Paving Farmland? No Thanks!

Jul 22, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Location of proposed development

Location of proposed development

Massive over-development of valuable farmland at a rural highway exit in Vermont just doesn’t make sense.

CLF and others are challenging plans for building over one-million square feet – about the size of ten big box stores – at a scenic and rural highway exit in Randolph Vermont.

The project site includes some of the state’s most valuable farmland. In this area, good farmland is in very short supply. It supports area dairies, award-winning cheese makers and vegetable growers.

The floods and droughts from climate change mean that keeping farmland nearby is even more important.

At a recent “Act 250” land use hearing on the project, farmers explained why this land is so important. Carving these open fields into small parcels with limited access ruins the ability to continue farming in the area. Area farmers already travel great distances to access good land. Land that is close by should be more accessible.

Expert planners also showed that the proposed project falls far short of meeting regulatory requirements to protect valuable farmland. Vermont law requires that any development on good farmland must minimize the impact by clustering the buildings in a smaller area and using the land efficiently. Instead of meeting these standards the project would sprawl over more than half of the land at the site.

Paving over valuable farmland is bad for farming, bad for our climate and bad for the vitality of our downtowns.

You can hear recent story on Vermont Public Radio here, and see a display of the project’s impact below.

Buildings on soils

Settlement on Large Transmission Project Adds Benefits for Communities, Environment, and Climate

Jul 2, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Conservation Law Foundation recently reached a settlement in a Vermont permitting case for a large new electric transmission project proposed by TDI-NE.

The settlement adds significant benefits to a project planned to bring additional power from Canada into New England. The settlement ensures that the power being transmitted comes from hydro, wind, and solar projects – a critical step in meeting regional goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The settlement also boosts efforts to clean up Lake Champlain, which CLF has long championed, with TDI-NE committing more than $200 million towards cleaning up the lake, and $70 million for Vermont renewable energy.

You can read the Agreement here. And here is the TDI announcement about the Agreement.

The proposed project will deliver up to 1000 MW of power from Canadian sources to customers in Southern New England. That’s about equal to the power generated from one very large coal-fired plant, but with lower greenhouse gas emissions. The power would be sourced from large-scale hydro, wind and solar, all of which are considered renewable under Vermont law.

Building this transmission line is a significant project, one that will run entirely underwater, including under Lake Champlain, or underground and travel much of the length of Vermont. The agreement strengthens the environmental and public benefits of the project, including adding an additional $121 million over the life of the project to support Vermont renewable energy and much-needed Lake Champlain clean-up.

Highlights from the agreement include:

  • Increasing the combined monetary value of the Lake Champlain Phosphorous Cleanup Fund, Lake Champlain Enhancement and Restoration Trust Fund, and Vermont Renewables Programs Fund from the originally proposed $162 million to a minimum of $283.5 million over the 40-year life of the project.
  • Establishing a Renewables Integration Advisory Committee, which includes CLF and will seek to optimize and maximize the use of the project for improved integration of renewable power in New England.
  • Appointment of CLF to the Advisory Board of the Lake Champlain Enhancement and Restoration Trust Fund, which will make determinations about funding projects to enhance Lake Champlain.
  • Submission to regulators and the public by TDI-NE of all contracts with energy suppliers who utilize the transmission line to confirm that the energy shipped on the line is generated from non-fossil fuel energy sources.

With these agreements from TDI, CLF has agreed not to oppose any project-specific permits. But we do retain our right to express our views about electric transmission generally, funding processes for transmission projects, and the sources of power that will be transmitted by the proposed project.

CLF is pleased to have been able to work constructively with TDI-NE to reach this agreement, which demonstrates a good path forward in meeting our region’s future power and climate change needs while also promoting the general good of Vermont communities today. With several other transmission projects currently under consideration across New England, CLF will continue our critical role of watchdog to assure that our communities, environment, and climate are protected and our future power supply is clean and reliable.

