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AG’s office finds no bribery in wind project proposal


MONTPELIER — The Vermont Attorney General’s office has reviewed a proposal a proposal from a wind developer to pay registered voters in the towns where they hope to build wind turbines and determined that it does not amount to a bribe. Iberdrola Renewables is looking to erect 24 turbines in the towns of Grafton and Windham in Windham county. The company recently revamped its proposal, reducing the number of wind turbines from 28 to 24, in an attempt to ease concerns in those communities. Eight turbines would remain in Grafton but Windham would see four less. The company also sweetened the financial pot of money it is offering to the towns in its revised proposal. Continue Reading →

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Lawmakers craft replacement language for vetoed energy siting bill


MONTPELIER — Key lawmakers have drafted replacement language for an energy siting bill vetoed by Gov. Peter Shumlin on Monday they hope will be passed during a legislative veto session on Thursday to fix issues he identified in his veto message. Shumlin, a Democrat who is not seeking a fourth two-year term, vetoed S.230 Monday over concerns that language approved on the final day of the legislative session would have unintended consequences. He said the emergency rule-making process called for in the bill for new wind turbine sound standards unintentionally invokes a provision in statute that would make Vermont the first state in the country to declare a public health emergency around wind energy “without peer-reviewed science backing that assertion up.”

Additionally, Shumlin said new temporary sound standards for wind turbines “unintentionally relies on a standard used in a small 150 kilowatt project as the standard for all wind” projects, which “could have the clearly unintended effect of pushing wind projects closer to homes where the background noise is higher.” Another provision in the bill requires notice of certificates of public good for energy projects on parcels of land to be filed with land records. He said that “could create problems for residential solar customers when they go to sell their home.”

The fourth concern deals with money. Under the bill, regional planning commissions are supposed to help municipalities develop local energy plans that conform to the state’s energy goals. Continue Reading →

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Shumlin vetoes energy siting bill


MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin has vetoed a controversial energy siting bill, triggering a special legislative veto session on Thursday where lawmakers can try to override his rejection or look to fix the portions he finds unacceptable and send it back. The legislation, S.230, was passed by lawmakers on the final day of the legislative session last month after last-minute wrangling by House and Senate negotiators and the Shumlin administration. It seeks to provide local communities with more say over the siting of renewable energy projects if they craft their own energy plans that are approved by the Department of Public Service. It also seeks to create sound restrictions for wind generation projects. The governor, a Democrat, said the bill would hurt the state’s renewable energy progress, which he said has created more than 17,000 jobs in Vermont. Continue Reading →

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Environmental activists attempt to “seize” commissioner’s property

RANDOLPH – Environmental activists came to the home of the commissioner of the state’s Public Service Department to demonstrate their displeasure the proposed natural gas pipeline running through the state. According to Henry Harris, a spokesman for a group calling itself the People’s Department of Environmental Justice, shortly after 6 a.m., he and others went to the home of Commissioner Chris Recchia and attempted to serve him paperwork to seize Recchia’s land on behalf of the organization. “We were there to serve Mr. Recchia notice that we were seizing his property,” said Harris, a 37-year-old carpenter from Plainfield. The action is the latest in a number of demonstrations condemning the Vermont Gas Systems Pipeline being constructed in Addison and Chittenden counties, which has resulted in a handful of private properties being seized in the name of eminent domain. In September, six people were arrested for blocking the entrance to Vermont Gas Systems in Williston. Continue Reading →

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Potential dam purchase gets bipartisan support

The Wilder dam on the Connecticut River is among the 13 hydroelectric facilities put on the market by TransCanada. (Len Emery)

MONTPELIER — State officials are mobilizing to explore the potential purchase of hydroelectric dams on the Connecticut and Deerfield Rivers, but plenty of obstacles remain in the way to complete a purchase the state passed on just over a decade ago. TransCanada put the 13 dams on the market on March 17 as part of an effort to acquire Columbia Pipeline Group, a Texas-based firm that operates a natural gas pipeline between New York and the Gulf of Mexico, for $13 billion. The sale process involves a total of 4,600 megawatts of power in TransCanada’s northeast power portfolio, including the hydroelectric plants on the Connecticut and Deerfield Rivers that total 560 megawatts, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Link. The move has prompted a bipartisan group of state officials, including Gov. Peter Shumlin and House Speaker Shap Smith, both Democrats, and Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, to express interest in purchasing the dams through a state-owned power authority. A similar effort under former Gov. Jim Douglas was made in 2005, but TransCanada outbid the state with its $505 million offer. Continue Reading →

