Vermont Attorney General William H Sorrell today formally joined a landmark $25 billion joint state-federal settlement with the nation’s five largest mortgage servicers over foreclosure abuses and unacceptable nationwide mortgage servicing practices. The settlement addresses future mortgage loan servicing practices, affords an estimated $3.1 million in financial relief to Vermonters, and provides approximately $3.6 million to the State. The state funds may be used for housing-related or other purposes.Vermont’s share is relatively modest because the state had far fewer mortgage-related problems, including foreclosures, than most other states. The final deal was struck when large states with relatively high ratios of problem mortgages – California, Florida, New York – joined the settlement.‘Many Vermonters have had problems with the companies that service their loans, including delays, lost paperwork, and foreclosures filed even while loan modification applications are pending,’ said Attorney General Sorrell. ‘This agreement addresses those problems, provides financial relief to many borrowers, and puts a stop to many of the bad practices that have affected Vermont homeowners in economic distress.’Vermont’s share of the settlement consists of the following:Vermont borrowers will receive an estimated $1.6 million in benefits from loan modifications and other direct relief, such as principal reductions, short sales, and deficiency waivers.Vermont borrowers who lost their homes to foreclosure by the settling banks between January 1, 2008, and December 31, 2011, will be eligible for payments in the amount of approximately $2,000, totaling $411,000, to make up for any servicing abuse they may have experienced; they will not lose their right to seek further relief on their own or through a class action.The value of refinanced loans to Vermont’s ‘underwater’ borrowers will be an estimated $1.1 million.The State will receive a direct payment of almost $2.7 million.The Vermont Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration will receive a direct payment of $1 million.The unprecedented state-federal settlement is the result of a massive civil law enforcement investigation that included state attorneys general and state banking regulators across the country and nearly a dozen federal agencies. The settlement, which 49 states (excluding Oklahoma) and the District of Columbia states have joined, does not grant immunity from any crime, or from liability for other aspects of the mortgage crisis, including securities fraud. It will also leave homeowners and investors free to pursue individual, institutional and class action cases against the five servicers.The settlement holds five servicers’Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Residential Capital (GMAC/Ally)’accountable for past servicing and foreclosure abuses and provides relief to homeowners. With the backing of a federal court order and the oversight of an independent monitor, the settlement will strongly deter future fraud and abuse.Nationally:Servicers will pay a minimum of $17 billion directly to borrowers through a series of national homeowner relief effort options, including principal reduction. Given how the settlement is structured, servicers may actually provide up to an estimated $32 billion in direct homeowner relief.Servicers will pay $3 billion to a mortgage refinancing program for borrowers who are current, but who owe more than their home is currently worth.Servicers will pay $5 billion to the states and federal government ($4.25 billion to the states and $750 million to the federal government). The state payments include funding for the payments to foreclosed borrowers.Homeowners will receive comprehensive protections under new mortgage loan servicing and foreclosure standards.An independent monitor will ensure mortgage servicer compliance.The final agreement will be filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., and be enforceable as a court order. A number of consumer groups, including the Center for Responsible Lending, National Consumer Law Center, and NAACP, have expressed support for the settlement.READ NATIONAL STORYIn some cases participating mortgage servicers will notify borrowers directly of their loan modification options. However, borrowers should contact their mortgage servicer to learn whether they qualify under the terms of the settlement. The contact numbers are:Bank of America’1-877-488-7814Citigroup’1-866-272-4749J.P. Morgan Chase’1-866-372-6901GMAC/Ally’1-800-766-4622Wells Fargo’1-800-288-3212For more information on the settlement, go to http://nationalforeclosuresettlement.com/(link is external), www.HUD.gov(link is external), or www.justice.gov(link is external) February 9, 2012 Vermont Attorney General.
