Category Archives: climate change

Nice Little Regulatory System You’ve Got Here, It’d Be a Shame if Anything Happened To It

Hey, it’s time for an update on the latest bit of corporate extortion from our buddies at GlobalFoundries, the biggest private sector employer in Chittenden County. Throughout its tenure — and before it, through much of IBM’s residency at the Essex Junction facility — the companies have used their heft to get various benefits from the state government, each time hinting to pull up stakes and leave for more corporate-friendly climes if it didn’t get its way.

This time there’s a double threat. GF is seeking to set up its own private utility so it can buy power on the regional market free of various state regulations, including renewable energy and greenhouse gas standards. It’s seeking Public Utility Commission approval for the move — and threatening to go ahead with or without PUC approval.

GF makes a, shall we say, interesting argument. In essence, it argues that it doesn’t need PUC approval, but it’s applying to the PUC anyway in order to preserve Vermont’s regulatory framework. Yup, the company says it’s acting to preserve a regulatory system by seeking to essentially opt out of the system. That’s a funny way to support a system, no?

But a question has arisen over whether or not the PUC can even consider the case. The Conservation Law Foundation and AllEarth Renewables say the PUC has no jurisdiction over the request because state law doesn’t make any provision for anything like private utilities.

Last month, the parties submitted legal arguments and counter-arguments for the Commission to ponder. Wednesday 12/8 is the deadline for any additional filings on the issue; after that, presumably the PUC will schedule a hearing. All documents, public comments, schedules, etc., can be accessed on this page in the PUC website.

So where do the parties stand? I’ll give you a simplified (and hopefully reasonably accurate) version after the jump.

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The Biggest Climate Obstacle in Vermont

If there was any doubt that Gov. Phil Scott would be the single biggest obstacle in the way of meaningful climate action, it was erased in the Vermont Climate Council’s 19-4 vote to adopt its 273-page “initial plan” for meeting Vermont’s climate goals. The four “no” votes came from members of Scott’s cabinet.

And that’s all you need to know.

It’s no surprise, really. The governor lobbied against the Global Warming Solutions Act, vetoed it, and watched as the Legislature overrode his veto. He argued that the Act opened the door to costly litigation and said it was an unconstitutional infringement on executive powers.

(It must be noted that Scott was so confident of his constitutional grounds that he never took the case to court. It was the prudent course; outside of the Fifth Floor, no one seemed to buy the argument — including the Legislature’s legal team and Attorney General TJ Donovan.)

The four-page statement by the Cabinet dissenters (reachable via link embedded in VTDigger’s story) is a real piece of work. While claiming to support vigorous climate action, they produced a buffet of objections worthy of Golden Corral and just as appetizing. The statement makes it clear that the Scott administration will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into climate action, and you can expect gubernatorial vetoes if the Legislature adopts measures he doesn’t like.

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Thanks, Phil: R.I.P. TCI

This shouldn’t cost much to fix

We’re screwed, aren’t we?

In a year when the effects of climate change have become undeniable (the latest example being the extreme flooding in British Columbia), a New England multistate compact to cut greenhouse gas emissions from transportation has officially collapsed.

And I’d like to pause here and thank Gov. Phil Scott for his part in killing the once-promising Transportation and Climate Initiative.

TCI, proposed by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, is dead. Baker pulled the plug yesterday because no other New England state had committed to the compact, which rendered it null and void. The last straw was the withdrawal of Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, who said TCI was “a pretty tough rock to push when gas prices are so high.”

Yeah, we’re screwed. If gas prices in the low to mid $3.00 range are enough to kill a significant emission reduction initiative, we’re never going to slow the onrush of climate change. Even when our rational minds know full well that paying more thank three bucks a gallon is pocket change compared to the costs of global warming — such as repairing the highway washout pictured above, which is one of dozens now facing British Columbia.

Our governor didn’t pound the final nail in TCI’s coffin, but he did more than his share to make sure it never came to life. Remember that the next time you see images from Vermont like the B.C. washout seen above.

