The Ministry of Truth-Telling

Finally, at least one agency of the largest employer of the state – the state of Vermont – is telling the truth:  If you want to live in Vermont,

They misspelled "Progressive Party of Vermont" here.

They misspelled “Progressive Party of Vermont” here.

expect a lower standard of living than your parents enjoyed.  If you could use the word “enjoyed” in a state that boasts one of the highest aggregate tax rates and one of the highest costs of living and doing business in the country, and routinely ranks near the bottom of all national surveys on business climate.

The Department of Public “Service”, that same wonderful entity that helped bring about the shuttering of Vermont Yankee, which had the happy result of increasing electrical costs and dependency upon non-locally-generated power, now suggests, strongly, that Vermonters start moving into caves:

Giving up some rural landscapes for solar arrays, sharing cars and driving less, and generally using less cheap oil and gas are all in order if the state has any hope of achieving 90 percent renewable energy usage by 2050.

This was the message of the DPS at a public forum held at the Vermont College of Fine Arts on Tuesday morning. Included in the crowd of about 100 were some state legislators and energy professionals.

The forum allowed the public to provide input on the standards the DPS must create per Act 174 of 2016 for ensuring consistency of regional and municipal plans with state energy policy.

In other words, like with schools, you can create your own policy, as long as it conforms to what the state is going to tell you to do anyway.

To do this, the state’s finest in planning professionals (the same state that brought you Single-Payer Healthcare Planning Professionals Who Think Voters Are Stupid) are suggesting the following steps to get to the 90% renewables by 2050 target:

Not pictured: Shumlin

Not pictured: Shumlin

Director of the Planning and Energy Resources Division of the DPS Asa Hopkins led much of the initial presentation. He said that eventually communities should create maps that overlay what he categorized as primary and secondary constraints for alternative energy development.

Oooh!  Maps!  To where the buried energy treasure lies?  Oh, no, wait.  Not the fun kind of maps.  He means anything (more or less) found outside:

Some examples of primary constraints include vernal pools, river corridors, FEMA floodways, rare and irreplaceable natural areas, transportation infrastructure, federal wilderness areas and wetlands. Some secondary constraints include agricultural soils, conserved lands, deer wintering areas, hydric soils and habitat blocks.

So, in other words, you’re required to make renewables part of regional energy planning but you can only do so within the state’s proscribed box o’ places to site said energy sources, like solar, else the sky falls in and bad things will happen.  In the form of penalties.

Hopkins suggested a shift from oil and gas to renewables would mean, from an economic perspective, a shift away from operating costs (primarily fuel) into capital costs (infrastructure). He suggested the overall aggregate of energy costs should stay relatively the same, give or take about 5 percent.

Funny, that’s as much as the electric rates for Vermont Yankee went up (5%) when the Vermont legislature decided that it could decide whether or not Vermont Yankee could continue to operate, because as every Vermonter knows, all legislators are highly experienced energy professionals with decades of knowledge to back up their decision-making:

Vermont’s three largest utilities use about one million more MW/H of “system power” now than in 2011 (before the March 2012 expiration of Vermont’s utilities’ contract with Vermont Yankee which provided about one-third of the state’s power). System power is the term for electricity bought from the New England transmission grid, and is comprised mostly of fossil fuel power (especially natural gas), as well as some nuclear, hydro and renewable power. Green Mountain Power, Burlington Electric Dept., and Vermont Electric Coop use 1.8 million megawatt hours of “system power.” In 2011 the same three utilities used 847,000 Mw/h of system power, according to the “Utility Facts” study released in February, 2013 by the Vermont Department of Public Service.

Over the 12 months from December 2011 to December 2012, Vermont’s electricity prices rose 5.1 percent, according to the EIA. During the same time period, rates in New York and every other New England state (except Rhode Island) decreased.

In the same way that Vermonters are being told that they will a) adhere to the state’s incalculably stupid energy policy (which is really just a

The latest in Vermont's new hi-tech homesteads!

The latest in Vermont’s new hi-tech homesteads!  No power required!

vehicle for politicians to use to get elected), they’re also told that b) it really will only cost 5% more.

Just like when Vermonters were told their health care insurance costs wouldn’t go up much (in fact, they were told it would go down), it would be easier to enroll, and they would have more choices.  In that regard, it’s not so much as accepting the lie itself that the state is telling you, it’s that you get to choose which lie you want to believe in.  That’s classical market thinking, Progressive-style.

