Tag Archives: Tony Roisman

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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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.