Champlain College’s annual Spring Career and Internship Fair on Monday, March 26, will play host to more than 80 area businesses and organizations who strive to hire and develop local talent. The job fair will run from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. in the Argosy Gymnasium at 262 South Willard St., Burlington. The event is free and open to the public seeking professional career opportunities. By commingling students with the general public, Champlain’s Career Services office feels it provides a more realistic view of the job market and is also more attractive to area businesses. “It enables our students to be aware that the market is competitive, showing them how professional they have to be to get a job,” explains Associate Director of Champlain College Career Services Patricia Boera. Attendees will have the opportunity to meet employers that are hiring, obtain career information, establish contacts through networking and identify career, internship and seasonal employment opportunities. Champlain College is partnering with Spherion, Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, allowing the community to obtain the most out of the event. Sarah Potter, assistant vice president of Champlain’s Career Services office emphasizes, “The collaboration strives to offer a forum where employers can interact with college students, alumni, and individuals from the general public who are seeking full-time, part-time and internship opportunities.” “Career Services helps students use social media tools like LinkedIn and Facebook to help them in their job search,’ explains Boera. ‘The Career Office posts job resources online and encourages the college’s faculty to help prepare students for the opportunities that can spring board them into successful full-time careers,’ Boera added. Champlain College is dedicated to providing students with the professional resources and opportunities they need for success in their chosen career path. Many online career search resources and a Linked-In photo booth will be available to the public during the career fair. For more information contact Champlain College Career Services at 802-860-2720 or www.champlain.edu/career-services.html(link is external)
The nation’s urban population increased by 12.1 percent from 2000 to 2010, outpacing the nation’s overall growth rate of 9.7 percent for the same period, according to the US Census Bureau. The Census Bureau released the new list of urban areas today based on 2010 Census results.Of the 50 states, California was the most urban, with nearly 95 percent of its population residing within urban areas. New Jersey followed closely with 94.7 percent of its population residing in urban areas. New Jersey is the most heavily urbanized state, with 92.2 percent of its population residing within urbanized areas of 50,000 or more population. The states with the largest urban populations were California(35,373,606), Texas (21,298,039) and Florida (17,139,844). Maine and Vermont were the most rural states, with 61.3 and 61.1 percent of their populations, respectively, residing in rural areas. States with the largest rural populations were Texas (3,847,522), North Carolina (3,233,727) and Pennsylvania(2,711,092).Urban areas ‘ defined as densely developed residential, commercial and other nonresidential areas ‘ now account for 80.7 percent of the U.S. population, up from 79.0 percent in 2000. Although the rural population ‘ the population in any areas outside of those classified as “urban” ‘ grew by a modest amount from 2000 to 2010, it continued to decline as a percentage of the national population.The Census Bureau identifies two types of urban areas: “urbanized areas” of 50,000 or more people and “urban clusters” of at least 2,500 and less than 50,000 people. There are 486 urbanized areas and 3,087 urban clusters nationwide.The nation’s most densely populated urbanized area is Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, Calif., with nearly 7,000 people per square mile. The San Francisco-Oakland, Calif., area is the second most densely populated at 6,266 people per square mile, followed by San Jose, Calif. (5,820 people per square mile) and Delano, Calif. (5,483 people per square mile). The New York-Newark, N.J., area is fifth, with an overall density of 5,319 people per square mile. (See sortable lists.)Of the 10 most densely populated urbanized areas, nine are in the West, with seven of those in California. Urbanized areas in the U.S., taken together, had an overall population density of 2,534 people per square mile.The New York-Newark area continues to be the nation’s most populous urbanized area, with 18,351,295 residents. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim is the second most populous (12,150,996), followed by theChicago area (8,608,208). These areas have been the three most populous since the 1950 Census, when urbanized areas were first defined; however, at that time, Chicago was the second largest. Los Angelesbecame the second most populous urbanized area in 1960, and the order of the top three has not changed since.Among urbanized areas with populations of 1 million or more, the Charlotte, N.C.-S.C., area grew at the fastest rate, increasing by 64.6 percent, followed by the Austin, Texas, area, at 51.1 percent, and Las Vegas-Henderson, Nev., at 43.5 percent. The Charlotte and Austin areas also had the highest rates of land area change, increasing by 70.5 percent and 64.4 percent, respectively. The population within the nation’s 486 urbanized areas grew by 14.3 percent from 2000 to 2010. For any given urbanized area, population increase may be attributed to a combination of internal growth, outward expansion to include new growth, and outward expansion encompassing existing communities that previously were outside the urbanized area.Based on 2010 Census results, the Census Bureau identified 36 new urbanized areas, including Cape Girardeau, Mo.