Not mentioned by the state’s Progressive Peoples’ Brigade are the hard and unyielding economic realities of cost:  When the cost of something goes up, less of it is demanded, and that rule goes for power, too.  Except for local businesses, which are small and depend upon the general economic vitality of Vermont to keep food on the table – and a booming travel industry – bigger businesses can and will move, to places that aren’t apparently out to shutter them.  While politicians like Peter “Thanks, I’ll Quit While I’m Barely Ahead” Shumlin tout the state as a “great” place for jobs, the hard smack of reality is that the bulk of job growth is in service jobs, which are not well-known for their high rates of pay.

Electricity is a cost in every economic activity, but especially manufacturing.  The price and reliability of electricity are critical factors in the manufacturing business model.  Even the Shumlin administration, which had previously worked to not cut IBM a break, finally decided that the rates were an issue in 2014 – well after IBM had already voiced its concerns.

Chris Recchia, commissioner of the Department of Public Service, said the rate freeze was particularly important this year for IBM.

“It is no secret that they are struggling,” Recchia said. “And a rate freeze for them was going be very helpful for additional planning in the coming years.” Though the freeze doesn’t prevent IBM from leaving the state, he said, “I think they would describe it as every little bit helps.”

No kidding.  You think so, Chris?

IBM said in testimony to the Public Service Board that electricity rates in New York are much lower than they are in Vermont. And New York has “made an aggressive push” to attract high-tech businesses like GlobalFoundries, the tech company rumored to be considering the purchase of IBM’s Essex plant.

“Competitors in other geographic areas are paying electric rates significantly lower than IBM Vermont’s rates,” said Nathan Fiske, an IBM site energy manager, in prefiled PSB testimony on May 30. “Our competitive disadvantage, as a result of the higher electric costs paid by IBM Vermont, is very substantial.”

Which is one of many many reasons why Fab 2000 is now sited in New York, not Williston, Vermont, providing jobs to New Yorkers instead of Vermonters (not including the Vermonters who moved there to find a new job in the new fab, part of Vermont’s economic exodus).

But now, finally, the state has come clean:  It wants a diminished future for Vermonters, mandated from a central planning agency.  How this

Not pictured: Chowderheads frantically dialing the power company when the rolling blackouts start. In January.

Not pictured: Chowderheads frantically dialing the power company when the rolling blackouts start. In January.

translates out to Vermonters in the real world, though, might not quite align so nicely with the Vermont Progressive Utopia:

A recurring theme in one of the discussion groups was “One-size-fits-all is a difficult standard to work with,” as Judith Jackson of Irasburg put it.

State Rep. Joseph Troiano, D-Stannard, reiterated as much. He said Stannard has of a population of only about 150 people, with no paved roads and certainly no public transportation. Residents are spread out and they go to work in different directions, so any notion of ride-sharing is pretty much off the table.

Vermont is in the bottom half of states for population density.  Add in the fact that for half the calendar year there’s the real possibility of snow and ice factoring into transportation decisions, and you’re not really likely to see someone from Buel’s Gore biking to work in South Burlington, and, well, this “plan” starts to seem irrationally optimistic.

Moving a weak and demographically shaky economy to one that has less predictability in access to electricity, with uncertainty in rates, does not equal a massive influx of speculative capital, in search of Vermont’s next big economic success story.  The Ministry of Truth, in the form of the DPS, is doing a painful disservice, again, to the people of Vermont, that it purports to represent.

In fact, what DPS says in its mission statement, and what it’s telling the public, are two different things:

We work to advance all Vermonters’ quality of life, economy and security through implementation of our statewide energy and telecommunications goals, using sound statewide energy and telecommunications planning, strong public advocacy of the public good, and through strong consumer protection advocacy for individuals.

So which is it?  A reduction in the standard of living to adhere to the bureaucracy’s latest 5-year plan, or working to advance all Vermonters’ quality of life?

Because it can’t be both.

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One thought on “The Ministry of Truth-Telling

  1. Chris,

    As usual, spot on ! It won’t be long until we are living in a third world hell hole like Cuba – Oh wait, the Legislature is planning a field trip to Havana for tips on how we can get there sooner !

    Brooke.

    Like

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