Another Brick in the Climate Change Wall

Late Monday, the Scott administration initiated the process for filling a pending vacancy on the Public Utility Commission. The PUC is a three-member body with broad authority over electricity, natural gas, cable TV and telecommunications in Vermont. During the Phil Scott years, it has consistently applied the brakes on development of renewable energy.

This, despite the fact that it has had two Democratic appointees, one of them being Margaret Cheney, wife of U.S. Rep. Peter Welch. I don’t know why the two Dems have played along with the renewables slowdown, which has included strict noise rules for large-scale wind installations and a steady ratcheting down of the net-metering rate (the amount utilities are required to pay for power generated by solar installations).

And recently, VTDigger reported that the PUC had rejected a study that showed major savings from solar power in the Northeast. Yeah, they’re not exactly green-friendly.

And now, one of the two Democrats is exiting the commission. Sarah Hoffman Hofmann was appointed to a six-year term by then-governor Peter Shumlin in 2015, and her term expires this year. On Monday, the administration issued a press release seeking applicants for the position. It did not explain the circumstances of the vacancy, so we don’t know whether (a) Hoffman Hofmann is stepping down or (b) Scott wants to replace her.

The upshot is that Scott appointees will soon hold a 2-1 majority on the PUC, including chair Tony Roisman. Cheney and Hoffman Hofmann haven’t exactly been friendly to green power, but a Scott appointee will inevitably support the governor’s anti-renewable agenda.

And no matter how long Scott is governor, his appointees will dominate the commission for at least four more years. It’s one of the small costs of Scott’s re-election, and another reason why Democrats who voted for Scott can’t really claim to support climate action. Because as I wrote in October, the governor gives plenty of lip service to the issue, but opposes any meaningful policy changes. His choice for Hofmann’s replacement will be expected to toe the administration’s line.

Note: Updated 12/29 to correct misspelling of Commissioner Hofmann’s name.


3 thoughts on “Another Brick in the Climate Change Wall

  1. Annette Smith

    No mystery about the circumstances of the vacancy. This is normal process. Seat expires March 1, 2021. The mystery is why Margaret Cheney’s seat, which expired in 2019, was not filled through the process required by statute. She served a year after her term expired. And then all of a sudden the PUC website was updated and her term now expires in 2025. My understanding of the process is that a sitting commissioner still has to apply and go through the process as outlined in statute. But for some reason, she was simply reappointed, long after the seat should have been advertised. Not complaining about her reappointment, that’s not the issue. It’s that there seems to have been a breach of process. Which is why your attitude about this notice is misplaced. The governor’s office is doing what they should have done two years ago but didn’t.

  2. Annette Smith

    It’s always respectful to spell people’s names correctly. Hofmann has one f.
    Sarah Hofmann, Commissioner
    Current Term: 2015 – 2021


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