Tag Archives: David Blittersdorf

The Public Utility Commission Needs an Overhaul

The Vermont Public Utility Commission is truly a curious beastie. If it didn’t exist and you were creating a regulatory body afresh, there is no way on God’s green earth that you’d follow the deeply flawed model of our Earth-1 PUC.

Or should I say “Bizarro Earth”?

The PUC is what they call a “quasi-judicial body.” What this means in practice is that it hides behind a judicial cloak when it’s convenient, and ignores judicial conventions when it’s not.

For those just tuning in, the PUC is a three-member panel whose members serve six-year terms. Candidates are nominated by the governor, vetted by a judicial nominating board and approved by the Senate. By state standards, they are handsomely compensated; PUC Chair Tony Roisman pulls down a tidy $160,763 per year, and the other two members get $107,182 apiece.

The commission is a hugely powerful body that, in the words of its homepage, “regulates the siting of electric and natural gas infrastructure and supervises the rates, quality of service, and overall financial management of Vermont’s public utilities: electric, gas, energy efficiency, telecommunications, cable television (terms of service only, not rates), water, and large wastewater companies.”

That’s, um, quite a lot.

But if you want any insight into its decision-making process, you’re shit out of luck. The commission conceals itself behind its cloak of quasi-judiciality. Its deliberations are conducted behind closed doors. Commissioners refuse to discuss their work because, ahem, they’re quasi-judges.

This makes their jobs easier, but it is decidedly not in the public interest.

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A Ridiculous Six-Year Crusade Ends With a Whimper

Something kind of remarkable happened last week, not that anybody in the media noticed. The Vermont Public Utility Commission dismissed an astonishingly picayune case after more than six years of kicking it around.

Case number 8585, which you’ll need to know if you want to look up the documents, pitted the Public Service Department against one David Blittersdorf, prominent renewable energy developer and bete noire of the Energy NIMBY crowd.

But the case wasn’t about a large-scale wind turbine or a field full of solar panels. Nope, it was over a meteorological tower that Blittersdorf built in 2010 on his own land in Irasburg.

The PSD opened its investigation in 2015, after local officials queried whether Blittersdorf had obtained PUC approval for the tower in the form of a certificate of public good.

The PSD took up the case, asserting that Blittersdorf violated the rules by failing to get a CPG. The concept of PUC authority over a structure completely unrelated to energy, utility operations or communications is, on its face, ridiculous. But the PSD pursued the case for six full years. Last week, finally, the PUC tossed the whole thing out.

The Case Summary, with its lengthy list of hearings, postponements, motions and delays, is like something out of Kafka. And what punishment was the PSD recommending?

A fine of $2,500.

Two thousand five hundred dollars.

I wonder how many billable hours were racked up, and how many taxpayer dollars were frittered away, over this clown show.

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Is Somebody Getting Nervous in the LG Race?

There’s only one month to go until the August primary, and who knows how many absentee ballots already coming in, so maybe it’s no surprise that some collars are showing signs of tightening.

The above is a mailer sent by Senate President Pro Tem and candidate for lieutenant governor Tim Ashe, which seems expressly designed to draw a contrast between him and Assistant Attorney General Molly Gray.

Gray, for those just joining us, appeared seemingly out of nowhere and immediately started racking up big donations and big-name endorsements. Before her emergence, the safe money was on Ashe to ride his name recognition to a primary victory — and then a comfortable ride to election in November. But now? Not so much.

Ashe’s mailer screams about the need for EXPERIENCE in these troubled times. The kind of EXPERIENCE that makes a person fit to, uhhh, bang a gavel. It highlights three things about Ashe that can’t be said about Gray: experience as Pro Tem, experience passing legislation, and “my real-world economic development career.”

That notorious slacker Gray, by contrast, has frittered away her time working for U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Attorney General T.J. Donovan, among others. She probably does scrapbooking or needlepoint in her spare time. Maybe jigsaw puzzles.

Ashe’s mailer doesn’t draw as neat a contrast with the other two Democrats in the race. His fellow Senator Debbie Ingram has plenty of experience on legislation. Activist and arts administrator Brenda Siegel has spent lots of time in the Statehouse working on legislation as an advocate.

A more direct attack on Gray came last week courtesy of VTDigger, which posted a story questioning her residency status — and pretty much settling the issue in her favor.

