Friday, January 10, 2014

Vermont Environmental and Land Use Law Blog, January 10, 2014

Vt. proposing to raise renewable power limit, WCAX
The administration of Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin wants to almost quadruple the amount of electricity that small renewable energy projects can send on to the grid while receiving credit on electric bills for that power.

Currently, net metering is capped at 4 percent at a utility's peak capacity, but most of the state's utilities have reached that limit. The limit means people who want to build small-scale solar, wind, anaerobic digestion of agricultural products, biomass and fuel cells.

Deputy Public Service Commissioner Darren Springer laid out the state's proposal Wednesday to the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee.
Click here to read more.
Former Vt. landfill to host solar project, WCAX
A solar array project has been approved for the former landfill in Townshend, Vt. The Vermont Public Service Board has approved an application to build a 149.5-kilowatt solar array at the landfill.
The town applied for the project, which will be funded by private investors and built by Westminster-based Soveren Solar. The Brattleboro Reformer reports ( the project is expected to cost just under $500,000. The town expects a 10 percent savings in electricity.
Click here to read more.
'Massive' housing project weighed for Burlington, Burlington Free Press (pay site)
Burlington’s Development Review Board is weighing a proposed 247-unit housing complex that would replace the S.D. Ireland concrete plant — and must decide whether to side with other groups in the city that said the plans are just too big.

S.D. Ireland has proposed to develop 11 apartment buildings and a community center at the Grove Street plant, where the S.D. Ireland website says its concrete company was founded in 1974.

“I think generally it will improve the quality of life in the neighborhood once it’s complete,” said Patrick O’Brien, who is representing the Ireland family during the permitting process. “Better than having an industrial use.”

The board heard S.D. Ireland’s preliminary plat application Tuesday and announced that it would hold a second public hearing on the project before making a decision. Senior planner Scott Gustin said he believed that if completed, the S.D. Ireland project would be the largest non-student housing development in Burlington since the 1990s.
Click here to read more.
Vernon Signs Agreement With Vermont Yankee To Stabilize Taxes, VPR
The Vernon Select Board has signed a one year contract with Entergy that will stabilize the town’s tax base through March 2015. The agreement sets the value of the Vermont Yankee plant at $280 million for the entire fiscal year. The current assessment is $300 million.
Officials say the deal is a good one for the town, since the plant will stop selling power halfway through the contract, in December 2014. Vernon Select board chairman Patti O’Donnell says the agreement buys the town some time to plan for life without its biggest taxpayer.

“We’ve met with them twice,” O’Donnell says. “We negotiated a fantastic one-year contract for the town  that really gives us some breathing space. But we all know what the future is.”

Vernon has 2,100 residents and an annual budget of $2 million. The town has a police department, a public pool and many other municipal services. O’Donnell says taxes from Entergy pay for half of it.

“We have had resources for a lot of years that other areas in our area have not had,” O’Donnell says. “So we do have a large budget that needs to be cut.”

The town is planning a public meeting on Jan. 20 to consider where those cuts should be.  O’Donnell says the board will resume talks with Entergy after town meeting to hammer out a five or ten-year tax agreement.
Click here to read more.
EPA Awards Almost Half a Million in Funding to Three Universities for Projects to Reduce Pesticide Risk, EPA
IPM relies on easy-to-implement, environmentally-sensitive practices that prevent pests from becoming a threat. These practices involve monitoring and identifying pests and taking preventive action before pesticides are used. If pesticides are needed, methods such as targeted spraying may be used. These grants will expand public-private stewardship efforts and reduce pesticide risk in agriculture.

The Agricultural IPM Grants are awarded to:

The Louisiana State University project to minimize impacts to bees from insecticides used in mosquito control. Mosquito control is critical for public health; however, insecticides can be hazardous to bees. Bees are essential for crop production and ensuring a healthy food supply. Practices and guidelines resulting from the project will be distributed to mosquito control districts and beekeepers throughout the U.S.

The University of Vermont project to reduce pesticide use and improve pest control while increasing crop yields on 75 acres of hops in the Northeast. The awardees will also develop and distribute outreach materials to help farmers adopt these practices. The project’s goal is to reduce herbicide and fungicide applications by 50 percent while decreasing downy mildew, a plant disease.

The Pennsylvania State University project to protect bees and crops by reducing reliance on neonicotinoid pesticide seed treatments and exploring the benefits of growing crops without them. IPM in no-till grain fields will be used to control slugs and other pests that damage corn and soybeans.

