Energy

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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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Hinesburg Selectboard Scraps Vermont Gas Agreement

Posted By on Tue, Mar 22, 2016 at 9:28 AM

Residents criticize a deal with Vermont Gas during the Hinesburg Selectboard meeting Monday night. - ALICIA FREESE
  • Alicia Freese
  • Residents criticize a deal with Vermont Gas during the Hinesburg Selectboard meeting Monday night.
The Hinesburg Selectboard has withdrawn its agreement with Vermont Gas that laid out the conditions for constructing a controversial pipeline through the Geprags Community Park.

Monday night, the board voted on the agreement for a second time. That's because residents filed a complaint alleging that the elected officials had violated Vermont's open meeting law the first time they voted on it, more than a year and a half ago. 

During the packed public forum, Hinesburg residents cast doubt on nearly every component of the deal, which said the town wouldn't oppose Vermont Gas being granted a permanent easement through the park for its natural gas pipeline. The company had pledged several things in return, including to protect the habitat of the rare golden-winged warbler, to pay the town $75,000 and to bring natural gas to several additional neighborhoods, if feasible.

The agreement had yet to be enacted. Vermont Gas determined that it would need to get the Public Service Board to grant the land through eminent domain because the parkland had been bequeathed to the town on the condition that it would be used for recreation or education.

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Friday, February 26, 2016

House Joins Call for Divestment from Coal and ExxonMobil

Posted By on Fri, Feb 26, 2016 at 5:32 PM

Rep. Mary Sullivan (D-Burlington), lead sponsor of a  resolution calling for pension funds to divest fossil fuel stocks, addresses the House. - NANCY REMSEN
  • Nancy Remsen
  • Rep. Mary Sullivan (D-Burlington), lead sponsor of a resolution calling for pension funds to divest fossil fuel stocks, addresses the House.
In a largely party-line vote, the House approved a resolution Friday urging the state treasurer and the Vermont Pension Investment Committee to take steps for the state’s pension funds to divest their coal and ExxonMobil stocks. The vote: 76-57.

The resolution supports the call for divestment that Gov. Peter Shumlin made in his State of the State address in January. He appealed directly to the Vermont Pension Investment Committee earlier this week.

Treasurer Beth Pearce has argued that decisions about how pension money is invested should be based on financial factors, not politics. But after Shumlin addressed the investment committee, she and VPIC agreed to look into possible divestment of coal and ExxonMobil stocks.

The House resolution focused on both the climate change and financial arguments for divesting from fossil fuel assets. It noted, for example, that a growing number of coal companies are filing for bankruptcy.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Treasurer and Pension Panel Will Vet Shumlin's Divestment Proposal

Posted By on Tue, Feb 23, 2016 at 12:10 PM

Gov. Peter Shumlin speaking to the Vermont Pension Investment Committee on the issue of divestment. - NANCY REMSEN
  • Nancy Remsen
  • Gov. Peter Shumlin speaking to the Vermont Pension Investment Committee on the issue of divestment.
Gov. Peter Shumlin won a promise from the state treasurer and the Vermont Pension Investment Committee that they would consider his call for divesting from coal and ExxonMobil stocks.

The governor proposed divestment in his State of the State speech in January. Treasurer Beth Pearce has pushed back, saying that decisions about pension investments should be based on financial criteria, not political considerations.

But after Shumlin made his pitch to the pension investment committee Tuesday morning, citing financial — as well as moral — reasons to divest from coal and ExxonMobil, Pearce said, “I am committed to a full vetting of the issues.”

Representatives of organizations lobbying for divestment welcomed the thawing in the stance that Pearce and the panel had taken. “I see it as progress, although not as fast as any of us who support this want to see,” said Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Energy Critics Make Strongest Statehouse Push

Posted By on Wed, Jan 20, 2016 at 7:17 PM

Vermont wind project opponents erected a model turbine on the Statehouse lawn. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Vermont wind project opponents erected a model turbine on the Statehouse lawn.
The makeshift wind turbine erected in front of the Statehouse, emblazoned with the governor’s last name, was the first hint. Then there were the sign-bearing protesters flanking the Statehouse doors.