Farmland vs. Asphalt

May 26, 2015 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

Proposed Site of Exit 4 Development 5-22-15

Proposed Site of Exit 4 Development 5-22-15

Valuable farmland in Vermont is under siege. A proposal is on tap to build more than 1 million square feet of hotel, conference center, industry, shops and houses on very valuable farmland at a rural highway exit.

CLF joined over 50 local residents at a contentious initial hearing for the project. Going forward, CLF and partners will participate in the state permitting (Act 250) proceedings.

Vermont’s  thriving farm economy, our healthy environment and our healthy climate all depend on good farmland. Vermont’s many acres of valuable farmland support a wide and diverse range of agriculture. From apple orchards and berry farms, to community gardens, dairy, and livestock farms, these all rely on good quality farmland.

That good quality farmland pays us back in more than just the food and crops it grows. Local farms help Vermont be more resilient to the effects of climate change. They also help reduce carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. And there is not a single Vermonter who doesn’t appreciate and value the open space and broad vistas that many of our farms provide. Our farms make Vermont unique. And our farms need good farmland to thrive.

Unfortunately good farmland is increasingly in short supply in Vermont. Good farmland takes thousands of years to create. Though Vermont is fortunate to have had the help of glaciers and rivers many years ago to create the valuable asset we now have, it is our responsibility to keep those assets intact and available for future generations.

As the impacts of climate change grow more severe, maintaining our farms and our ability to grow food and crops becomes more important than ever.

As Vermont moves out of the recent recession, the pressures increase on Vermont farmland. Pavement is not an agricultural product. Yet traveling along any of Vermont’s major roadways shows that farmland outside of town is sprouting more concrete than crops.

Bulldozing our rural farmland for massive new developments makes it harder to farm the land that remains. Farmers should not be left trying to piece together a viable farm from the few small parcels left behind.  Instead Vermont should strengthen the ways it encourages development in town and provide stronger protection for farmland outside of town. This helps farms create a bulwark against sprawling development. Keeping more services and buildings in town, surrounded by farms nearby, fosters community and helps us tackle global warming pollution. Our food is closer, providing more opportunities to drive less and burn less polluting fossil fuels.

Unfortunately, some plans for over-developing valuable farmland move Vermont in the wrong direction. The massive development planned for farmland at Exit 4 in Randolph is just one example. Others include a planned new truck stop and convenience store near the highway outside of Montpelier, and a new shopping mall on Route 7 south of Rutland. All of these are chewing away at farm fields.

Vermont’s landmark land use law, Act 250, provides valuable protections for farmland. As with water quality, air quality and community resources, Act 250 prohibits some building on valuable farm resources because it is just too damaging to the resource. In other situations, Act 250 requires projects to be designed in a way that leaves valuable agricultural soils available for farming.

The effectiveness of the Act 250 protections for valuable farmland is being sorely tested. Last year, in South Burlington, a developer sought a determination that a forty acre field with a farmhouse and barn on site was not in fact suitable for farming. Thankfully that request was rejected.

At the Randolph highway exit, the plan is to build over one million square feet — roughly equal to the size of 10 big box stores — in a rural and fairly undeveloped area, with over 100 acres of exceptionally high quality farmland.

When it comes to farming, Vermont should not erode its strong Act 250 protections. Instead Vermont’s support for farming should be as hardworking as its farmers. Our actions speak louder than our words.  We cannot say we support farming if our decisions drive more and more farmers off the land.

New Legislation in Vermont

May 18, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Lake Champlain

New legislation passed this session could help clean up ailing Lake Champlain.

It was a long and tiring Legislative session this year in Vermont.

On a very warm Saturday in May, Vermont’s legislators headed home. But not before making some good progress on key CLF priorities.

Clean Water

The key water quality bill, H.35,  focused on Lake Champlain. It sets a roadmap for further work. It provides funding for some additional staff for education and outreach as well as enforcement. It also creates a Clean Water Fund to keep track of funds spent on water quality.

