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Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Judge Rules for Neighbors in Case Against Panton Dairy Farm

Posted By on Tue, Mar 29, 2022 at 10:28 AM

Vorsteveld Farm - FILE: CALEB KENNA
  • File: Caleb Kenna
  • Vorsteveld Farm
A large Panton dairy farm must make changes to stop turbid runoff and foul odors from contaminating a downslope neighbor, a state judge ruled Monday.

The decision by Superior Court Judge Mary Miles Teachout, following a civil trial held in December and January, does not specify how the three Vorsteveld brothers, who operate one of the 38 largest dairy farms in Vermont, must halt the pollutants. As Seven Days previously reported, the case also touched on broader issues in the dairy industry and how Vermont regulates farms.
Neighboring landowners Vicki and Dennis Hopper sued Vorsteveld Farm in 2020, alleging that runoff was interfering with life at their lakefront home and the operations of their daughter’s grass-fed livestock farm, known as Aerie Point.

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Monday, March 28, 2022

DEC Commissioner Peter Walke Is Stepping Down to Lead Efficiency Vermont

Posted By on Mon, Mar 28, 2022 at 2:13 PM

Peter Walke - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Peter Walke
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Peter Walke is leaving state service to join Efficiency Vermont, the organization that runs key energy conservation programs.

Walke said he has enjoyed being commissioner for the past two years and is eager to expand programs to help the state meet its ambitious climate goals.

“I’m looking forward to being able to be on the implementation side of things,” Walke told Seven Days Monday.

The Vermont native moved back to the state in 2017 to be a deputy secretary for the Agency of Natural Resources after stints in the U.S. Navy and as chief of staff at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

In the latter role, he worked on efforts to clean up drinking water in Hoosick Falls, N.Y., that had been contaminated by PFAS, the same class of fluorinated chemicals discovered in Bennington-areas wells in 2016.

Walke took a lead role in efforts to get Bennington residents with contaminated wells hooked up to clean water supplies and to hold Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, the owner of a former North Bennington factory that polluted the wells with PFAS, responsible.

The company agreed in 2019 to spend approximately $25 million to run water lines to 245 homes in the area. Affected residents reached a $34 million settlement with the company in 2021.

Walke has been the administration’s point person to explore the state’s possible participation in the Transportation Climate Initiative, a multi-state tax-and-regulate program to regulate emissions from vehicles. Walke’s boss, Gov. Phil Scott, ultimately declined to join.

Walke also served on the year-long Climate Council that sought a strategy to help the state comply with the Global Warming Solutions Act, which Scott also opposed.

Walke declined to address whether these challenges put him at odds with the Scott administration on key environmental issues or whether those contributed to his departure. Scott has been widely criticized by environmental groups for not doing enough to ensure the state meets its goals of reducing climate pollution.

The commissioner thanked Scott and Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore and the “amazingly passionate and competent” staff at DEC.

Walke will start on May 9 as Efficiency Vermont’s new managing director.

“We’re excited to welcome Peter as the next leader of Efficiency Vermont,” Rebecca Foster said in a written statement. Foster is the CEO of VEIC, the nonprofit clean energy organization that operates Efficiency Vermont as what is  known as an efficiency utility.

“Peter’s wealth of experience partnering with diverse stakeholders to find solutions that work for all Vermonters is the perfect match for this role," Foster said. "Peter’s career reflects his strong ethic of listening to all voices to make thoughtful and consistent progress toward solving complex challenges.”

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Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Idaho Company Acquires an Iconic Vermont Energy Storage Firm

Posted By on Wed, Mar 23, 2022 at 6:00 AM

Jay Bellows of Northern Reliability - FILE: KEVIN MCCALLUM ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Kevin McCallum ©️ Seven Days
  • Jay Bellows of Northern Reliability
Waterbury-based energy storage systems manufacturer Northern Reliability has been acquired by an Idaho company — but it’s not going anywhere.

KORE Power announced that NorthernReliability will be part of a new entity called KORE Solutions and will remain in Waterbury. It will immediately add 25 positions, KORE Power said in a prepared statement.

The Waterbury company has created more than 1,000 energy storage projects around the world, including many for off-grid uses in extreme environments such as Antarctica.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Environmental Officials Ask for Two More Years to Test Schools for PCBs

Posted By on Wed, Mar 16, 2022 at 5:11 PM

A sign outside Burlington High School's Institute Road campus - FILE: COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • A sign outside Burlington High School's Institute Road campus
Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation officials are asking state legislators for a two-year extension on the deadline to test schools for airborne PCBs. They say the extra time will allow them to better support schools that detect contamination from the toxic chemicals, also known as polychlorinated biphenyls .

Last year, lawmakers allocated $4.5 million to test every Vermont school constructed before 1980 for PCBs. The deadline: July 1, 2024. The legislation followed the discovery of airborne PCBs at Burlington High School in the fall of 2020 — as the school district prepared for extensive renovations — that led to the campus's closure. Last year, Burlington school commissioners voted to raze the existing building and build a new one on the high school's Institute Road campus.

