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State to review power program rules

Vermont’s public utility regulators want to review the rules around the state’s net metering program. Those in the solar industry say they want things to be simple and predictable.

The Public Utility Commission announced Tuesday that it has begun the process for reviewing possible changes to the net-metering system — Commission Rule 5.100 — which, according to the commission, primarily involves solar arrays up up to 500 kilowatts.

The net-metering program gives its beneficiaries credit on their electric bills, depending on what their facility produces in energy. Hydroelectric and small wind plants can be net-metering projects, but most are solar, according to the commission.

“We think our current Rule provides helpful guidance, but there is always room for improvement,” said Anthony Roisman, Public Utility Commission chairman, in a statement. “We encourage broad participation in this process to help us make the net-metering program work better for all Vermonters.”

According to the commission, it plans to hold workshops and seek comment from stakeholders prior to beginning the formal rulemaking process. Filings regarding the matter can be viewed and tracked on the commission’s website bit.ly/0419CaseSearch. The case number is 19-0855-RULE.

Filed already is the order to open the rulemaking process, and a 64-page draft of the proposed rules. According to the commission, these will simplify and clarify the processes around amending and transferring certificates of public good, resolving concerns utilities have with interconnect projects, putting solar canopies over existing parking lots, and reviewing a project’s impacts on forests. It would also allow a permitted project to take two years to be constructed instead of one.

Olivia Campbell Anderson, executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont, a renewable energy trade association, said the proposed rules appear to be a mix of improvements and further complications. She said the existing permitting process is cumbersome and costly, something that needs to change. She said the net-metering program is a crucial tool for the state to meet its clean energy goals, and it’s one of the few ways individual Vermonters and small businesses owners can be involved in that, and save money on electricity.

She said past changes to the net-metering program have resulted in job losses for the solar industry. Anderson cited the 2018 Vermont Clean Energy Industry Report, produced by the Department of Public Service, which says, “Job declines in the solar industry were also a first-time national phenomenon since The Solar Foundation began tracking employment in 2010. In Vermont, the shedding of solar jobs came alongside a decline in solar installations over the same period of about 9 percent. More importantly,however, these shifts follow significant policy reforms to the state’s net metering program, which made the siting of new renewable energy projects — especially larger installations — more difficult, leading to an almost 20-percent decline in applications.”

The report can be found at bit.ly/0419EnergyReport.

She said the commission is in the scoping phase of the rule-making process, which all told will likely take at least a year. Andersen said Renewable Energy Vermont plans to be heavily involved in the comment period.

keith.whitcomb

@rutlandherald.com


Photo by T.J. Hooker  

Waters of the Otter Creek submerge the roadway approaching Depot Bridge in Pittsford on Thursday. The covered bridge, which dates back to 1840, has seen many flood events. The National Weather Service has issued a flood watch for the entire state through Sunday.


Local
College of St. Joseph grads plan farewell events

A group of College of St. Joseph graduates is planning events for the first weekend in May, just two weeks before what’s expected to be the school’s final commencement ceremony.

“We want to reminisce and make some last memories,” said alumna Kelly O’Reilly, part of a group of alumni who will gather in Rutland the weekend of May 3.

In March, Jennifer Scott, president of College of St. Joseph, announced the college would close at the end of the current semester. Green Mountain College in Poultney and Southern Vermont College in Bennington will also close around the same time.

All three colleges were facing financial difficulties. The New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) told CSJ and Southern Vermont College they would lose their accreditation if they were not able to demonstrate financial stability. After 60 years of educating students, CSJ’s final commencement is scheduled for the weekend of May 17.

Before that, a group of alumni will meet May 3 at the Draught Room for dinner, on the morning of May 4 on the CSJ campus for a walkthrough and at the Tap House that night and on Sunday for brunch at the Holiday Inn.

O’Reilly, who majored in special education and elementary education with a minor in psychology, said she’s one of a “core group” of alumni who have kept in touch after leaving the small, independent college.

“I’ll be completely honest with you, it kind of grew. Originally, it was a core group of alums. We started off as (the group who) lived in the same suite in CSJ all four years. So it started out as the six or seven of us saying, ‘You know, we should really get together,’ and then it was like, ‘Well, other people are going to want to say goodbye, too’ and then they were like, ‘We know other people. ...’ So it started off very small and it just grew from what was going to be a really small event to a larger event than I think any of us anticipated,” she said.

One of the participants has an unusually strong relationship with CSJ. Gregory Chamberland, who graduated in 1999, is now the college registrar. Originally from Proctor, Chamberland has been working at the college for 20 years, ever since he graduated.

O’Reilly said she has only been back in the Rutland area a few times since she graduated. Chamberland said there is an annual alumni gathering, usually in the fall.

This time is different, he acknowledged.

