Residents in Vermont have backed efforts in towns and at the Statehouse to challenge poorly sited wind and solar projects, but have received little help from lawmakers and other government officials.
MONTPELIER, Vt. — A citizen-led group is calling on Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell to investigate ethically questionable relationships between government officials and renewable-energy developers in the state.
On March 22, Vermonters for a Clean Government delivered a 16-document packet to the attorney general’s office that provides ammunition for investigating “suspected misconduct” among top Vermont officials.
One of the documents, an eight-page petition for a corruption investigation, cites potential ethics violations ranging from conflicts of interest and favoritism to influence peddling and collusion.
According to the Swanton-based group, cozy connections between government officials and renewable-energy companies have resulted in regulatory capture, a form of corruption that occurs when state regulators advance the interests of corporations and their associated lobbyists and trade groups.
VCG’s petition takes aim at five instances in which state officials or agencies had the appearance of advancing green-energy business interests over the objections of towns and local residents.
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Officials mentioned in the petition include House Speaker Shap Smith and House Energy Committee Chair Tony Klein, along with current and former officials from the Public Service Board, the Public Service Department and the Agency of Natural Resources. A flow chart included in the packet identifies officials and their link to green-energy businesses and pro-renewable policies.
Members of VCG claim the officials had conflicts of interest while conducting state business with developers and their law firms, and that those relationships resulted in preferential treatment. Companies cited in the petition include AllEarth Renewables, Green Mountain Power, UPC Vermont Wind and Eolian Renewable Energy.
While the group stops short of alleging criminal wrongdoing, VCG members want the attorney general to open an “impartial, in-depth, formal investigation” into cases of suspected misconduct cited in the petition.
The group also claims that citizens and town leaders have endorsed dozens of bills at the Statehouse to improve renewable energy siting, but that those efforts were blocked by elected representatives and state agencies captured by green corporate interests.
“I think regulatory capture encompasses the whole picture — the appointments, the bills, the money. It’s two words that sum up the whole packet,” said Sally Collopy, a Fairfield resident and member of Vermonters for a Clean Government.
Collopy said she hopes Vermont will follow the lead of New York, where Attorney General Eric Schneiderman last week issued a revised code of conduct for that state’s wind energy industry, in part due to ties between government officials and developers.
“It is their job and responsibility to do similar to what Eric Schneiderman, AG in New York, did to investigate this and look into it deeper and get to the bottom of it,” she said. “We deserve that based on the length of time this has been going on.”
Vermonters for a Clean Government is one of many citizen groups to arise in response to Vermont’s long-range energy plan. That plan lays out a path for Vermont to become the nation’s first all-green-energy economy, with 90 percent of power coming from renewable sources by 2050.
On March 15, a citizen-led group called the Irasburg Ridgeline Alliance filed a complaint with Vermont’s attorney general and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission accusing wind-energy producers of violating consumer protection laws. Other groups pushing back against Big Renewables include Grafton Woodlands Group, which is opposing a 28-turbine power plant in Windham County, and Oppose Swanton Wind, which helped organize the 731-160 vote in November against a seven-turbine power plant intended for Swanton.
Michael Duane, Vermont’s senior assistant attorney general, confirmed that his office is reviewing materials submitted by Vermonters for a Clean Government. He said while the packet lacks any formal allegation, the group’s claims generally fall under the jurisdiction of the Division of General Counsel and Administrative Law.
“We can only do what the statute allows the attorney general to do, and (the petition) doesn’t seem to be an allegation of any criminal wrongdoing,” Duane said. “So, we’re looking at the materials that came in to see if there is anything our office could do regarding what’s in the papers that were filed.”