State officials have prepared for statewide PCB testing by surveying schools to see which ones qualify and contracting with six environmental consulting firms to conduct the work. They've also released updated guidance that details what schools must do if certain levels of contaminants are found. 
But in a meeting of the Senate Education Committee last week, DEC Commissioner Peter Walke and senior environmental program manager Patricia Coppolino told lawmakers that the 2024 deadline won't allow them to provide a personalized response to schools with elevated airborne PCB concentrations.

"I think we set ourselves up for an inability to provide that level of service that Vermonters are going to want in response to the discovery of PCBs in school if  we try to rush the testing process," Walke told lawmakers.

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Thursday, February 24, 2022

House Committee Approves Bill That Takes Aim at Fossil Fuels

Posted By on Thu, Feb 24, 2022 at 5:14 PM

Rep. Tim Briglin (D-Thetford) on the House floor in 2020 - FILE: KEVIN MCCALLUM ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Kevin McCallum ©️ Seven Days
  • Rep. Tim Briglin (D-Thetford) on the House floor in 2020
Vermont lawmakers advanced the centerpiece of their climate agenda on Thursday as a key committee approved a bill intended to sharply reduce pollution from fossil fuels used to heat homes and businesses.

The House Energy and Technology Committee approved the creation of a “clean heat standard” program by a vote of 7-2 after weeks of technical, and at times contentious, testimony.

Rep. Tim Briglin (D-Thetford), chair of the committee, said the bill had been a "heavy lift" but would ensure the transition to lower-carbon fuels was "coordinated, sustained and predictable" for fuel buyers and sellers.

Waiting to act will only leave Vermonters with fewer options, he said.

"In 10 years, if we do nothing, we're going to be faced with things that are more costly, less equitable and more disruptive," Briglin told Seven Days.

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Monday, February 21, 2022

Despite Regulator's Ruling, GlobalFoundries to Move Ahead With Power Plan

Posted By on Mon, Feb 21, 2022 at 7:06 PM

GlobalFoundries - FILE:JAMES BUCK
  • File:James Buck
  • GlobalFoundries
Semiconductor maker GlobalFoundries said on Monday that it plans to press on with plans to create its own electric utility, despite a ruling from regulators that the company would not be exempt from state renewable energy rules.

“To us, this is a key step forward,” said Ken McAvey, general manager of the massive Essex Junction factory known as "Fab 9." "We’re committed to following the renewable energy standards, and have already committed to set the bar even higher."

The Malta, N.Y.-based chip maker wants to better control its energy costs by running its 725-acre campus as a "self-managed utility" instead of buying its electricity from Green Mountain Power.

That effort seemed to suffer a setback last week when the Public Utility Commission ruled it didn’t have the authority to waive regulations that require utilities to sell increasingly cleaner, more renewable electricity to consumers. GlobalFoundries initially indicated it was "disappointed with the decision" and would figure out next steps.

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Friday, February 18, 2022

Regulators Deny GlobalFoundries' Bid to Be Its Own Power Company

Posted By on Fri, Feb 18, 2022 at 9:23 AM

GlobalFoundries - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • GlobalFoundries
Regulators have pulled the plug on semiconductor giant GlobalFoundries’ plan to slash its power bills by becoming its own utility.

The Vermont Public Utility Commission on Thursday rejected the company’s request to set up a “self-managed utility” to supply its massive Essex Junction chip plant with electricity instead of buying it from Green Mountain Power.

The commission ruled that it didn’t have the authority to exempt the company from state rules requiring utilities to purchase some of their power from renewable energy sources.

Environmental groups praised the move, while company officials were  
“disappointed with the decision and are now in the process of assessing the impact and next steps,” spokesperson Gina DeRossi wrote in a statement.

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Thursday, February 10, 2022

Bald Eagle Removed From Endangered List in Vermont

Posted By on Thu, Feb 10, 2022 at 2:52 PM

Bald eagle - COURTESY OF TOM ROGERS
  • Courtesy Of Tom Rogers
  • Bald eagle
 Following a successful recovery effort, Vermont wildlife officials have removed the bald eagle from the state list of endangered and threatened species.

In 2008, there was just one breeding pair confirmed in the state, in Concord, east of St. Johnsbury. Two more nesting sites were identified in 2009.

But by 2020, the number of fledgling eagles had risen to 64, after recovery efforts that included protection of nests, annual surveys and public education.

“The bald eagle’s de-listing is a milestone for Vermont,” wildlife division director Mark Scott said in a release. “This reflects more than a decade of dedicated work by Vermont Fish & Wildlife and partners. It shows that Vermonters have the capacity to restore and protect the species and habitats that we cherish.”

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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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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

Holstein cow - UNIVERSITY OF VERMONT
  • 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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