Researchers will share their findings with mid-Atlantic growers and agricultural professionals.  Protection of bee populations is among EPA’s top priorities. Some of the factors that contribute to the decline in pollinators include: loss of habitat, parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure. EPA is engaged in national and international efforts to address these concerns.
Click here to read more.
photo by Oregon DOT

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Vermont Environmental and Land Use Law Blog, September 12, 2013

Health officials to monitor Vt. Yankee closing, WCAX
The state's health department says it will be watching as Vermont Yankee shuts down starting next year.

The Vermont Department of Health will continue to monitor the environment around the plant and keep an eye out for possible radiation leaks. But in general, they say a shutdown plant only gets safer as the years pass and the radioactive material decays.

"With the shutdown there's no pressure inside, there's no boiling water inside, there's a lot less chance of a release of significance," said Dr. Bill Irwin, the chief of radiological and toxicological sciences for the Vt. Department of Health.

The plant doesn't have enough storage right now to hold all of its spent nuclear fuel casks, so Entergy will have to build new space.The Health Department says it will continue to get reports on those casks and keep an eye on their safety.

Click here to read more.
Pipeline project ignites debate, Burlington Free Press
The proposed pipeline, which needs approval from the state Public Service Board, has set off a debate in Vermont. Should Vermont embrace natural gas as a cheaper, cleaner, closer-to-home source of energy? Or does this source of energy come with hidden costs?

Up and down the proposed route, towns and property owners are weighing those issues. Even as some fight for access to the gas, they harbor questions about its impact and push for modifications in the route.

Click here to read more.
Vt. to clean up property contaminated with cancer-causing chemical, WCAX
State experts say a Rutland eyesore is an environmental emergency. Tetrachloroethylene-- a dry cleaning solvent also known as perc-- is buried underneath and plunging toward the water-table.

"Our concern is most specifically related to migration of groundwater contaminated with perc," said George Desch, of the Department of Environmental Conservation.

The tab for cleanup should fall on the building's owner, John Ruggiero, who paid $10 for the property in a 2002 tax sale. But he's $170,000 behind on his taxes as of June 30, and says he can't afford it. So, the state is spending $1.2 million to clean it up.

"A lot of times we find it in groundwater but it's not affecting anybody. This one we're hoping to get out ahead of it before it actually gets to the residential area," Desch said.

The state installed wells to monitor the spread of the cancer-causing chemical and found it's spreading to a residential neighborhood.

Click here to read more.
Windham County gets ag energy-related grants, WCAX
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is awarding more than $123,000 in alternative energy grants to projects in Vermont's Windham County that convert methane gas into energy and use solar panels to help a dairy farm.

The bulk of the money, $109,000, goes to the Goodell family at Westminster Energy to convert methane gas released from manure from 1,200 cows into power. Westminster produces enough energy to power about 250 homes daily.

The rest of the funds from the USDA Rural Energy for America Program go to Big Picture Farm in Townshend, which produces gourmet caramels from goat milk.

The Brattleboro Reformer reports farm co-owner Lucas Conrad says the grant will help pay for a solar array to provide over half of the farm's dairy and confectionary energy needs.

Click here to read more.
Canadian Documents Suggest Shift on Pipeline, NY Times
Ever since President Obama said in June that a litmus test for the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada was whether it would “significantly” worsen global warming, Canadian government officials have insisted it would not.

 They reasoned that because the pipeline would not have any major effect on rate of development of Canada’s oil sands, as a State Department environmental review concluded in March, it would not significantly raise the amount of carbon emitted.

But documents obtained by a Canadian environmental group suggest that the staff at Natural Resources Canada viewed Keystone XL as an important tool for expanding oil sands production. The documents were released to the Pembina Institute, a group based in Calgary, Alberta, after a request made under Canada’s Access to Information Act.

Click here to read more. 
Next forest project eyed in southern Vt. towns, WCAX
The Green Mountain National Forest is expected to focus its next forest management project in southern Bennington County.

Melissa Reichert, project team leader for the Green Mountain National Forest, says public meetings are expected to be held early in October in Pownal, Stamford and Readsboro.

The meetings allow the public to offer suggestions or comments and concerns on actions proposed by forest staff members. Forest officials say a scoping report will be released to the public, after the input from the public meetings and other investigations, giving people a chance to make written comments and suggestions.

Click here to read more.
House members take up bipartisan effort to support renewable energy, Into the Wind blog
House Republicans and Democrats joined together last week to co-sign a letter to the House Committee on Ways and Means recommending that renewable energy development receive continued support in any forthcoming comprehensive tax reform debate. The effort was led by Representatives Paul Ruiz (D-CA), Jon Runyan (R-NJ), and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and was signed by 60 Representatives.

