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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Partnership Promises to Fuel GlobalFoundries' Campus With Green Hydrogen

Posted By on Thu, Jan 20, 2022 at 5:43 PM

Ken McAvey, Vice President and General Manager, Global Foundries - KEVIN MCCALLUM ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Kevin McCallum ©️ Seven Days
  • Ken McAvey, Vice President and General Manager, Global Foundries
 A trio of prominent Vermont institutions announced a partnership Thursday to develop a carbon-free fuel source — green hydrogen — touted as vital to helping the state reach its greenhouse emission goals.

Vermont Gas Systems, the state’s largest supplier of natural gas, plans to break ground next year on a green hydrogen facility at the GlobalFoundries semiconductor plant in Essex Junction.

The pilot project, which includes research assistance from the University of Vermont, aims to create a green fuel source that can be mixed with the natural gas burned to heat buildings at the massive GlobalFoundries campus.

The utility sees the project as a crucial step to transition its fuel supply — which is mostly fossil fuel gas from Canada — to more renewable, lower carbon sources not only at GlobalFoundries but throughout its coverage area.

Vermont Gas Systems supplies natural gas to 55,000 families and businesses in Franklin, Chittenden and Addison counties, as well as renewable natural gas from farm digesters.

“This project will show the rest of the state and the world that zero-carbon thermal energy is possible,” Vermont Gas Systems President and CEO Neale Lunderville said at a press conference at UVM Thursday.

The vast majority of hydrogen is made using natural gas and coal, and is used in the petrochemical industry to make fuels and fertilizers. "Green hydrogen" describes hydrogen generated with renewable energy.

The announcement was met with skepticism in some environmental circles, however, particularly given how much energy it takes to produce hydrogen in the first place.
Neale Lunderville, Vermont Gas Systems president and CEO - KEVIN MCCALLUM ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Kevin McCallum ©️ Seven Days
  • Neale Lunderville, Vermont Gas Systems president and CEO
“You can’t create green hydrogen with dirty electricity,” said Chase Whiting, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation who focuses on clean energy.

Whiting noted that while the entities claim the project would use electricity from solar and wind, those sources provide only “a tiny fraction of the total electricity production” in the state, and their contribution is growing very slowly.

It takes a huge amount of electricity to split hydrogen from oxygen molecules in water, and GlobalFoundries’s electricity consumption will likely increase significantly in order to slightly reduce its emissions from natural gas, Whiting noted.

The only way the process could be considered “green” would be if it were done exclusively with excess renewable energy, which Whiting said is actually in short supply in the state.

GlobalFoundries officials counter that in “initial stages,” the electricity will come from Green Mountain Power’s carbon-free portfolio. Adding  solar power or being able to buy renewable energy directly from other power suppliers — something the company has requested of regulators — would increase GlobalFoundries' ability to produce green hydrogen, officials said.

To reduce its power costs, the company has asked the state Public Utilities Commission to become a “self-managed utility,” meaning it could ditch Green Mountain Power and buy power directly from suppliers like Hydro-Quebec.

Critics have argued this would effectively release Vermont's largest energy user from its obligation to help fund new renewable energy projects in the state.

The manufacturer notes that it has a long history of energy efficiency improvements and is committed to reducing its carbon footprint. This effort demonstrates that commitment, said Ken McAvey, vice president and general manager at the Essex Junction facility, known as Fab 9.

“This project is exciting for us to grow our environmental record in the state and be leaders across the country and in the semiconductor space specifically,” McAvey said.
Sen. Patrick Leahy praised the partnership in a recorded statement. - KEVIN MCCALLUM ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Kevin McCallum ©️ Seven Days
  • Sen. Patrick Leahy praised the partnership in a recorded statement.
If utility regulators reject the request to go solo, McAvey said, the company would have to “step back and look at our entire portfolio and expenses” and see how else it could move forward.

Details of the project remain limited. Lunderville said it would entail a one-megawatt electrolyzer installed at the facility. Electrolyzers use electricity to break apart water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen can then be used on the site or compressed into gas and transported. He said the hydrogen could be mixed with the natural gas stream without the need for major upgrades of GlobalFoundries' heating equipment.

"So far, it's shown real promise," he said. 

In the future, green hydrogen could be used to store excess renewable energy,  helping ease some of the constraints on the power grid and opening more parts of the state to renewable energy production, he said.

Hydrogen technology is being developed to power everything from emission-free cars and buses to submarines and airplanes and long-haul trucks. Because of its energy density, some consider it to be most effective when batteries are either too heavy or not sufficiently powerful.

The technology has sharp critics. Elon Musk, founder of electric car maker Tesla, called using hydrogen to power vehicles “mind-bogglingly stupid” because of the inefficiency of using electricity to make a fuel that needs to be turned back into electricity.

While others see the technology as vital to the success of global decarbonization efforts, hydrogen-powered  passenger cars remain an expensive niche vehicle, which  just 31,000 worldwide compared to millions of electric vehicles.

