Tag Archives: Green Mountain Power

The Wide, Wide, Almost Infinitely Wide World of Lobbying

Once in a while, some media outlet will publish a formulaic piece about Statehouse lobbying. It happens when lobbyists and clients are required to report their spending with the Secretary of State’s office. A reporter will pore over the filings, point out the highest-grossing lobbying firms and some big-dollar clients, and get both-sides quotes from (a) those concerned with lobbyist influence and (b) those (mostly lobbyists) who think it’s not a big deal. And that’s it.

Last week, I started looking at the finance reports from the latest deadline, March 15, with an eye toward writing such a roundup. But the more I read, the more I realized that I didn’t know. After spending several days on the subject, I’ve concluded that the actual world of lobbying in Montpelier is just about unknowable. Those finance reports represent one sector of lobbying activity, and probably a small one at that.

Let’s start with a quick quiz. How many individuals are registered as lobbyists with the Vermont Secretary of State?

50?

100?

200?

How about… 604.

Six hundred and four.

Now, if all those people were roaming the Statehouse on the same day, it’d be like that episode of Star Trek with the overpopulated planet that needed Captain Kirk’s germs (transmissible only by a kiss with a beautiful blond) to thin the crowds. Most lobbyists aren’t there every day. Some of them are rarely, or never, there. But that’s the size of the universe we’re talking about.

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GlobalFoundries Gonna Try Again For That Thing They Say They Don’t Need

Hey, remember when the state Public Utility Commission ruled against GlobalFoundries’ request to become its own electricity provider? Well, the PUC gave the company until March 11 to come back with a new filing.

For those keeping score at home, that’s tomorrow.

And yes indeed, I’ve been told that GlobalFoundries will file for reconsideration by the PUC despite the fact that it had insisted it would go ahead with its plan without PUC approval.

In its February ruling, the PUC said it had the authority to grant GF its independent status, but not to give GF an exemption from Vermont’s renewable energy standards. After the ruling, GF said it would go ahead without that exemption because meeting the RES targets would be no problem.

I guess the overlords of Essex have had a change of heart. Which isn’t too much of a surprise, since they’ve done that before.

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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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The Big Power in Vermont Politics

Not Exactly As Illustrated.

As someone who’s covered #vtpoli for more than a decade, I am well aware that the usual stomping grounds of the political reporter (the Statehouse and the campaign trail) are the tip of the iceberg: The vast majority of the political world is underwater. If you interpret our politics in terms of that surface 10 percent, you’ll probably know what’s going on — but you won’t know how or why.

This isn’t a matter of shadowy figures in vape-filled rooms, or envelopes of cash handed out in the middle of the night. It’s simply a matter of who’s got the pull, how they get it, and which way they’re pulling.

There’s one looming figure on our political landscape with the clout and connections to pretty much always get what it wants. It’s got a wider and deeper web of influence than any other individual, party, or entity.

Maybe you’ve already guessed that I’m talking about Green Mountain Power. Now, Vermont’s biggest utility would be a force in state politics no matter what, but GMP has raised its political work to the level of fine art. It carefully curates a plausibly benevolent public image, which allows politicians of all stripes to take its side. It maintains a small army of influencers, including lobbyists, media figures, and former politicians and government officials. It’s no stretch to say that GMP is a force to be reckoned with on any issue that touches its interests; but when you lay it all out at once, it’s damn impressive.

One dimension of the GMP operation is a truly impressive list of lobbyists, as reported to the Secretary of State’s office. There are 13 names on that list, including former lawmakers and officeholders, TV anchors, and veteran presences of the Statehouse hallways and hearing rooms. That’s a lot of muscle.

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Republicans can stop yammering about utility rates anytime now

Here’s a little shock to the system. Vermont’s own Green Mountain Power has some of the lowest electricity rates in New England. GMP has the second-lowest residential rates of any regional utility, the third-lowest commercial rates, and the absolute rock-bottom lowest rates for industrial customers.

New England industrial electric ratesYou know how the Republicans are always complaining about the high cost of power and how it’s forcing businesses to flee? Well, it’s horseshit, and they need to cut it out.

The data comes from the Edison Electric Institute, so don’t try to tell me somebody’s got their thumb on the scale.

It’s true that Vermont has relatively high power rates compared to the rest of the nation, but that’s because of built-in structural disadvantages for all of the Northeast, not because of excessive regulation or our green power policy. Indeed, it’s a testament to GMP management that it’s kept rates so low while moving aggressively toward a renewable future. It would also appear that Vermont’s regulatory structure is a lot smarter than it’s given credit for.

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Know-nothings, kneejerks and NIMBYs: a field guide to the anti-solar brigade

Things is gettin’ a little cray-cray on the anti-renewables front, with signs of truly irrational behavior among those who don’t want solar farms anywhere, anyhow, anytime, anyplace, some of whom appear to harbor delusions that solar energy is our worst ecological nightmare. Others exhibit the more garden-variety strains of obstinate oppositionalism.

We begin down Bennington way, where it’s harvesting season in the nutbar orchard. In Pownal, Fire District No. 2 wants to install a 500-kW solar farm on the land where its pump and wellhead are located. The revenue would cover the cost of the FD’s water system, something local taxpayers have been unwilling to do.