“This event will be a time for all the alumni to get together, reminisce about the past, mourn, celebrate and, hopefully, maintain our community and friendships,” he said.

O’Reilly said CSJ was meaningful to her because of the small classes and the relationships she made with professors and friends. She said she now reads to her own 7-year-old daughter and first-grade students stories she heard while in education classes at CSJ.

“It’s hard to hear that CSJ is closing, and it’s hard to hear that other high school seniors won’t get to have that opportunity to experience CSJ like I did,” she said.

Chamberland said CSJ will “always hold a special place in the hearts” of students who attended and, especially, those who graduated from the college.

“For many, it’s like a second home. I even hear that today when students are walking down the hall. It’s like this second home so it’s going to be really tough for our current students, not necessarily finding another school to go to but the fact that they’re losing a second family, in a sense,” he said. After getting confirmation from about 40 people who said they would attend, O’Reilly said she’s expecting about 60 to 80 people on the weekend of May 3.

There was no immediate response to requests for comment from Scott, but Chamberland shared his thoughts about what will be lost when CSJ has closed its doors.

“CSJ is a celebration of our academics, of our friendships that we made and the hope that the spirit of CSJ will live on,” he said.

patrick.mcardle

@rutlandherald.com


Local
Vt. delegation calls for full Mueller report, more action

The release of a redacted Mueller report on Thursday left Vermont’s congressional delegation calling for the document to be released in full, and for special counsel Robert Mueller to testify before Congress.

“Despite the Attorney General’s spin and carefully orchestrated press roll-out — obviously intended for an audience of one — nothing can hide that this report amounts to a formal presentment of misconduct that reached the highest levels of the Trump campaign and administration,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., in a statement.

He said according to the report, members of President Donald Trump’s campaign were “eager, unapologetic beneficiaries of Russia’s interference” with the 2016 presidential election, that the campaign encouraged the stolen materials to be released and planned its strategy around it without ever reporting the interference to law enforcement.

“Robert Mueller did his job,” said Leahy. “Now it’s time for Congress to do our job, as Mr. Mueller envisioned in his report. In order to do so we must view the full, unredacted report. And Mr. Mueller should testify before Congress as soon as possible.”

Leahy said the report shows Trump repeatedly tried to influence the Justice Department’s investigation into Russian campaign meddling.

“He regularly used the office of the presidency to attempt to manipulate and delegitimize one of the most critical national security investigations of our time,” said Leahy. “His lawyers promised witnesses would be ‘taken care of’ if they did not cooperate with the investigation. He fired the FBI director leading the initial investigation and then attempted to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller.”

Leahy said these efforts demean the presidency and the rule of law.

Welch said that while the report didn’t find evidence of direct collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, it did have an inappropriate level of contact.

“However, the multitude of contacts between (the) campaign and Russian operatives before and after the election is reprehensible and marks a break from the longstanding practice of shunning foreign influence in American elections,” said Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., in a release.

He also called for the full report to be released for members of Congress to review.

“We know that contacts between campaign and Russian operatives included offers of ‘dirt’ on the Clinton campaign and relief from American sanctions,” said Welch. “And we know, contrary to his repeated denials, that candidate Trump did in fact have a business relationship with Russia regarding Trump Tower Moscow that was active through the summer of 2016.”

He also criticized U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the Mueller report.

“On the question of obstruction of justice, Attorney General Barr conveniently looked the other way in summarizing Mr. Mueller’s findings,” said Welch. “The Special Counsel’s report provides detailed and substantial evidence that President Trump and his team did everything they could to obstruct and undermine the investigation.”

Sanders’ statement, issued from Spartanburg, South Carolina, was much briefer than Welch and Leahy’s statements, but in the same vein.

“It is clear that Donald Trump wanted nothing more than to shut down the Mueller investigation,” Sanders said. “While we have more detail from today’s report than before, Congress must continue its investigation into Trump’s conduct and any foreign attempts to influence our election. We must also work to do everything we can to protect our future elections from the significant threat of foreign interference, and I call on President Trump and Republican leadership to stop obstructing the necessary work to protect our democracy.”

Sanders is running for president in 2020.

keith.whitcomb

@rutlandherald.com


Spotlight

“It’s not about returning to the harshest phase of the special period of the ’90s. But we always have to be ready for the worst.”

Communist Party leader Raul Castro, speaking about the shortages afflicting Cubans after changes in the balance of Latin American power. — B8

Teen cadets

A local program seeks young recruits to train for future law enforcement positions. A3

Burning up

Americans burned a record amount of fossil fuels in 2018 as worries grow about compromised climate. A6


RHD Hotspot

Saturday

Vernal pool trip

What is a vernal pool and why is it important? Join Alex Wells from the Vernal Pool Monitoring Project to find out about this field trip in the Rutland area. Call 747-4466 to find out more and where.