The project is the first initiative of the Vermont Clean and Resilient Energy Consortium, said UVM vice president for research Kirk Dombrowski.

The state’s small size and history of collaboration make it an excellent place to innovate on clean energy, he said. UVM students are clamoring for opportunities to learn more about and advance clean energy efforts, he added.

“Our goal over the next several years is to make Vermont a leader in the clean energy space,” he said.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) offered his congratulations in taped remarks played at the press conference. He said he would help bring the project to the attention of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Lunderville did not have a cost estimate for the project, but said his utility was funding it and would be seeking federal grants. 

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Monday, January 17, 2022

Colchester Manufacturer Hazelett Strip-Casting Is Sold to an Austrian Company

Posted By on Mon, Jan 17, 2022 at 6:03 PM

Factory floor at Hazelett Strip-Casting in Colchester - COURTESY OF HAZELETT STRIP-CASTING
  • Courtesy of Hazelett Strip-Casting
  • Factory floor at Hazelett Strip-Casting in Colchester
Hazelett Strip-Casting Corp., a family business that has been manufacturing metals machinery in Colchester since 1956, has sold a controlling interest to a longtime industry contact in Austria.

Hazelett employs about 160 people in Vermont and a dozen at its subsidiaries in China and Ontario, Canada. The company manufactures huge machines that create metal parts used in products around the globe, such as cellphones, computers, appliances, automobile bodies and roofing.

Hazelett family members didn’t say how much the buyer, EBNER Group, paid to become a majority owner this month. President David Hazelett, whose grandfather Clarence Hazelett started the company, will remain in that role and as a shareholder.

The firms have worked together for years. Hazelett chose EBNER from several suitors because it'll run the business in a manner consistent with the family’s values, said Ann Cordner, David’s sister and a longtime vice president at the Colchester company.

Like Hazelett, EBNER is a fourth-generation family business that values its employees and strives to be environmentally sustainable, Cordner said.

“We will still be Hazelett, and we will be here," she said. "The whole idea is that everything will stay the same."

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Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Private Equity Group Drops Bid to Purchase Five Vermont Nursing Homes

Posted By on Tue, Dec 28, 2021 at 8:37 PM

  • Matt Morris
A group of New York-based nursing home investors has dropped its effort to purchase five of the state's largest and most troubled facilities.

Priority Healthcare Group withdrew its application to the Vermont Agency of Human Services to assume full control of Burlington Health & Rehab and similarly named homes in Bennington, Berlin, St. Johnsbury and Springfield, according to a spokesperson for the current owner, national health care conglomerate Genesis HealthCare.
The application had been pending for more than a year. A Seven Days investigation of the buyers' backgrounds last July revealed problems at some of the homes members of the group owned in other states.

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Thursday, December 16, 2021

The Northeast Kingdom's Quimby Country Resort Has New Owners

Posted By on Thu, Dec 16, 2021 at 3:46 PM

Lilly and Gene Devlin in one of Quimby Country's cottages. - ANNE WALLACE ALLEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Anne Wallace Allen ©️ Seven Days
  • Lilly and Gene Devlin in one of Quimby Country's cottages.
New owners have taken the reins at Quimby Country resort, the only business in the tiny Northeast Kingdom town of Averill.

On Wednesday, Gene and Lilly Devlin completed their purchase of the property, which occupies 1,000 acres on Forest Lake and includes 19 shoreline cottages, a lodge and a clubhouse.

The Cornwall couple, who have had a 49 percent ownership share of the camp since 2018, don't have immediate plans to make changes to the 128-year-old property.

“We do have plans to do some capital improvements, of course, but nothing we want to announce just yet,” said Gene.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Organic Dairy Farmers Win a Six-Month Reprieve From Horizon

Posted By on Tue, Dec 14, 2021 at 10:07 AM

  • University of Vermont
  • Holstein cow
The French dairy giant Danone has agreed to extend its contract with its Vermont organic dairy farmers by six months to give them more time to find alternatives for selling their milk.

Danone announced in October that it would cut ties with 28 Vermont organic farmers in August 2022, leaving them with nowhere to sell their milk. The decision included 89 farms in the Northeast that were under contract with Horizon, the organic label owned by Danone.

Under the new agreement, which was confirmed by the office of U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), the farmers will receive a six-month optional extension of their contracts, to February 2023, and will also get a small boost in payments for the last six months of the contract.

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Sunday, November 21, 2021

Chittenden County's Retail Vacancy Rate Has Doubled Since 2019

Posted By on Sun, Nov 21, 2021 at 7:47 PM

A hopeful message from Butch + Babe's in Burlington. The restaurant has since closed permanently. - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • A hopeful message from Butch + Babe's in Burlington. The restaurant has since closed permanently.
The vacancy rate for store and restaurant property in Chittenden County has doubled since 2019, a sign that the pandemic and online shopping are hitting retailers hard.