Renewable Energy

The RESET law, H.40, finally eliminates the odd practice in Vermont that allowed the sale of Vermont created renewable energy credits to customers in other states while still claiming the power is renewable for meeting Vermont’s renewable energy goals.

The bill would set the highest standard of any place in the region for renewable energy – 75% by 2032. Much of this energy will come from existing facilities including from power imported from Hydro Quebec.

The new law will also require that 10% of the electricity in 2032 come from smaller scale renewable projects and provides for a new innovative program that encourages utilities to reduce overall fossil fuel use including from transportation and heating.  A troubling amendment that placed a cap on energy efficiency efforts was eliminated.

Toxic Soils

With growing development in downtown areas, disposing of contaminated soils has been challenging. A proposed bill, H.269, would have created a very broad exemption until new state rules are in place. CLF opposed the broad exemption and worked to strengthen the bill. As passed, the law provides a clear and safe way to manage soils from downtown developments. It avoids giving a broad handout to developers and makes sure that soils are managed to protect against any contact with people or water. It also provides a good test of effective soil management that should be helpful as the State develops rules.

Vermont is Burning the Furniture

Apr 30, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

photo courtesy of Vicki Burton @ flickr.com

photo courtesy of Vicki Burton @ flickr.com

Vermont legislators are scrambling to plug the budget – and there are plans to raid funding for heating efficiency to do that. This is troubling on many levels. It raids monies from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to backfill another shortage. It also comes on top of the proposal to shortchange energy efficiency as part of otherwise helpful energy legislation that would expand renewables and reduce fossil fuel use.

The end of a legislative session always brings out some of the worst ideas. It seems that as the warm weather approaches in Vermont, some lawmakers are keen to throw the furniture in the fire to eke out that last bit of heat after the woodshed is empty.

Burning furniture is burning money. Energy efficiency consistently delivers the biggest bang for the buck by reducing pollution and saving money for all of us. Smart investments should not be held hostage to close budget gaps.

A vote is expected on Friday May 1. If you are in Vermont, you can call your Senator and leave a message with the Sergeant-at-Arms at 802-828-2228 and tell your Senators to leave efficiency funding alone.

Quiet and Hardworking: Energy Efficiency

Apr 8, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

We all know them. Every family and office has at least one. That quiet and hardworking member of the team that day in and day out gets the job done.

No fanfare needed. Just consistently delivering results.

In the world of energy, that quiet and hardworking team member is energy efficiency. Every day, it cuts costs and cuts pollution, both for electricity and for heating. In doing so, it makes us better prepared for the future when climate change demands that we move away from fossil fuels and rely on cleaner and lower cost electricity.

At about half the cost of generating electricity, energy efficiency remains the lowest cost electric power resource. If we didn’t cut electric energy use with energy efficiency we would pay twice as much to buy that power from a power plant.

For more than a decade, Vermont has been a leader in relying on cleaner and low cost energy efficiency. In practical terms, our efficiency investments have avoided building new, expensive and polluting power plants, and has reduced the fossil fuels needed to heat our homes. Our reliance on efficiency also frees up energy for new uses such as heat pumps and transportation.

Energy efficiency is simply part of any sensible long-term energy strategy.

Here are some numbers:

In the past 13 years, electric efficiency in Vermont has produced savings of over 12.7 million megawatt hours. That is equal to the power needed to supply every home in Vermont for five years.

For 2014, energy efficiency met 13.3 percent of Vermont’s electric supply needs, an increase over 2013.

At the same time, electric energy efficiency in Vermont cut polluting greenhouse gas emissions by 8.7million metric tons since 2000. That is equivalent to reducing pollution by taking 1.8 million cars off the road each year.

But that is only part of the story. The regional New England grid operator recognizes the clear value of energy efficiency and holds it to high standards. Vermont is paid about $4 million dollars every year for its electric energy efficiency contribution to meeting the region’s power needs. Not only is that money reinvested in Vermont, and reduces fossil fuel use for heating, it lowers electric power costs for everyone in the region.

