Tag Archives: Margaret Cheney

Large Scale Wind Is Dead in Vermont. Is Solar Following the Same Path?

Not Exactly As Illustrated.

The Public Utility Commission is scheduled to hear a case on Friday that could tighten the screws on large-scale solar energy in Vermont, a process that’s sneakily been underway for a while. And to judge by the record to date, its decision seems unlikely to be solar-friendly.

South Street Solar is seeking commission approval for a 30-acre solar array on farmland owned by Middlebury College, which would provide almost one-third of the college’s electricity and help reach its goal of using 100% renewable energy by the year 2028. The project sparked some local opposition because Vermont, but it passed muster with the town planning commission and selectboard.

If the PUC rejects the request or puts significant obstacles in the way, it will underscore a growing problem with solar siting in Vermont: Almost every potential site, even the seemingly ideal, is unacceptable to some.

Everyone is okay with rooftop solar, but there’s simply not enough rooftop acreage to make a real contribution to our renewable energy goals. So where else can it go? We don’t want to clear forest land, we don’t want to impact wetlands or waterways, we don’t want to clutter scenic areas, we don’t want it too close to where we live, and sometimes we don’t even want it on not-at-all-scenic, unused property.

The latter problem killed a solar proposal in Bradford. You know the site if you’ve taken Exit 16 off I-91 or gone shopping at Farm-Way. It’s a large parcel on the outskirts of town within sight of the freeway. There is some commercial development (an auto parts store and a supermarket), but there’s still plenty of vacant land. The site has, I think it’s safe to say, no esthetic appeal whatsoever.

But it didn’t happen because the regional planning commission decided that the land should be reserved for potential development. This site should have been an idea spot for a solar array.

Now, back to Middlebury.

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Another Brick in the Climate Change Wall

Late Monday, the Scott administration initiated the process for filling a pending vacancy on the Public Utility Commission. The PUC is a three-member body with broad authority over electricity, natural gas, cable TV and telecommunications in Vermont. During the Phil Scott years, it has consistently applied the brakes on development of renewable energy.

This, despite the fact that it has had two Democratic appointees, one of them being Margaret Cheney, wife of U.S. Rep. Peter Welch. I don’t know why the two Dems have played along with the renewables slowdown, which has included strict noise rules for large-scale wind installations and a steady ratcheting down of the net-metering rate (the amount utilities are required to pay for power generated by solar installations).

And recently, VTDigger reported that the PUC had rejected a study that showed major savings from solar power in the Northeast. Yeah, they’re not exactly green-friendly.

And now, one of the two Democrats is exiting the commission. Sarah Hoffman Hofmann was appointed to a six-year term by then-governor Peter Shumlin in 2015, and her term expires this year. On Monday, the administration issued a press release seeking applicants for the position. It did not explain the circumstances of the vacancy, so we don’t know whether (a) Hoffman Hofmann is stepping down or (b) Scott wants to replace her.

The upshot is that Scott appointees will soon hold a 2-1 majority on the PUC, including chair Tony Roisman. Cheney and Hoffman Hofmann haven’t exactly been friendly to green power, but a Scott appointee will inevitably support the governor’s anti-renewable agenda.

And no matter how long Scott is governor, his appointees will dominate the commission for at least four more years. It’s one of the small costs of Scott’s re-election, and another reason why Democrats who voted for Scott can’t really claim to support climate action. Because as I wrote in October, the governor gives plenty of lip service to the issue, but opposes any meaningful policy changes. His choice for Hofmann’s replacement will be expected to toe the administration’s line.

Note: Updated 12/29 to correct misspelling of Commissioner Hofmann’s name.

The day before campaign finance report deadline day

Tuesday July 15 is the deadline for the latest round of campaign finance reports. We’re still waiting for the big ones — Shumlin, Milne, Phil Scott, et al. But there are some early filers worthy of note.

“The Artful Roger” Allbee, Republicrat for State Senate, pulled down $1,350 in donations, including two $500 gifts from out-of-staters and $250 from himself. (His only expenditure is to the state Democratic Party for voter lists. After all, he’s gotta get to know the Democrats in his district. Being a longtime Republican now running as a Dem.

A few PACs have filed reports. Perhaps most noteworthy is the MVP Health Care PAC (an arm of the health insurer), which split its early gifts: $1500 to the Vermont Democratic House Campaign Committee and $1000 to the VTGOP. Covering the bases, I suppose.

The state troopers, on the other hand, are all-in with the Dems so far. The Vermont State Troopers PAC gave $3000 to Shumlin for Governor (coals to Newcastle, that), $500 to the Vermont Democratic Party, and interestingly, $3000 to TJ Donovan for Chittenden County State’s Attorney. I doubt he really needs the money, so I presume the troopers want to stay on the good side of our Attorney General In Waiting.

The Patient Choices for Vermont Victory Funda pro-health care reform group,* has amassed roughly $23,000 in donations and spent a “mere” $2,500 for Democratic campaigns: $1,000 each for Governor Shumlin and the House Democrats, and $500 for Senate Democrats.

*Update: As a reader has kindly informed me, Patient Choices’ core issue is not health care reform; it’s death with dignity. It’s kind of interesting that they’re still being fairly active considering they got their bill through the Legislature last year. Maybe they’re ensuring against a counter-attack?

Of the few state senate candidates to have filed so far, Alice Nitka has a respectable bankroll. The Democrat still had almost $3,500 from previous campaigns and added another $500 this time, for a total of just under $4,000.

Joy Limoge is doing substantially better than that. She’s the only Republican State Senate candidate in Chittenden County aside from perpetual incumbent DIane Snelling. Limoge, previously known for her cheesy, ungrammatical campaign website, took in a cool $10,000 this reporting period for a total of $14,000 overall. Notable donations include $1,000 from Randy Brock, $1,000 from the Green Mountain Republican Senatorial Committee, and $2,000 from IpCapital Group, a consulting firm.

Margaret Cheney, former State Rep and current member of the Public Service Board, disposed of her remaining campaign funds from 2012, giving $100 to Tim Briglin (who’s running for the House seat she formerly held) and $1,294 to the Vermont Food Bank. Nice touch.

Martha Heath, retiring State Representative, cashed out her campaign fund and gave the proceeds, $483.14 in all, to Liz Subin, the Democratic candidate in Heath’s district.

I’ll be watching for more filings between now and tomorrow afternoon’s deadline. Watch this space!