A few days ago, I wrote about GlobalFoundries’ bid to break away from Green Mountain Power and establish its own boutique utility. Well, it’s far worse than I thought. I’ve gotten a look at the Letter of Intent between GF and the Scott administration — no scoops, it’s a public document — and maaaaan, is it bad. Like, historically, unprecedentedly bad.
I won’t say the administration is acting as GF’s procurer, but I will say it’s told Vermont to put on a sequined microskirt and show the corporation a good time.
Really, I’m kinda shocked that there’s been no media coverage of this. It’s definitely newsworthy. Utility regulation is one of those boring, complicated matters chock full of legalese that tends to scare away reporters and editors. And readers, for that matter.
But compared to the usual thickets of legal and regulatory matters, this is an easy story to tell. It’s a story of a government bowing and scraping before a big business, sacrificing principle and sound policy in the process.
The Letter of Intent was signed on September 20 by GF exec Glenn Colton and two Scott administration officials: Public Service Commissioner June Tierney and Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Peter Walke*. For those keeping score at home, they are the top governor-appointed utility overseer and environmental official. So clearly the administration is fully on board with this.
*Let us not forget that even as Walke agrees to this shitpile, he’s also playing a key role on the Vermont Climate Council’s effort to draw up a comprehensive plan for fighting climate change. Just in case anyone thought of him (or anyone else in the administration) as an honest broker.
Reminder of necessary background: Last spring GF filed a request to form its own independent utility, which would purchase power on the regional wholesale market. Green Mountain Power, which would lose its biggest private-sector customer, assented to the plan.
The utility would be exempt from the Global Warming Solutions Act and other utility laws and regulations. Since GF accounts for eight percent of the state’s electricity consumption, that would put a big dent in our efforts to fight climate change. The LOI represents a voluntary commitment by GF to do something on greenhouse gas emissions… but the targets are laughable and the LOI gives GF a whole bunch of get-out-of-jail-free cards.
The LOI is a step on the way to a binding agreement, or Memorandum of Understanding. The Public Utilities Commission (Vermont’s utility regulator) wants the MOU in hand by October 15, which is approaching at the speed of a French TGV.
The LOI is worthless in terms of fighting climate change, but even worse: it would bind this and future administrations to the terms of the agreement. Otherwise, GF could sue the state. Yep, if Bill McKibben somehow became governor, he’d have no choice but to live with this rotten deal.
So, how useless is this LOI? GF would commit, in a nonbinding way, to reduce GHG emissions by 26% in 2025, compared to 2005 levels. Sounds great, but there are all sorts of spiders in the attic. In no particular order:
- The LOI refers to the 26% reduction as an “aspirational target,” which shows you exactly how meaningless it is.
- The Global Warming Solutions Act calls for a 26% GHG reduction by 2025 — but it uses 1990 as its baseline. 1990’s emissions were far lower than 2005’s. In fact, 2005 was an historic high point for GHG. It’s a much easier target to reach.
- GF commits $10 million to GHG-fighting measures. Which is a drop in the bucket for an international corporation. Plus, by avoiding utility regulations, it stands to save far more than that on electricity costs.
- GF’s current emissions are basically at the 2025 target, so GF would hardly have to do anything to abide by the LOI.
- But it doesn’t have to! The LOI grants a bunch of exceptions. GF could increase emissions if its manufacturing operations grow, if limiting GHG proves too costly (in the corporation’s eyes), “technological feasibility,” “physical constraints,” or “other considerations agreed to by the parties.”
- GF would make no commitments, binding or otherwise, for anything after 2025. An extension of the MOU would be agreed to by the end of that year. And remember, the state is on the hook to follow through on the deal.
- If GF isn’t meeting the GWSA targets, everybody else will have to work that much harder to do so. That almost certainly means higher costs for every consumer in the state besides GF.
- Not only would GF be free of GWSA, it would also be exempt from Vermont’s renewable energy standards which require an increasing commitment to in-state renewable resources.
- Plus, the GF utility would not have to pay the gross receipts tax levied on power providers.
- GF would have to pay a “transition fee” of $16.3 million between now and 2026 to ease the pain on GMP and its customers. After that, nothing.
Is that rotten enough for you?
It’s possible that the administration will negotiate tougher terms in the MOU, but c’mon now. By signing the LOI, it’s already signaled its willingness to give away the farm.
As noted previously, the Public Service Department — which is supposed to be an advocate for the public interest — wants this whole thing wrapped up by January. Ostensibly, this is because GMP has to submit a rate request at that time, and it needs to have surety about GF’s status before then.
What else happens in January? Well, the Legislature comes back to town. Does the Scott administration want this deal signed, sealed and delivered before the Legislature can do anything to block or amend it? Stands to reason, doesn’t it?
This deal represents corruption on a grand scale, far larger than usual for little ol’ good ol’ Vermont. Not corruption in the money-under-the-table or Cayman Islands sense, but in the putting-corporate-interests-ahead-of-the-public’s sense.
But as I noted previously, GlobalFoundries is too big to deny.
You’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head, John, but you’ve only touched on what is, in many ways, the more insidious consequence of the deal. On what basis can the state ask the PUC to create out of whole cloth a new electric utility franchise and exempt it from the legal requirements that apply to all other utility franchises? Global Foundries doesn’t want to be a utility. What it wants is access to cheap electricity, environmental impacts be damned. What this is, at its heart, is an attempt to evade the decision that the state made more than twenty years ago to not create competitive retail markets for end-use customers. Such “restructuring” was deemed by the legislature to not be in the public interest. If we allow GF to escape the obligations that we have, through democratic means, imposed upon ourselves (for the purpose, by the way, of promoting a greater common good), why can’t anyone else of us assert the same right? Who’s next? What’s the guv going to say when the folks at Mack Molding are on the phone?
Maybe I don’t understand the issue. GF is buying power not generating or selling it. Yes|No? How does that exempt its manufacturing operations from state law, if any, regarding emissions? It seems like GF is attempting to deregulate the electrical market for itself. Is there also a risk that other companies will follow?
“It’s a story of a government bowing and scraping before a big business, sacrificing principle and sound policy in the process.”
I wonder who really runs this state. Is it the folks we elect in elections every other November or is it big money like GF and UVMMC?