(The array, FYI, would be less than half a square mile. Which, in terms of a sweeping Vermont landscape, simply isn’t that large. Small price to pay for keeping everyone’s fire fees low.)

There were the predictable anti-solar reactions — spoiling the view, affecting property values — but this one takes the cake:

Attendees expressed concern over possible pollution from the array, a risk of fire or explosion, and long-term logistics with the array’s maintenance and decommissioning.

Artist's rendering, proposed Pownal solar array.

Artist’s rendering, proposed Pownal solar array.

Waitwaitwait.

A risk of fire or explosion?

Mmmmmyeah.

There’s plenty of stupid in the rest of the article, but I’ll just stop there. Anyone suggesting spontaneous combustion at a solar array has forfeited all credibility.

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A cup of weak tea… with Kristin Carlson

Last week, I reacted to the news of Vermont PBS’ new program, “Connect… with Kristin Carlson” with a measure of skepticism over the host’s dual role — as host of the show, and as lead spokesperson for Green Mountain Power, the state’s largest utility.

Since then, the show has had its premiere. And sorry, I didn’t watch. I did, however, listen to Carlson’s July 9 interview with WDEV’s Mark Johnson about the new show. During the interview, Johnson quizzed her about the conflict of interest questions. And her answers were surprisingly weak and one-dimensional. Uncharacteristically so, for a person with double digits’ experience in TV news who’s now one of the most prominent corporate spokesflacks in Vermont. I presume she does a better job when she’s representing GMP.

Anyhoo, kind of an underwhelming performance. Her fallback position, expressed several times, was that this is not an “issue” show, but a show about “sharing the stories of Vermonters.” She’ll avoid talking with people who would create an obvious conflict — which could include quite a swath of Vermonters, depending on how you interpret “conflict.” She wouldn’t interview GMP President Mary Powell — or anti-renewable activist Annette Smith, for that matter. But how far does she take it?

Is anyone involved in energy issues, or environmental issues, or business, on the no-show list? To be on the safe side, they probably should be; but the bigger that list becomes, the more incomplete the show becomes.

Johnson asked about potential guests who don’t have an obvious conflict, but “you never know where a conversation is going to go.” Her response?

… I do a lot of the pre-interviews with people, talk to them about what we’re going to talk about, and if I get into an area where I might think ‘Okay, this might be a little, mmmm,’ then we just won’t do it.

My prediction? If she plans to err on the side of caution, this will by necessity be a pretty toothless show. Or at best a deficient reflection of Vermont’s character.

But that’s not the real problem.

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A couple of questions about Vermont PBS’ new program

Our public television service, Vermont PBS, is kind of a skin-of-its-teeth operation. (Especially compared to VPR, the Alpha Male of Vermont media.) It can’t really afford much in the way of local programming. (Compared to VPR, which could be doing a lot more than it does.)

So the teevee folks are to be congratulated for launching a new weekly show, “Connect… WIth Kristin Carlson.” It debuts this Friday evening at 8:30, and is described thusly:

Our region is loaded with some of the most interesting, inspiring and creative people found anywhere, both locally based and folks visiting from afar. We’ll catch up with them, whether in the studio or on the road, and get a glimpse at what drives them. Writers, musicians, community and business leaders, filmmakers, social visionaries… if they’ve got a story, Kristin will be talking to them.

This is nice. This is great. More locally-produced programming, I’m all for it.

But I do have a couple of questions.

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Maybe now Kevin Jones can find himself a new hobby

Yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission gave a light wrist-slap to Green Mountain Power, telling GMP to “be more clear” in how it advertises renewable electricity while closing the books on a complaint of deceptive marketing.

The allegation had come from the usually reliable folks at the Vermont Law School, and in particular the unreliable Kevin Jones, who’s had a bee in his bonnet for years about Vermont’s SPEED program, which allows utilities to sell renewable energy credits out of state. Jones’ complaint is that selling RECs is basically a shell game, allowing Vermont utilities AND the out-of-state REC buyers to both claim they’re producing “green energy.”

Technically true, but with a couple of giant caveats.

SPEED was designed to encourage development of renewables at a time when they were not financially competitive. Vermont utilities could build renewables and recoup some of their costs through the sale of RECs, thus cushioning the blow to ratepayers. And it was designed from the beginning to be a temporary program; it will expire in 2017, and the legislature is crafting its replacement this year. SPEED is going away on schedule, having achieved its mission.

Jones also ignores the fact that, whether or not RECs were sold, their sale allowed us to adopt renewables more quickly than we could have otherwise. Real power was generated, and it reduced the overall need for fossil fuels.

The complaint also seems to rely on a misperception of electricity generation and consumption. Power enters the grid from all kinds of sources, is distributed through the grid, and consumed — all in real time. Unless you live off the grid, there’s no telling where your electricity comes from at any given moment. GMP can promote its commitment to renewables, but it cannot promise you that your power comes from the solar farm down the road, a hydroelectric dam in northern Quebec, a fossil fuel-burning plant in Massachusetts, or the big nukes at Seabrook. That’s true with our without SPEED.

I wrote about this a couple months ago and you can read more there, so I won’t belabor the point here. Suffice it to say I’m glad to see the FTC close this case. And once the legislature passes the next iteration of power regulation, I wish Mr. Jones luck in finding a new binky.