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Snelling resigns from Senate to head Natural Resources Board


MONTPELIER — Chittenden County Republican Sen. Diane Snelling is resigning from the body to become chairwoman of the Natural Resources Board, Gov. Peter Shumlin announced Tuesday morning. Snelling, who has served in the Senate since being appointed in 2002 to replace a seat vacated by her mother, will replace Jon Groveman on the board. “I am proud to appoint Senator Snelling to this position,” Shumlin said. “Her deep policy knowledge of Act 250 as well as her well-deserved reputation for being thoughtful and non-partisan make her an ideal candidate for this position.”

Snelling’s work in the Senate has involved work on clean water initiatives and shore land protection. She has served on the Senate Natural Resources Committee. Continue Reading →

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State’s PFOA response praised as officials focus on long-term solutions

Gov. Peter Shumlin looks over a map of North Bennington while being briefed on the status of contaminated water wells by Dept. of Environmental Conservation commissioner Alyssa Schuren, center, and Deb Markowitz, Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, at the Stae House earlier this week. (Times Argus/Jeb Wallace-Brodeur)

MONTPELIER — Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Alyssa Schuren was preparing to testify in front of a Senate Committee on the morning of Feb. 25 when news of drinking water contamination in North Bennington was delivered, kicking off an all-out effort by her department and the governor’s office to address an alarming situation. “I was just about to go down and testify in Senate Natural Resources and Energy … and we had 10 minutes until we were going to catch the bus. The division director … comes running in, he opens the door, he’s red-faced, he sits down and he says, ‘We have the test results back from Bennington,’” Schuren said in an interview at DEC’s main office. “I immediately feel myself just sit up straighter, because you could tell by his face that this was not going to be good news.”

The news was not good. Continue Reading →

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Saint-Gobain to cover $50,000 cost for testing wells in North Bennington

MONTPELIER — State officials say investigating contamination by a possible carcinogen in private wells in North Bennington is expected to cost around $50,000, which will be paid for by the company believed to be responsible. Gov. Peter Shumlin and other state officials announced the discovery of Perfluorooctanoic, or PFOA, on Feb. 25. Officials believe the chemical originated from a now-closed factory on Route 67A in North Bennington. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics purchased the former ChemFab site in 2000 and closed it in 2002. Continue Reading →

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State officials are investigating water contamination in North Bennington

Gov. Peter Shumlin announces that six wells in North Bennington have tested positive for Perfluorooctanoic, or PFOA, a potential carcinogen. His administration is now working to determine the responsible party and assist impacted residents. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — A possible carcinogen found in a nearby New York town has also been found in several private wells in North Bennington, the Shumlin administration announced Thursday morning after receiving test results just hours earlier. The chemical, Perfluorooctanoic, or PFOA, is the same chemical that was found in the village of Hoosick Falls, N.Y., that has drawn national attention. It was that case that spurred a concerned citizen to reach out to members of the Vermont Legislature with concerns of potential contamination in North Bennington. One company, Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, operated factories that made non-stick coatings in both towns under the Chemfab name in recent decades. The New York plant is still operating while the North Bennington facility, which was purchased by Saint-Gobain in 2000, was closed in 2002. Continue Reading →

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Rally for greater local voice in renewable energy projects


MONTPELIER — Local residents are calling for a greater voice in the siting of renewable energy projects in their communities, and one Senate lawmaker is looking to ban industrial-scale wind projects altogether. More than 100 people packed into the Cedar Creek Room at the State House on Wednesday to protest the current method used by the state to approve renewable energy projects. “Our energy-siting policies and processes have become anti-environmental and anti-democratic,” said Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex-Orleans, a remark that drew 20 seconds of applause from the gathered crowd. Rodgers argued that renewable energy projects should be treated the same way as any other form of development and should be subject to the provisions of Act 250, which includes a host of criteria such the overall impact a development would have to the aesthetics of the environment. “The process we use to site energy in Vermont is broken and it’s long past time to fix it,” Rodgers said. Continue Reading →

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