And in terms of electric transmission, Vermont’s investments in energy efficiency have deferred building over $279 million dollars of new electric transmission lines over the next decade.

From ski areas to grocery stores to homes and manufacturing, our energy efficiency efforts produce real results. Vermont’s employers are not only cleaner businesses, but also more competitive. For example, seventy five percent of Vermont ski areas have switched to more efficient snowmaking equipment, installing 2700 new snow guns that use up to 85% less energy to operate. That is a savings for all of us.

For such a quiet and hardworking resource, it is troubling that it has been caught in a political buzz saw this year. Energy efficiency was taken political hostage and cut as part of a new energy bill. We all know politics is not pretty. But it is sad when such shenanigans trump common sense, good policy and sound economics.

Rather than reward this quiet and hardworking team member, its ability to perform and deliver savings is being cut. Going forward, this means we will all pay more and pollute more.

It is time to make sure we rely on the cleanest and lowest cost resources. We should not leave real savings on the table and should not let politics elbow out the common sense solutions that benefit all Vermonters.

Gas Pipelines — Misinformation and High Costs

Mar 26, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The high cost and pollution from new gas pipelines are no secret. They deliver a clear reminder that investing in new fossil fuels is a bad bet for our energy future – bad for the environment and bad for our pocketbooks.

When costs ballooned for Vermont Gas Systems’ proposed new pipeline, the company failed to tell regulators, or the public, until months later. Vermont Gas is now facing penalties for the failure.

photo courtesy of Tom @ flickr.com

photo courtesy of Tom @ flickr.com

Unfortunately for the public, only the Public Service Department and the Company were allowed to present information during the hearing to evaluate the penalty. Since the two of them already agreed to a penalty, the proceeding took on an air of the sound of one hand clapping. A few concerned citizens resorted to waiving posters in the back of the room with questions they’d like answered.

At the hearing, a Vermont Gas executive acknowledged the loss of faith and lost credibility that resulted from not disclosing the cost increase sooner. Sadly that credibility was not restored when the same executive had to acknowledge that cost figures reported to regulators were not accurate.

A new gas pipeline is a big energy project. All big energy projects need to demonstrate that they advance the public good. With high costs and misinformation, confidence is sure waning on this project.

Public Hearing: TDI Transmission Project – Vermont

Feb 18, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The Vermont Public Service Board will be holding a public hearing on a very large scale electric transmission project proposed in Vermont.

TDI Transmission Project
Tuesday evening, February 24, 2015
7:00 pm
Fair Haven Union High School, (Band Room)
33 Mechanic Street, Fair Haven, Vermont

The project proposed by TDI is planned to go underneath Lake Champlain from the Canadian Border through to Benson, Vermont, and will then connect with existing transmission facilities in Ludlow, Vermont, to serve customers in Southern New England. You can see the full project filing here.

This is one of the largest transmission projects proposed for New England. The project is planned to carry more than 1,000 MW of power – more than is needed to power the entire state of Vermont.

Compared with many other large energy projects, the developers have done a good job to reach out to local towns and interested citizens. The project is planned to be entirely underground and/or under water. The developers are proposing to provide funding for renewable energy and for Lake Champlain clean-up as part of the project.

The Public Service Board still needs to determine that the proposed project promotes the general good of Vermont. Though connected to Vermont facilities, it is not planned to serve Vermont customers. Vermont provides the transmission highway for customers in other parts of New England.

TDI anticipates the project will deliver hydro power from Canadian facilities, but does not have any current contracts. In connection with Northern Pass, a large transmission project proposed for New Hampshire, CLF identified significant increases in greenhouse gas emissions from new large-scale hydro facilities. (See information about Northern Pass here); see information about GHG emissions from large-scale hydro facilities here).

CLF submitted comments in connection with planned federal permits for the TDI Vermont project. You can see CLF’s comments here and here.