-Ill. (52,900), Grand Island, Neb. (50,440), Lake Havasu City, Ariz. (53,427), Manhattan, Kan. (54,622), Mankato, Minn. (57,784), Midland, Mich. (59,014), and Sierra Vista, Ariz. (52,745). As a result of changes in criteria and delineation procedures, the Census Bureau identified the Williamsburg, Va., area (75,689) as a separate urbanized area; it previously was part of the larger Virginia Beach, Va.-N.C., urbanized area. As part of its review of urban and rural populations, the Census Bureau also identified 3,087 urban clusters of at least 2,500 and fewer than 50,000 people. Three former urbanized areas are now classified as urban clusters: Danville, Va.-N.C. (49,344), Galveston, Texas (44,022) andSandusky, Ohio (48,990). Regional and State PatternsOf the nation’s four census regions, the West continued to be the most urban, with 89.8 percent of its population residing within urban areas, followed by the Northeast, at 85.0 percent. The Midwest and South continue to have lower percentages of urban population than the nation as a whole, with rates of 75.9 and 75.8, respectively. (See tables with percentages.)Of the nine census divisions, the Pacific division remains the most urban, with nearly 92 percent of its population residing within urban areas. The East South Central division (Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippiand Tennessee) remains the least urban, with only 59.9 percent of its population residing within urban areas.Puerto RicoThe Census Bureau also defined the urban and rural areas in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico’s urban population declined from 3,590,994 people in 2000 to 3,493,256 in 2010, now accounting for 93.8 percent of the total population of 3,725,789 (down from 94.3 percent). The rural population in Puerto Rico increased between 2000 and 2010, both in number ‘ from 217,616 to 232,533 ‘ and as a percentage of the total population, from 5.6 percent to 6.2 percent. Of the 11 urbanized areas in Puerto Rico, San Juan remains the largest, with a population of 2,148,346. There are eight urban clusters in Puerto Rico for the 2010 Census.Census Bureau’s Urban and Rural ClassificationThe Census Bureau’s urban areas represent densely developed territory and encompass residential, commercial, and other nonresidential urban land uses. The Census Bureau identifies two types of urban areas: “urbanized areas” of 50,000 or more people and “urban clusters” of at least 2,500 and less than 50,000 people. “Rural” encompasses all population, housing and territory not included within an urban area.The Census Bureau’s urban and rural classification provides an important baseline for analyzing changes in the distribution and characteristics of urban and rural populations. The Census Bureau’s urban areas also form the cores of metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas, as defined by the Office of Management and Budget, and are used in other agencies’ and organization’s urban and rural classifications.More information about the Census Bureau’s Urban-Rural Classification, including the criteria used to delineate urban areas, lists of urbanized areas and urban clusters, maps and files providing relationships with other geographic areas, can be found on the Census Bureau’s website athttp://www.census.gov/geo/www/ua/2010urbanruralclass.html(link is external). WASHINGTON, March 26, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ —
Vermont Public Radio,Vermont Public Radio has announced plans for broader and deeper coverage of the Vermont Legislature during the 2012 session.VPRs daily newsmagazine Vermont Edition will broadcast live from the Statehouse on Wednesday, January 9 at noon, when the Vermont Legislature convenes for its 2013 session. Host Jane Lindholm will speak with House and Senate leaders about the goals and priorities for the session. On Thursday, January 10, VPR News will carry live coverage of Gov. Peter Shumlins inaugural address at 2 p.m., hosted by Jane Lindholm and Bob Kinzel. Vermonters have expressed a keen interest in the Legislature, said Director of News Ross Sneyd. VPR News is responding by expanding our coverage more deeply onto digital and social media, which is where readers have come to expect breaking and in-depth reporting, as well as in our widely respected broadcast reports.VPRs audio stream from the Vermont House and Senate goes live beginning a 10 a.m. on Wednesday. The stream can be heard online at VPR.net or via VPRs iPhone and Android apps, allowing listeners to tune in to proceedings anytime, anywhere.VPR News will offer expanded legislative coverage throughout the session. Reporters Bob Kinzel and John Dillon will continue their in-depth coverage of day-to-day developments, trends, and features. In addition, reporter Kirk Carapezza will spend several days a week in Montpelier covering the Legislature for VPRs digital reports, with an emphasis on breaking news. Hell keep a legislative blog, post photos from the Statehouse, and update followers via Twitter (@KirkCarapezza) and VPRs Facebook page.On Saturdays at 9:30 a.m., host Peter Biello will interview Bob Kinzel about the developments of the past week and a preview of the coming week.