Here’s some rank speculation on my part: Somebody gave Digger a tip to pursue this angle. If this had been entirely Digger’s initiative, the story would have been done when Gray launched her campaign — after all, she went out of her way to highlight her international experience including her time away from Vermont.

I have not a shred of evidence pointing to Ashe or his minions as the source of the story. But the timing speaks for itself. And I really don’t see Ingram or Siegel resorting to trickery of any sort.

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The case for wind

Most of Vermont’s media coverage of wind energy tells a David-and-Goliath story: the plucky locals and underdog activists going up against a corporate developer and the state regulatory system.

The pro-wind case usually gets short shrift. But even when it gets equal time, it’s almost always in response to anti-wind arguments. Rarely, if ever, is the positive case for wind given a fair hearing. As a result, there’s quite a bit of stuff about large-scale wind that most Vermonters don’t know. Here’s a list, with details to follow.

— For all our bluster about fossil fuels and gas pipelines, Vermont remains heavily dependent on fossil fuels, including fracked gas.

— Wind is a necessary component of a renewable system. There is no way we can reach our “90 percent by 2050” goal without large-scale wind.

— Wind has huge economic benefits, including tax payments to local and state governments and a healthier trade balance.

— Large-scale wind cannot be replaced by residential  turbines. It just doesn’t work. And replacing large-scale wind with more solar would dramatically increase solar’s footprint on our landscape.

— Thanks to recent advances, large-scale wind no longer has to be sited on the highest mountaintops. Lower ridges and hills are now suitable sites.

— Siting on developed land and rooftops is good, but it’s only a fraction of what we need. There aren’t nearly enough developed sites and roofs in Vermont.

And now for the details.

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Four anti-wind activists ran for the House. They went 0-for-4.

The one-sided votes in Grafton and Windham against the Stiles Brook project were victories for the anti-wind movement. But there were some setbacks that call into question the movement’s political sway.

Four prominent opponents of ridgeline wind were candidates for the State House this year. None were elected.

Each race was different, and generalizing form a small sample size is a mug’s game. But there are a couple of inferences that strike me as valid.

1. The anti-wind movement is not strong enough to have a measurable impact on elections. The results support the movement’s image as noisy and dedicated, but numerically small. There aren’t many voters who are motivated by the issue.

2. The movement is hamstrung by its own political divisions. There are anti-wind activists in all three of Vermont’s major parties*. Two of the four losing candidates ran as Democrats; the other two as Republicans.

*Liberty Union may be a Major Party by Vermont’s very generous legal standard, but it is not a “major party” by any objective measure.

So now, let’s review the four anti-wind losers.

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VTDigger is biased against wind energy

Or so it would seem. Recent articles have been clearly slanted in presentation and sourcing. I’ve been hoping this would get better, but a story posted late Wednesday was the straw that broke my back.

It’s entitled “Searsburg Residents Gird for Wind Project Blasting,” which makes it sound like widespread panic over the potential devastation of a peaceful town. The particulars below; first, let’s outline the general pattern at work in Digger’s coverage.

It starts with the David-and-Goliath framing: aggrieved locals versus a big faceless developer. The locals are represented by a single complainer or, in the case of a continuing story, the same handful of folks. The vast majority of local residents who either favor a development or don’t much care are absent.

Never or rarely mentioned is the fact that a wind farm is a literal windfall for a town’s treasury, greatly reducing residents’ tax burdens and underwriting new programs and amenities. (With all our concern about Growing the Economy and Reducing the Tax Burden, you’d think that would be a compelling argument.)

An then there’s the extreme imbalance of outsiders. The same couple of anti-wind advocacy groups are routinely cited, while the numerous environmental groups that support wind energy are rarely if ever represented. A call always goes out to Energize Vermont or Vermonters for a Clean Environment; why not VPIRG or Vermont Conservation Voters or Wind Works Vermont or the Sierra Club or VNRC or The Nature Conservancy?

Finally, there’s space allotment. Within a story, opponents are given far more space than its supporters. Their arguments are quoted at length; supporters are allowed a token response.

That’s the pattern. Now for some examples in detail.

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The briefest of persecutions

That didn’t take long.

After an investigation that lasted a couple of weeks or so (and probably involved nothing more than reviewing documents and law books), the Attorney General’s office has declined to pursue any charges against anti-renewables scold Annette Smith for practicing law without a license.