In the comments, CLF identified some issues that deserve closer attention:

  1. Power Supply – what is the source and impacts of the power that will be delivered through this project? Will the project deliver power from fossil fuel facilities?
  2. Greenhouse Gas Emissions – What are the GHG impacts of the project? Are the emissions from new large scale hydro facilities fully and fairly evaluated?
  3. Phosphorus Pollution in Lake Champlain – The project will disrupt sediment and release phosphorus in areas that are already polluted with excess phosphorus.
  4. Mercury pollution – Emissions from power plants have deposited toxic mercury in the Lake’s sediments. The disruption of sediment can re-suspend the mercury and make it more available to harm fish and people.

As New England closes coal plants and moves toward cleaner energy supplies, it is important to ensure that new supplies meet our overall power needs and do not increase greenhouse gas emissions or harm our waterways.

New transmission projects should not provide blank checks to import pollution. Instead new projects should clearly reduce pollution impacts.

Come let the Board know what concerns you may have. Tell the Board you want to make sure energy is used wisely and that transmission projects in Vermont provide clean energy to New England.

It is important for the Public Service Board to hear from you.

 

 

Growing Clean Energy

Feb 17, 2015 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

The recent massive snow storms provide a stark reminder of why we need more clean energy. The more fossil fuels we burn, the more global warming we face.  Fiercer and more frequent storms continue to march across New England wreaking havoc with the daily lives and pocketbooks of so many.

Thankfully there are many efforts to bring more clean energy to the region and begin to break our addiction to fossil fuels.

In Vermont, Legislators are taking up a broad bill that would expand renewable energy opportunities. For electricity, the legislation would set the highest standard of any place in the region – 75% renewable by 2032. While much of that electricity would come from existing sources, including imported hydro power from Canada, it sets a new benchmark for what is possible — closing down coal plants, walking away from new gas facilities, and relying on more clean local power. The City of Burlington is already exceeding this standard and showing in real terms how meeting a 100% renewable standard is achievable and saves money for their customers.

The Vermont legislation would require that a full 10% of the electricity in 2032 come from smaller scale local renewable projects. Putting power generation closer to power needs reduces pollution and curbs the need for massive new transmission projects. This builds on the rapid success in Vermont of expanding customer opportunities to rely on renewable power. When combined with energy efficiency that already meets over 13% of our electric supply needs, Vermont jumps well ahead of the curve in bringing about a much needed clean energy transformation for the region.

The legislation also corrects a troubling problem with existing Vermont law. No longer would utilities double-count renewable resources, by both claiming them for Vermont while selling them to customers in other states. The Federal Trade Commission recently criticized this practice in regards to one utility’s activities. Instead, Vermont’s renewable supply would be better integrated into the regional renewable markets. Vermont can continue to sell renewable power in the region and avoid undermining our own efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Some of the more innovative aspects of the Vermont legislation begin to tackle the biggest sources of greenhouse gasses in Vermont – fossil fuel used for heating and transportation. As of 2011, heating and industrial uses account for about 32% percent of Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions and transportation accounts for about 46%. To meet our needed greenhouse gas reductions and avoid future climate disasters, we need to reduce fossil fuels from more than just electricity.

To further reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save money, the Vermont legislation would set binding requirements that by 2032 Vermont utilities provide opportunities for their customers to reduce fossil fuel use for heating and transportation. Projects can include such things as expanding the availability of heat pumps, weatherizing homes and businesses, installing efficient biomass heat, and providing facilities to support electric vehicles. Projects would not only need to provide reduced pollution, but offer clear economic savings as well. This opens up opportunities for partnerships that can break down barriers. Meeting customers where they are and providing the services they need and want at a reasonable cost is the hallmark of any good business. Legislation that paves the way for successful businesses to meet our broader 21st century power needs will position Vermont well to tackle global warming. Keeping a clear focus on the economics and the pollution reduction ensures that all Vermonters benefit from these changes.

With storms raging throughout New England, it is good news the Vermont Legislature is taking action to tackle global warming and help Vermonters save money.