Tag Archives: Vermont Public Utility Commission

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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Nice Little Regulatory System You’ve Got Here, It’d Be a Shame if Anything Happened To It

Hey, it’s time for an update on the latest bit of corporate extortion from our buddies at GlobalFoundries, the biggest private sector employer in Chittenden County. Throughout its tenure — and before it, through much of IBM’s residency at the Essex Junction facility — the companies have used their heft to get various benefits from the state government, each time hinting to pull up stakes and leave for more corporate-friendly climes if it didn’t get its way.

This time there’s a double threat. GF is seeking to set up its own private utility so it can buy power on the regional market free of various state regulations, including renewable energy and greenhouse gas standards. It’s seeking Public Utility Commission approval for the move — and threatening to go ahead with or without PUC approval.

GF makes a, shall we say, interesting argument. In essence, it argues that it doesn’t need PUC approval, but it’s applying to the PUC anyway in order to preserve Vermont’s regulatory framework. Yup, the company says it’s acting to preserve a regulatory system by seeking to essentially opt out of the system. That’s a funny way to support a system, no?

But a question has arisen over whether or not the PUC can even consider the case. The Conservation Law Foundation and AllEarth Renewables say the PUC has no jurisdiction over the request because state law doesn’t make any provision for anything like private utilities.

Last month, the parties submitted legal arguments and counter-arguments for the Commission to ponder. Wednesday 12/8 is the deadline for any additional filings on the issue; after that, presumably the PUC will schedule a hearing. All documents, public comments, schedules, etc., can be accessed on this page in the PUC website.

So where do the parties stand? I’ll give you a simplified (and hopefully reasonably accurate) version after the jump.

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The Best Indictment of the PSD/PUC Renewable Process Is Its Own Documentation

From the PSD Hearing Officer’s report on the Richville Road project

I’ve heard from several enewable energy developers that the Public Service Department and Public Utility Commission make it extremely difficult to site new energy projects in Vermont. The best evidence for this is a document from within the PSD itself. It shows a process that seems designed to stymie renewable energy development. Since climate change is no longer deniable, this is entirely backward and counterproductive.

The document is a Hearing Officer’s recommendation regarding a proposed 500 kW solar array that would be built by MHG Solar on Richville Road in Manchester Town. (There’s a good story about it in the Bennington Banner.) The Officer goes through page after page of project compliance with PUC standards… and then decides it shouldn’t be built, based solely on some remarkably flimsy esthetic considerations. This, despite the fact that an independent aesthetics consultant hired by the PSD found that the project would not have an undue adverse effect on aesthetics.

The MHG proposal is a textbook example of how to site and design a solar installation. The plan is well thought-out and takes into account every possible objection, and yet the Officer is recommending denial.

The PUC has yet to make its decision. In fact, the commission has scheduled a site visit for this Friday. It may be the developer’s last opportunity to overcome the Hearing Officer’s report.

The Officer’s entire 40-page report (downloadable from the PSD’s website) reveals an apparent bias against renewable energy. If this is typical of the PSD/PUC work product, it’s clear that a thorough reform needs to take place.

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So, Why Doesn’t Climate Change Get Top Priority in Permitting New Energy Projects?

A lot of you probably know this already, but I just found out and frankly, I’m stupefied.

In the criteria for approving new energy projects, climate change is practically reduced to a footnote.

For those just joining us, here’s the process as I understand it. Let’s say a developer wants to build a ground-based solar array to produce clean energy. It applies to the Public Service Department for a “certificate of public good.” The PSD goes through a very complicated process to determine whether a CPG is in order. It reports to the Public Utility Commission, a three-member “quasi-judicial body” that decides to issue or deny the CPG.

In the process, the PSD and PUC consider numerous factors. And climate change merits nothing more than a kinda-sorta passing mention.

Can somebody explain that to me?

Because to my mind, there is no greater public good than mitigating climate change. Is that not patently obvious?

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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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