Being an obstacle to progress and a spreader of misinformation, well, those aren’t illegal. So Public Enemy Number One of Vermont’s renewable energy goals will carry on, tilting at windmills and fomenting baseless fears amongst the populace.

Too bad the investigation was so brief. Too bad for her sake, that is; she was relishing her self-proclaimed role of Free Speech Martyr. Her organization, Vermonters for Exporting Our Ecological Damage a Clean Environment, was raising money on her alleged persecution.

Those days are over.

Not really; I’m sure she will proudly brandish this incident as “proof” of the Blittersdorf/Iberdrola/Gaz Metro/Peter Shumlin/Illuminati plot to bring her down.

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The victims shall be the perps, and the perps shall be the victims

(From “The Redacted Beatitudes,” The Book Of Mitch, Chapter 12, verse 17.)

Someone’s getting a wee bit tetchy down Windham way. VTDigger:

Vermont State Police are investigating a “chilling” anti-Semitic voicemail left for an official whose company is seeking to build a large-scale wind farm in southern Vermont.

… Company officials requested the name and position of the employee, who is Jewish, not be released, and he declined to be interviewed.

Good to see that the anonymous perp did her due diligence. It’d be embarrassing if she left this little turd in, say, Clive MacGregor’s inbox:

“You ______ are a Jew and you cannot wait to drive 28 stakes through a town full of free, white Christian men with guns, and unfortunately the way to attract free, white Christian men with guns to you is to try and take their homes.”

“So, why don’t you go to Palestine ______ where you can shoot the feet of Palestinian soccer players, you can burn babies alive, you can rape Russian sex slaves and really overtly enjoy yourself rather than this covert activity in Vermont where you think no one knows you’re a Jew because you’re going to find out that they do. Bye-bye.”

Nice.

You’d think this would be a clearcut case of crossing the line, right? Nobody could possibly defend this, could they?

Hahaha, we’re talking about the anti-wind brigade here.

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Old dog, old trick

Unsurprisingly, VTGOP chair David Sunderland has rejected VPIRG head Paul Burns’ invitation to a public debate on the idea of a carbon tax. I’m sure that Burns would press him, not only on that issue, but on where Sunderland stands on climate change. After all, his only public statement on climate change was a denialist claim that there’s “science on both sides.”

No, Dave. There’s the scientific community on one side, and a handful of tame “experts” on the fossil fuel industry payroll plus a few cranks operating outside of their core competency. Recent revelations about ExxonMobil make this even more clear: nearly four decades ago, the oil giant’s own scientists concluded that climate change was real and caused by human activity.

Well, instead of debating a very knowledgeable person who heads an organization which supports a carbon tax, Sunderland has seized the opportunity to renew a pointless call for a debate with Dottie Deans, his Democratic counterpart. His wafer-thin rationale: the carbon tax is “sponsored by over two dozen Democrat legislators,” hence it must be a Democratic — pardon, “Democrat” — idea, hence Ms. Deans is responsible for defending it.

Yeah, well, nuts. Unless the carbon tax is in the Democrats’ platform, Deans is not answerable for it.

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Oh hey look: another VTGOP climate change denier

Here’s a little compost sprinkled on your cornflakes, courtesy of one Eileen Rodgers, “communications director for the Burlington Republican Committee”:

Along with plotting to place wind turbines on 200 miles of ridge lines and scheming to occupy thousands of acres of our fields with solar panels, the central planners in Vermont are busying themselves with projects that are guaranteed to squeeze our cars off the roads.

There’s a whole lotta hate in that little paragraph, which is the kickoff of an opinion piece by Rodgers posted on VTDigger this morning. Plotting, scheming, central planners squeezing our cars off the roads.

So tell me, when exactly did Old Joe Stalin resurrect himself and take over Vermont?

In the guise of Bill McKibben, no less?

Climate change has been a very convenient phenomenon. It has given a sense of validity to all sorts of projects the big guys support. Energy from the wind and sun will take care of our electricity needs and our transportation needs will be met with … bicycles!!

Yeah, that’s… uh, wait, nobody is saying any of that. Except maybe the voices in Eileen Rodgers’ head.

And “big guys”? Since when are Republicans against “big guys”?

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