The first order of business on the agenda for the Renewable Energy Standard Working Group’s September 20 meeting was “Conflict of Interest – Discussion & Clarity.” This should be interesting, I thought to myself. What it turned out to be was ironic.
Of course, the usual tropes about Vermont being a small state, and how everybody wears a lot of hats, and is married or related to someone with a real or perceived conflict of interest is inevitable came up. The furrowed brows quickly dissolved into chuckles, and none on the committee ultimately dismissed any idea that they would have any problems working with Knauer in her moderator role.
The only person to raise an issue with this was Chris Pearson, a former Chittenden County senator now working for the Sierra Club, who cautioned, “If we’re all saying we’re comfortable with this around the table, but there are many other observers who are now sort of going to be convinced rightly or wrongly that this is rigged, I think that’s a real problem here….”
“Rigged” is the right word, but not because of Knauer’s presence as moderator. The irony of this mini-inquest is not the subject but the inquisitors.
The Committee, charged with working to shape Vermont’s energy policy (specifically the renewable energy agenda to achieve 100% renewables by 2030) is made up of two senators, Chris Bray (D-Addison) and Anne Watson (D-Washington), two Representatives, Amy Sheldon (D-Middlebury) and Laura Sibilia (I-Dover), so no Republicans.
The non-elected members consist of Jeffrey Cram of Global Foundries, William Driscoll of Associated Industries of Vermont, Michael Lazorchak of Stowe Electric, Shana Louiselle of Vermont Electric, Brian Evans-Mongeon of Village of Hyde Park, Candace Morgan of Green Mountain Power, Ken Nolan of Vermont Public Power Supply Authority, Louis Porter of Washington Electric, Darren Springer of Burlington Electric, and Rebecca Town of Vermont Electric Co-op.
While the expertise of these people is certainly critical to understanding the issue, there is absolutely no denying that they all have a very serious conflict of interest regarding how this public policy is shaped.
But it gets much worse.
Other members of the committee include Ben Edgerly Walsh of VPIRG, Peter Sterling of Renewable Energy Vermont, Chase Whiting of the Conservation Law Foundation, and Pearson himself with his Sierra Club connection. These are all just lobbyists for ideological special interest groups with ties to and in many cases funding from renewable energy producers.
These are the most egregious conflicts of interest on the committee, and you can count on them to shape policy in ways that funnel money to their doners through mandates and subsidies.
Just look at some of the folks pulling the strings at VPIRG on their board of directors. Marianne Barton, VPIRG’s treasurer is founder of Catalyst Clean Energy Finance, LLC, a company that provides “financial advisory and strategic planning services to the solar, energy efficiency and performance contracting industries.” Duane Peterson of SunCommon. Wind developer Matthew Rubin. Their employer/employee relationship with voting committee member Ben Walsh should be of far more concern as a conflict of interest that the spousal relationship of the committee’s moderator with a member of the PUC.
Or Renewable Energy Vermont, whose board includes Chad Farrell, founder of Encore Renewable Energy, and Paul Lesure president of Green Mountain Solar. Do you think these folks have a special conflict of interest when it comes to a 100% renewable energy policy for the state? How do you think these directors are directing their employee Peter Sterling to act on this committee? With the best interests of the public in mind? Pardon my laughter.
So, yes, Chris Pearson, as one of the many other observers paying attention to what you all are up to, I am convinced – and I’m confident rightly, not wrongly -- that “this is rigged.” And yes, that’s a real problem here.
Rob Roper is a freelance writer with 20 years of experience in Vermont politics including three years service as chair of the Vermont Republican Party and nine years as President of the Ethan Allen Institute, Vermont’s free market think tank. https://substack.com/@robertroper