The retail real estate market was soft before the pandemic, said Tony Blake, the principal broker at the Burlington real estate company V/T Commercial. He said parking problems and safety concerns have deterred customers from downtown Burlington in recent years. Online shopping has been making a dent in brick-and-mortar store sales everywhere for about a decade. Then COVID-19 safety measures closed stores and restaurants altogether in 2020.

“It was almost like the perfect storm,” Blake said. “COVID really blew this thing apart, and retail took it on the chin.”

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Friday, November 12, 2021

Lawmakers Meet Graduates From New $1.8 Million Job Training Program

Posted By on Fri, Nov 12, 2021 at 9:00 PM

  • Anne Wallace Allen ©️ Seven Days
  • John Skoda
After working various low-paying jobs that weren’t a good fit, Barre resident John Skoda wanted to settle down with a career that could pay the bills. So this fall, Skoda signed on with Serve, Earn & Learn, a new training initiative funded this year with $1.8 million from the legislature.

On Friday, Skoda, 27, and several others graduated from Construction 101. He’s headed for a temporary position weatherizing houses for Capstone Community Action; if he’s hired permanently, he expects to make $18 an hour.

Skoda, who has a psychology degree from Castleton University, saw an ad for the free four-week construction program on Front Porch Forum, and considered it a good opportunity to learn new skills in a short period of time. After working for several years in community mental health, and then in an array of short-term jobs, he decided he needed more skills.

“I find myself at a juncture where my partner and I are looking to buy a house and have stability in our lives,” Skoda said.

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Monday, November 8, 2021

Vermont Publisher Chelsea Green Sues Sen. Warren for 'Suppressing' Book

Posted By on Mon, Nov 8, 2021 at 6:16 PM

  • Courtesy Of Valley News/Sarah Priestap
  • Margo Baldwin in 2014
Vermont publisher Chelsea Green has filed a federal civil lawsuit  claiming that U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) stifled free speech when she called on Amazon to curb the spread of COVID-19 misinformation and cited one of  Chelsea Green's books as a source of "dangerous conspiracies."

The other plaintiffs are Florida osteopath Joseph Mercola and Organic Consumers Association founder Ronnie Cummins, who coauthored The Truth About COVID-19: Exposing the Great Reset, Lockdowns, Vaccine Passports, and the New Normal, published in April by Chelsea Green. Robert Kennedy Jr., a prominent anti-vaccine activist who wrote the book's foreword, is also a plaintiff.

Warren wrote to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy on September 7 to express her concerns that the online retailer was "peddling misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines and treatments." She exhorted Amazon to review its search algorithms and take steps to reduce the visibility of books like The Truth About COVID-19, which still appears as one of the top results in an Amazon search using the term "COVID-19."

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Friday, October 22, 2021

Feds Say 7 Percent of Jobs in Vermont Are Open

Posted By on Fri, Oct 22, 2021 at 4:30 PM

A sign at the Marshfield Village store - ANNE WALLACE ALLEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Anne Wallace Allen ©️ Seven Days
  • A sign at the Marshfield Village store
Just over 7 percent of the existing jobs in Vermont were vacant in August, according to a new report from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Vermont had 23,000 job openings that month, according to the state Labor Department. That's the equivalent of 7.1 percent of all the state's positions, according to the BLS. The U.S. rate is 6.6 percent. But Vermont's doing better than Massachusetts and New Hampshire, which both have 7.4 percent of jobs open.

“Two years ago, I could put an ad on Indeed and have 50 responses, and now I can get five,” said Katrina Spahn, who hires for Hannaford supermarkets in New York and northern New England. People who do answer Spahn’s help wanted ads are seeking $15 to $18 per hour, she said — but she’s only authorized to offer  $13.

Spahn's company, SOS, recently started offering health insurance to part-time workers. People she talks to at job fairs tell her they'd prefer remote work because they're worried about being infected with COVID-19.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Canadian Visitors Will Be Admitted to the U.S. Starting in November

Posted By on Wed, Oct 13, 2021 at 3:56 PM

Canada border crossing in Norton - ANNE WALLACE ALLEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Anne Wallace Allen ©️ Seven Days
  • Canada border crossing in Norton
Canadian tourists and shoppers will be able to cross the land border into Vermont in November after a closure of roughly 20 months.

The White House late Tuesday announced that it would ease restrictions on nonessential border crossings from Canada and Mexico. Family visits and tourism ground to a halt after the border closed on March 21, 2020, though people have been able to cross for business purposes. No exact date for the reopening was announced.

The U.S. will require all incoming nonessential travelers to show proof they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Travelers on essential business, such as health care workers, students and truckers, have until January to get vaccinated, according to a statement from the Department of Homeland Security.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott and other northern state governors have been pushing the White House to reopen the border to travelers from Canada, which started admitting U.S. travelers on August 9 — with strict vaccination and testing requirements.

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