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So Much Horse Hockey in Such a Small Paddock

Honestly, I wouldn’t expect our area Chambers of Commerce to do anything but support GlobalFoundries in its bid to operate its own utility, thus sidestepping the Global Warming Solutions Act and other state rules and regulations. The Chambers are on the side of business, after all, and any threat to GF’s presence in Essex Junction is a threat to the region’s economy as a whole — including the Chambers’ constituencies. But this toxic little opinion piece from the Vermont and Lake Champlain Chambers plus the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation is an exercise in desperation and deception.

The thesis, as stated in the headline above, is that GlobalFoundries “will help combat climate change.” Huh. So exempting GF from the GWSA will help us fight climate change? Do tell.

In order to prove this unlikely theory, Cioffi et al. proceed to put their thumbs on the scale at every opportunity, spinning out unlikely scenarios full of conditional clauses while offering no evidence whatsoever that the deal will be a blow against climate change.

Let’s run through the deceptions, shall we?

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The GlobalFoundries Deal Is Bad, But Maybe Not Quite Terrible

Had a polite conversation (well, it was testy at first) with someone in the Scott administration who’s involved in the talks with GlobalFoundries over its desire to create its own utility exempt from laws and regulations that apply to all other utilities. As a reminder, the Scott administration and GF have signed a Letter of Intent en route to a formal agreement that would allow GF to have its way.

I came away from the chat with a bit more perspective, but my fundamental belief remains: This is a case of government bowing to the demands of an employer that’s too big to deny.

I’m not naming the official because our chat was off the record, and also because this post reflects my own view of the situation and not theirs.

First, a significant correction. I wrote that the Global Warming Solutions Act set a greenhouse gas emission baseline of 1990 while the LOI uses 2005, when emissions were at their peak. In fact, the GWSA also uses 2005 as its baseline for the 2025 target. 1990 applies for other, later targets.

So in the LOI, GF is agreeing to abide by the 2025 emissions target in the Global Warming Solutions Act. But three things are still true: First, GF’s current emissions are only a tick higher than the 2025 target so the company won’t have to do much at all. Second, the letter is riddled with exceptions and exemptions that would allow GF to exceed the target. Third, the LOI would allow GF to exceed its target under a variety of circumstances.

But there is one line in the LOI that leaves the door open for further state action.

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That GlobalFoundries Deal is All Kinds of Terrible

Working on the Memorandum of Understanding (Not Exactly As Illustrated)

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.

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Is GlobalFoundries Too Big To Deny?

They probably call this a campus”

It may not be “an offer you can’t refuse,” but GlobalFoundries has done its best to put state government over a barrel on electricity costs. Vermont’s largest private-sector employer wants to cut ties with Green Mountain Power and form its own utility. It would buy its power on the regional wholesale market.

If it gets its way, the utility would not be subject to Vermont’s renewable energy standards or a variety of other laws and regulations. This isn’t a little thing; GF accounts for 8% of Vermont’s electricity consumption. If GF gets its way, we’d have a harder time reaching our greenhouse gas reduction targets.

Unless, ha ha ha, it voluntarily complies. Ha.

The case was filed last spring before the Public Utilities Commission and got a flurry of media attention at the time. Since then, it has followed the PUC’s customarily meandering process with filing after memo after legal brief after rejoinder. But things are about to heat up. And there are any number of indications that the Scott administration is in the bag for the GF petition.

Which is no surprise, since underlying all of this is GF’s persistent, non-specific rumblings about competitiveness and costs and well, wouldn’t it be a shame if something happened to your big shiny employer?

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While My Guitar Gently Veeps

It’s been a while. For most of September, we’ve had some high-level stupid (the governor’s scattershot search for consistent pandemic messaging) but a relative lack of the kind of mid- and low-level stupid in the public arena that is the bread and butter of The Veepies. But now, we’re back!