In a statement released with the letter, Rep. Ruiz commented, “Renewable energy is a critical area of economic growth … We have to work together to advocate for renewable energy jobs, domestic manufacturing and American energy independence.”

The bipartisan letter noted, “While investment in a number of countries has increased in recent years, the United States saw a 34% decrease in renewable energy investment last year due to policy uncertainty. Maintaining policies in the tax code that promote investment in and deployment of renewable energy technologies will help ensure that the American consumer continues to benefit from renewable energy innovations while also reaping the benefits of a diverse energy economy.”

The wind industry has long advocated for the kind of policy certainty that has been enjoyed by other domestically produced energy sources. While the American wind industry has recently grown at a record pace – an average of 30 percent annually over the last five years—almost no new wind farms were built in the first half of 2013 because of Congress’s delay in extending the federal wind energy production tax credit (PTC). This abrupt slowdown vividly demonstrates the importance of consistent long-term policy.

Click here to read more.
Biomass Energy Resources: Vermont’s Sustainable Energy Model, My alternative energy
Biomass energy resources and case studies are growing vastly across the planet. Most of the projects are locally based, and prove that local communities can find new and innovative methods of creating a sustainable future for themselves.

Rather its America or Europe, these biomass case studies are a shining example of humanities ability to adapt and evolve when faced with economic and environmental hardship.

One of the best examples to use (among many that are covered in other articles), is the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative, which is a part of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund.  They provide technical support, research, and funding to help promote job growth in the biomass energy job sector. Their primary focus is on converting algae to biofuel, grass energy for heating, and oil seed crops for biodiesel and livestock feed.

Click here to read more.
photo by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Vermont Environmental and Land Use Law, August 13, 2013

Vt. compost firm fights sales tax, WCAX
The head of the Vermont Compost Co. joined with organic farmers and a Vermont lawmaker to argue that his product should be exempt from the state's 6% sales tax.

Karl Hammer made the remarks at a news conference outside the state Tax Department on Monday before delivering a letter appealing a bill from the state for more than $115,000 in back sales taxes. The Tax Department cites a 2007 change in state law that it says compost is not exempt from the tax.

Those speaking at the news conference said other agriculture products are exempt, and that the effect of the rule is to support conventional agriculture while denying that support to organic farming.
Green Mountain Power and Entergy reach settlement over cooling tower collapses,
Green Mountain Power and Entergy Corp. have agreed to a settlement of an undisclosed amount to cover costs incurred by GMP as a result of cooling tower collapses at the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant in 2007 and 2008.

GMP and Central Vermont Public Service — the utility that has since merged with GMP to take over about 70 percent of Vermont’s power market — sought $6.6 million in compensation for increased power costs the utilities had to pay when the nuclear plant reduced its output during the cooling tower failures and repairs. Robert Dostis, spokesman for GMP, said the settlement was reached in the second week of June. Part of the agreement was to keep the specifics confidential.
Vt. utility helping 3 nonprofits go solar, WCAX
Vermont's largest electric utility is helping three nonprofit groups in the Rutland area go solar. The three organizations will receive $20,000 matching grants to help build solar projects that are part of a broader effort by Green Mountain Power to make Rutland the solar capital of New England.

GMP says the grant winners are the Vermont Farmer's Food Center on West Street, Rutland Regional Community Television on Scale Avenue in Howe Center, and Good Shepherd Lutheran Church on Hillside Road. A fourth grant is available but has not yet been given out.
Groups Petition the U.S. EPA to Amend Greenhouse Gas Reporting Requirements for the Oil and Gas Sector, JS Supra Law News
“EPA recently posted a March 19, 2013 petition for rulemaking by environmental groups seeking to amend the regulations governing the Petroleum and Natural Gas Systems source category (Subpart W) of EPA’s Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting Rule (Mandatory Reporting Rule), 40 C.F.R. § 98.230 et seq. The petition seeks three changes to these regulations.”
Environmental Coalition Fights Deregulation of Industrial Dairy Farms in New York, Earth Justice
A coalition of environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for its deregulation of industrial dairy farms with 200–299 cows. DEC’s rulemaking has rolled back clean water protection standards to allow medium size dairy CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) to operate without a permit, in clear violation of both federal and state law, with the likely result that untreated cow manure will run off into and contaminate nearby waters.
photo by Kessner Photography