Inside, in the halls of the Statehouse, the cafeteria and committee rooms, scores more were dressed in bright green vests to highlight their presence and emphasize the danger they feel.

Wednesday brought the biggest show of force yet by Vermonters upset with the state’s siting process for energy projects. What has in recent years been a relatively small group of wind opponents has grown into a legion of people worried about wind and solar, including town leaders from across the state.

“Now, it’s being taken more seriously,” LuAnn Therrien said of the opposition. Therrien has spent years speaking against the Sheffield wind project, which she said drove her family out of town. 

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Friday, January 8, 2016

Vermont Gas Pipeline Wins Public Service Board OK

Posted By on Fri, Jan 8, 2016 at 6:00 PM

A crowd at a meeting on Vermont Gas' Addison Natural Gas Pipeline project - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • A crowd at a meeting on Vermont Gas' Addison Natural Gas Pipeline project
Vermont Gas Systems got its long-awaited go-ahead Friday from the state Public Service Board to continue building a controversial 41-mile natural gas pipeline from Colchester to Middlebury.

The board ruled that project is still in the public good — even after its price tag leapfrogged from $87 million to $154 million.

Opponents had asked the board to reconsider the project's certificate of public good based on the price increase and the availability of other price-competitive fuel options.

“The general good of the people of Vermont would best be served if the proceeding is not reopened,” the board said in its ruling.

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State Treasurer Pearce Opposes Shumlin's Coal Divestment Plan

Posted By on Fri, Jan 8, 2016 at 2:35 PM

House Minority Leader Don Turner speaks with state Treasurer Beth Pearce - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • House Minority Leader Don Turner speaks with state Treasurer Beth Pearce
Gov. Peter Shumlin’s plan to divest Vermont’s state pension funds from coal assets has met immediate opposition from a key player: state Treasurer Beth Pearce.

“I believe that divestment is not the appropriate strategy for our fund and is counter to our fiduciary responsibilities to the fund and its beneficiaries,” Pearce said in a statement issued Friday morning.

In his State of the State address the day before, Shumlin proposed following California's lead in divesting from coal-extracting companies. He also called on the state to immediately rid itself of ExxonMobil stock while studying divesting from other oil companies.

“The urgency for us to take every sensible action against climate change has never been greater,” Shumlin said in his speech.

Thursday's announcement was a marked shift for the governor.

In September 2014, Shumlin said he agreed with Pearce that divestment was not a good idea, arguing, as she does, that owning stocks gave the state "a seat at the table with oil companies." He told Seven Days at the time that he was "willing to take a look" at divestiture, but that doing so was not "the sharpest knife of all the things that we could do." 

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Monday, October 26, 2015

Arrests Outside State Offices Cap Days of Gas Pipeline Protests

Posted By on Mon, Oct 26, 2015 at 3:44 PM

Dave Przepioski (left), who was arrested Monday with  Crystal Zevon (right), shows the ticket he received for disorderly conduct. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Dave Przepioski (left), who was arrested Monday with Crystal Zevon (right), shows the ticket he received for disorderly conduct.
Johann Kulsic of Burlington had never been arrested before. But he was charged Monday morning after the natural gas pipeline protester chained himself to the door of a Montpelier building that houses the state Department of Public Service and the Public Service Board.

“If they won’t listen to us, they need to see we won’t back down,” Kulsic said after returning from a trip to the Montpelier police station with a citation for disorderly conduct. 
Protesters on State Street in Montpelier in front of the Department of Public Service - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Protesters on State Street in Montpelier in front of the Department of Public Service


Kulsic was arrested along with two others, Crystal Zevon of West Barnet and Dave Przepioski of Craftsbury Common, shortly before 8 a.m. as they blocked employees from entering the front and back doors of the State Street building. The protest was the latest in opponents’ efforts to derail Vermont Gas Systems’ project to extend natural gas service from Colchester to Middlebury, and followed a weekend of activism in Montpelier.

Zevon, a longtime activist who said she’s been arrested in New York State, described this cuffing as remarkably polite. “They couldn’t have been more gentle,” she said. She said she considered getting arrested necessary. “If we don’t start doing drastic things, people don’t pay attention.”

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