First, the Policy? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Policy Award goes to the Vermont Principals’ Association, last seen hiding its head in the sand over the racist slurs targeting the Winooski High School boys’ soccer team. In response to the appalling incidents during a game with Enosburg High, Winooski district Superintendent Sean McMannon called on the VPA, which oversees high school athletics, to adopt stronger measures against the use of racial slurs.

The VPA’s response so far? Well, they’re staying out of it until the Franklin Northeast Supervisory Union does its own investigation. Otherwise, well, all they’re doing is considering a season-long ban for a Winooski athlete for allegedly head-butting an opponent. VPA president Jay Nichols says the organization might conduct an investigation after FNSU’s is complete. Franklin, by the way, is investigating the slurs AND alleged violence by Winooski players, so we’re both-sidesing this thing.

Great. But the topper, for me, is that McMannon called on the VPA to develop procedures for reporting and investigating racial abuse. Which indicates that the VPA doesn’t have any such procedure now. Which is, well, stupid.

After the jump: Stupid trooper tricks, a Raider obsession, and a bit of myopic journalismism.

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We Are Just Way Too F***in’ Polite Around Here

Painting by Marc Adornato. See note below.

When, in a previous post, I called on Seven Days to fill its vacant “Fair Game” position with a skilled reporter/observer from outside Vermont, I got a response via Twitter that essentially said that #vtpoli is too “insular” for an outsider to penetrate. (Can’t find the tweet now; apologies to the tweeter.) My response to that would be “Exactly!” Vermont’s politics are far too insular. That’s precisely why we need someone from elsewhere who hasn’t internalized all that insularity and/or has too many friends in the bubble. Someone with the perspective that allows them to see that the emperor has no clothes.

We’ve got a really good example of that insularity going on right now. Last week, the state Public Utilities Commission issued a ruling that wasn’t at all surprising, but that defied common sense. The three-member panel rejected a proposed solar farm in Manchester on esthetic grounds.

This, despite the fact that we’ve got to go all-out in our efforts to mitigate climate change, and that Vermont is doing nowhere near its share on the renewable front. Also despite these facts:

  • All the relevant local and regional bodies approved the project.
  • No one, aside from a handful of NIMBY neighbors, objected to it.
  • The developer went above and beyond the call of duty to minimize esthetic impact.
  • The PUC’s own “aesthetics consultant” said the array “would not have an undue adverse effect on aesthetics.”

So it was a stupid decision that strikes a significant blow at renewable development in Vermont. But that’s not what I’m writing about here.

The subject of this sermon is the almost complete silence from those who ought to be outraged by this ruling: the Vermont Democratic Party and The Usual Suspects in the environmental community. Where was the tsunami of protest?

The answer is, we’re way too polite and insular.

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The Best Indictment of the PSD/PUC Renewable Process Is Its Own Documentation

From the PSD Hearing Officer’s report on the Richville Road project

I’ve heard from several enewable energy developers that the Public Service Department and Public Utility Commission make it extremely difficult to site new energy projects in Vermont. The best evidence for this is a document from within the PSD itself. It shows a process that seems designed to stymie renewable energy development. Since climate change is no longer deniable, this is entirely backward and counterproductive.

The document is a Hearing Officer’s recommendation regarding a proposed 500 kW solar array that would be built by MHG Solar on Richville Road in Manchester Town. (There’s a good story about it in the Bennington Banner.) The Officer goes through page after page of project compliance with PUC standards… and then decides it shouldn’t be built, based solely on some remarkably flimsy esthetic considerations. This, despite the fact that an independent aesthetics consultant hired by the PSD found that the project would not have an undue adverse effect on aesthetics.

The MHG proposal is a textbook example of how to site and design a solar installation. The plan is well thought-out and takes into account every possible objection, and yet the Officer is recommending denial.

The PUC has yet to make its decision. In fact, the commission has scheduled a site visit for this Friday. It may be the developer’s last opportunity to overcome the Hearing Officer’s report.

The Officer’s entire 40-page report (downloadable from the PSD’s website) reveals an apparent bias against renewable energy. If this is typical of the PSD/PUC work product, it’s clear that a thorough reform needs to take place.

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