Tag Archives: Green Mountain Power

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.

 

The Burlington Free Press ignores an obvious contradiction, gives Mark Whitworth a free pass

Oh boy, another Monday morning, we’ve had a bare-bones staff all weekend and we’ve gotta have a local story to fill that big front-page hole.

I know! Let’s profile a sage Vermonter type and run a big photo of him in a stereotypical Vermont setting!

And there you have it, on page A1 of today’s Freeploid: Mark Whitworth staring manfully at the camera, with a big pile of firewood behind him.

Whitworth, for those just joining us, is the recently installed head of Energize Vermont, the benign-sounding advocacy group promoting the anti-wind cause. Whitworth took over from that carpetbaggin’ astroturfer, Luke Snelling, who’s gone to San Francisco to seek his fortune by greenwashing corporations with environmental image problems. Which is what he used to do out of the Massachusetts office of his ad agency. Hence “carpetbaggin'” — he may be a scion of a Vermont family, but he wasn’t living here when he fronted for Energize Vermont.

Anyway, on to Whitworth who, as the headline informs us, wants Vermont to “SLOW DOWN, ASK QUESTIONS” when it comes to our energy future. Seems we’re in a “rush” to implement renewable energy. Yeah, stupid, isn’t it? Just because global warming is a goddamn crisis doesn’t mean we should “rush” to build our homegrown renewable infrastructure.

The story treats his views with respect, which is not out of bounds for a softball profile of a public figure. But this one line caught my eye, not to mention my ire:

“I’m not pro- or con-wind,” he said.

Cough. Snort. Chuckle. BWAHAHAHAHAHA.

All righty then, Freeploid, riddle me this. This article is on page A6*. On the next page, A7, directly across from this article, is an over-the-top rant of an opinion piece by Whitworth that accuses Vermont’s environmental community of being corporate stooges, and repeats the tired arguments of the anti-wind crowd.

*In order to see the layout, you’ll have to access a print copy of the Monday edition or have subscriber access to the Freeploid’s online e-newspaper. The digital version includes the same content, but it’s scattered around the website. 

He’s “not pro- or con-wind,” eh? And reporter Joel Banner Baird didn’t challenge him on his obviously false and self-serving claim? And the editors didn’t think the article and opinion piece made for an uncomfortable juxtaposition?

He starts his opinion piece by comparing Vermont’s renewable strategy to President Bush’s conduct of the Iraq War. He paints the build-out of renewables a for-profit hustle by what he calls the “Big Green Alliance of Green Mountain Power, policians, and ‘environmentalists.”

Because Mark Whitworth and his allies are pure as the driven snow, and all others have been Assimilated by the Evil Utility Borg. Got that, Paul Burns? Brian Shupe? Jake Brown? Sandy Levine? Chris Kilian? You’re all corrupt. Unless you change your tune and agree with Mark Whitworth.

He accuses GMP and its co-conspirators of seeking to “put 500-foot-tall turbines and massive solar fields wherever we want — on sensitive ridgelines, in wetlands and on prime agricultural soils,” and “string transmission lines all over the place.”

Yeah, no. Nobody’s proposing anything like that. As I’ve written before, and as anyone who checks the public record can see, there are only a handful of places in Vermont where wind is economically viable. And I don’t think any utility, no matter how profit-hungry, would try to site energy projects on sensitive lands. Seeking profit involves knowing when and where to build, and sensible utilities know they have to be careful and appropriate with their decisions. If they aren’t, they’ll waste a lot of time and money on projects that will never be built.

Also, if you want “transmission lines all over the place,” look no farther than Energize Vermont’s own green-energy plan, which relies heavily on Hydro Quebec power from the far north. That’ll require a big fat buildout of high-tension power lines right across the Northeast Kingdom that Whitworth professes to love so much.

Whitworth is a True Believer. He sees himself and his allies as the defenders of Vermont’s sacred honor, and anyone who disagrees is a turncoat and a corporate lackey. He is entitled to his opinion, and I respect his commitment. But he shouldn’t get a free pass from Vermont’s Largest Newspaper.