Category Archives: Natural Resources

Sanders’ opposition notwithstanding, testimony on wind moratorium begins

Undaunted by the public recriminations issued by Sen. Bernard Sanders Monday, proponents of a moratorium on mountaintop wind began taking testimony Tuesday on a bill  that would halt new development for three years.

The bill suffered a tongue-lashing in Sanders’ Burlington office. It found a more hospitable host in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources today, where three of the committee’s five members – including chairman Bob Hartwell – have signed on as co-sponsors.

First up to testify on the record was Paul Burns, the same wind-energy advocate who had hours earlier suggested that supporting the moratorium was tantamount to rejecting the science behind climate change.

The senators didn’t appreciate his tone.

“Do you believe it’s possible to believe in the science of climate change and yet disagree with you on the construction of new wind farms on Vermont’s mountaintops?” Sen. Peter Galbraith asked the head of VPIRG.

“That’s an interesting question,” Burns replied, suggesting it’s difficult to know which is worse – not believing in climate change and opposing wind because you think it’s unnecessary, or believing global warming is real and fighting against wind anyway.

Galbraith said it’s possible for one to appreciate fully the dangers of climate change, but to believe that the solutions to the global crisis don’t lie on the top of Vermont’s mountains.

Burns said that if climate-change believers want to shun the “most renewable” energy source available in Vermont, then it’s incumbent on them to identify an alternative.

“So far I have not seen any convincing evidence that opponents of wind have come up with a plan to provide for the state’s energy needs with an alternative to wind,” Burns said. “It’s conceivable somebody could come up with fusion technology, but I haven’t seen it yet senator.”

Galbraith told Burns to consider adopting a more civil tone as the debate progresses. A public conversation about wind is one worth having, Galbraith said. And people on his side ought not be demonized by people like Burns as global-warming deniers.

“I guess there are at least three flat-earthers here in this committee, in your view,” Galbraith said. “I wouldn’t characterize your position in an extreme way … And you owe to be respectful to people on the other side and not characterize them in such an extreme way.”

Supporters of the three-year ban, however, are beginning to seem less attached to the moratorium than they are to revising the regulatory process used to approve or deny wind projects. Included in the moratorium bill is a provision that would shift oversight of wind development from the Public Service Board to Act 250. Supporters of wind oppose that move – likely because the PSB’s ability to take into account “public good” gives a huge check in the ‘plus’ column to projects that general megawatts of electricity for use by public utilities.

“Leave the moratorium out of it for a second – let’s pretend the bill is an Act 250 bill,” Hartwell said. “What is wrong with putting (wind projects) in Act 250? We’re not talking about killing off wind. We’re talking about process.”

Supporters of the wind moratorium might have suffered a public attack from Sanders Monday. But the troops might be rallying elsewhere. The Lamoille County Democratic Party is drafting a resolution in support of the moratorium that could come up for a vote at the group’s next monthly meeting.

Final stand today for Death with Dignity

Reporters are counting down the minutes as the Senate readies for a floor session this afternoon in which lawmakers are expected to take up – wait for it – a bill that would prohibit minors from using tanning beds.

It isn’t the underlying bill of course that’s attracting so much attention, but the death-with-dignity amendment attached to it by the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare earlier this week.

The controversial legislation doesn’t stand much of a chance. Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, whose constitutional duties including serving as grand overseer of the Vermont Senate, will rule the amendment not germane to the tanning bill, and strip it from consideration.

In an open letter to Scott shipped to media outlets earlier this morning, the chairman of the Patient Choices Vermont – the state’s leading right-to-die advocacy group – urges the Republican to reconsider his ruling:

“In questions like this, that have been well discussed and bottled up for many, many years, and where opinions have crystallized, we would respectfully ask you to consider allowing the entire Senate to fully debate and vote – as opposed to yourself or 2 or 3 Senators (on either side of the issue) being the issue’s final arbiter.”

Don’t expect any shocking turnabouts though.

Peter Shumlin, who has long championed death with dignity, said yesterday that much as he supports the legislation, it would be inappropriate to tack it onto the tanning bill.

Though the Senate should be allowed to cast what he calls a “vote of conscience,” “I also believe it should be done in a way that meets the Senate rules,” Shumlin said. “I used all the very persuasive powers I had with Sen. Campbell, Sears and others to put it to a vote in the Senate. We lost that battle, but I don’t think putting the bill on a non-germane bill is going to get us a vote.”

Lawmakers look to impose will on GMP/CVPS merger proposal

A coalition of lawmakers will look to sway the terms of a blockbuster utility merger with a proposed amendment to a renewable-energy bill Wednesday.

In a morning press conference at the Statehouse, lawmakers from all three major parties will introduce language that would effectively force the consolidated utility to pay ratepayers at Central Vermont Public Service Corp. a direct cash payment before any merger deal goes through.

The amendment, sponsored by Reps. Cynthia Browning (D-Arlington), Patti Komline (R-Dorset), Chris Pearson (P-Burlington) and Paul Poirier (I-Barre), deals with a so-called “windfall protection” clause that has become one of the more controversial aspects of the proposed merger between Green Mountain Power and CVPS.  

CVPS hit a financial rough patch early in the last decade when its long-term power contract with Hydro-Quebec forced the utility to pay above-market rates for wholesale electricity.

To stave off financial calamity, CVPS sought permission for a rate hike from the Public Service Board in excess of what the board’s conventional rate-setting formula would otherwise allow.

The board okayed the increase, but stipulated that ratepayers would be made whole if CVPS ever became financially healthy enough to attract a takeover bid.

AARP is leading a public campaign to make sure those cash payments are issued before the merger goes through. The $21 million AARP says is due to ratepayers amounts to $76 for each of CVPS’ 137,000 residential customers. Commercial customers would enjoy payouts of about $352 on average, and industrial businesses could see checks in excess of $12,500.

GMP says it’s satisfied the windfall protection clause by offering to invest $40 million in an efficiency program that officials say would reap ongoing savings for all ratepayers. AARP and many lawmakers say it’s a raw deal however, and want cash in the pockets of customers.

The amendment will likely be ruled not germane to the underlying renewable energy bill. But lawmakers will have made their point. The opinions that matter most, of course, are those belonging to the three members of the Public Service Board, which has ultimately say over the terms of any merger deal.

Vt. hunters bag their 92-year-old buck

MONTPELIER — Vermont hunters have been blasting away at Rep. David Deen, chairman of the House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee, for removing a stuffed deer head that had been mounted on the wall of the committee room.

“We’re going nuts,” Keith Darby, the director of the Hunters, Anglers and Trappers Association of Vermont, said last week “You’ve got to be kidding me. Who told you to take this thing off the wall?” Continue reading