behind WestRock, a Sheldon boxboard manufacturer.

Hallquist said she has been in contact with federal receiver Michael Goldberg, whom a judge appointed two weeks ago to oversee Jay Peak and the developers’ other assets. Federal and state authorities charged Quiros and Stenger April 14 with misusing more than $200 million raised through the EB-5 investor visa program.

Hallquist said she expects to hear details from Goldberg about a payment plan by Friday. “I’m happy with the response,” she said.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

House Takes Surprising Change of Direction in Renewable Siting Legislation

Posted By on Wed, Apr 27, 2016 at 5:50 PM

Opponents of wind projects line the House chamber Tuesday wearing neon green vests. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Opponents of wind projects line the House chamber Tuesday wearing neon green vests.
When the Senate passed an energy siting bill earlier this year, a vocal group of wind-turbine opponents walked away disappointed. Their hopes that the bill would require continuous sound monitoring of wind projects were dashed.

History suggested their chances of doing better in the more renewable-energy-friendly House were nil.

“Over the past few years I’ve been here, nothing has ever gotten better in the House energy committee until now,” said Mark Whitworth, president of Energize Vermont, an organization that has been fighting large wind projects.

So it was an odd sight this week as wind opponents cheered the unanimous passage of a revised energy bill in the House.

“All seven towns that I represent in my area have had wind impact,” Rep. Vicki Strong (R-Albany), said on the House floor Tuesday. “Their voices are being heard. I appreciate that.”

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Public Service Board Finds Flaws in Energy Siting Bill

Posted By on Tue, Apr 12, 2016 at 9:48 PM

Public Service Board member Margaret Cheney addresses legislators Tuesday in the Statehouse. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Public Service Board member Margaret Cheney addresses legislators Tuesday in the Statehouse.
Last month, the Vermont Senate passed a bill that some members said was meant to send a message to the state Public Service Board that the utility regulators hadn’t paid close enough attention to the public.

Tuesday, one of the Public Service Board’s three members delivered a different message back: The Senate bill is full of flaws, board member Margaret Cheney told two House committees.

A former state representative who has served on the quasi-judicial Public Service Board since 2013, Cheney returned to the Statehouse on Tuesday to discuss the bill with her former colleagues. She acknowledged that the public is frustrated by the board’s complicated process, but she downplayed the depths of that frustration.

“There have been legitimate complaints about navigating and understanding the board process,” Cheney said, but added, “We are working to do a much better job with customer service.”

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Monday, April 11, 2016

State Treasurer's Challenger Calls for Fossil-Fuel Divestment

Posted By on Mon, Apr 11, 2016 at 8:25 PM

Vermont State Treasurer Beth Pearce - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Vermont State Treasurer Beth Pearce
When Gov. Peter Shumlin announced in his State of the State address in January that he would be pushing Vermont to divest from coal and ExxonMobil stocks, he energized a cadre of advocates. He also put state Treasurer Beth Pearce, a fellow Democrat, on the spot.

Pearce, whom Shumlin appointed to the treasurer job six years ago, has resisted the call for divestment, arguing that investment decisions should be based on financial considerations — not political ones.

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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Vermont to Consider Purchase of Hydroelectric Dams

Posted By on Tue, Apr 5, 2016 at 4:26 PM

Gov. Peter Shumlin speaks, flanked by (l-r) House Speaker Shap Smith, Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell and Secretary of Administration Justin Johnson. - NANCY REMSEN
  • Nancy Remsen
  • Gov. Peter Shumlin speaks, flanked by (l-r) House Speaker Shap Smith, Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell and Secretary of Administration Justin Johnson.
Gov. Peter Shumlin and the leaders of the House and Senate agreed Tuesday that the state should consider purchasing the hydroelectric dams on the Connecticut and Deerfield rivers. Their owner, TransCanada, has announced it wants to sell 13 dams. 

Shumlin, House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morristown) and Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell (D-Windsor) announced that a seven-member working group will examine either a purchase or entering into a partnership to buy the dams. The panel will report back before the legislature adjourns to give lawmakers an opportunity to authorize next steps.

“We have to do whatever we can to make sure this isn’t a lost opportunity,” said Smith.

Secretary of Administration Justin Johnson will head up the working group, which will include State Treasurer Beth Pearce as well as members with economic, energy and business expertise.

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