Governor Peter Shumlin appoints members to over 180 boards and commissions and has recently revamped that section of his official website to make it easier for Vermonters to get involved and serve the state and their communities. Visitors to the page can now view a complete list of gubernatorial boards and commissions, which includes board descriptions, lists of current members, term expiration dates and seat descriptions, where applicable.’ ‘ A list of current vacancies is also new to the webpage. Additionally, the application to request an appointment has been updated.’ Applicants can now complete the application online and submit it electronically.’ ‘ ‘Government works best when everyone has a seat at the table,’ said the Governor. ‘I am always looking for qualified, passionate citizens to serve on Vermont’s boards and commissions. Serving our state as a board or commission member is a critical part of the process and a great way to get involved.’’ To access the website, visit http://governor.vermont.gov/boards_and_commissions(link is external)
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) has announced $230,000 in Sea Grant funding to the University of Vermont for research and management of fisheries, water quality, invasive species control and other efforts for Lake Champlain and its surrounding watershed. The funding is the latest installment made possible because of the status Lake Champlain now has within the Sea Grant Program, run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Leahy memorably fought and won his battle in 1998 to include Lake Champlain in the Sea Grant Program. In the process the lake briefly was deemed a “Great Lake” for the program’s purposes. Since Leahy’s win, the Sea Grant Program has included Lake Champlain grant funding to UVM and other institutions.Leahy said, “As we’ve hoped and worked for, the Sea Grant Program has become an engine in the ongoing work to clean up our ‘great’ Lake Champlain.”The grant will be used to continue research and outreach programs focused across the Lake Champlain Basin. Researchers will be examining ways to mitigate the impacts of storm water runoff on the lake, managing invasive species, and implementing shoreline protection programs, among other initiatives. Breck Bowden, director of UVM’s Lake Champlain Sea Grant Program, said: “We deeply appreciate Senator Leahy’s efforts to support critical funding for NOAA’s National Sea Grant College Program, which directly funds the Lake Champlain Sea Grant project. This new award will help us better understand and protect the lake for future generations.”The Lake Champlain Sea Grant Program is a collaborative effort between Vermont and New York that engages many partners and communities around the lake to promote a wide comprehensive approach to the management of Lake Champlain and its surrounding watersheds.(FRIDAY, May 9, 2014) – Senator Patrick Leahy
Vermont Business Magazine New weekly unemployment claims in Vermont were up for the fifth straight week. This is in stark contrast to the summer and early fall. again last week and are near 800 claims for the first time in several months. Levels this year had been running consistently lower than those of last year, but are now running ahead of last year’s numbers. For the week of November 1, 2014, there were 922 new, regular benefit claims for Unemployment Insurance in Vermont. This is an increase of 125 from the previous week’s total, and 139 more than they were a year ago. Altogether 4,549 new and continuing claims were filed, an increase of 409 from a week ago and 271 fewer than a year ago. The Department processed 1 First Tier claims for benefits under Emergency Unemployment Compensation, 2008 (EUC08), the same as the previous week.There were no Second Tier claims for benefits processed under the EUC08 program. There were zero Tier III claims. The Tier I, II and III programs expired on December 28, 2013. Congress would need to act to renew these extended benefit programs. SEE STORYThe total for all programs was 4,550 claims, 409 more than last week, and 984 fewer than the same time last year.The Unemployment Weekly Report can be found at: http://www.vtlmi.info/(link is external). Previously released Unemployment Weekly Reports and other UI reports can be found at: http://www.vtlmi.info/lmipub.htm#uc(link is external)Vermont’s unemployment rate went up three-tenths to 4.4 percent in September as the rate keeps rising based on continued job loss. SEE STORY.
Vermont Business Magazine Illegal telemarketing calls continue to be a major source of consumer fraud scams and are also a major source of anxiety and annoyance to consumers, particularly Vermont seniors. In the last year, the Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) received over 3,200 reports of robocalls (pre-recorded calls) and other illegal telemarketing calls – and that is a small percentage of the calls actually received by Vermont consumers.Today, Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell joined other state attorneys general urging the five major phone companies to offer call-blocking technology to their customers. This request follows a July 2015 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule clarification that verifies that federal law does not prohibit offering call-blocking services.In a joint letter(link is external) to AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile and CenturyLink, the attorneys general stated: “Every year, our offices are flooded with consumer complaints pleading for a solution to stop intrusive robocalls. Your companies are now poised to offer your customers the help they need. We urge you to act without delay.” The Vermont Attorney General’s Office will monitor progress on this request.The attorneys general took action as the phone carriers had previously claimed they could not offer such services. “The FCC has made it clear that phone companies can assist us in our fight against unwanted, annoying, and sometimes expensive calls,” said Attorney General Sorrell. “The phone carriers must help us in this consumer protection effort and give their customers what they have been asking for – a way to stop these calls before they ever come through.”Call-blocking options already exist for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone service (NoMoRobo.com) and Android cell phones (Call Control), and the phone carriers should move quickly to implement and inform their consumers of these options.Last September, Attorney General Sorrell and other attorneys general called on the FCC to allow phone companies to utilize call-blocking technologies. The FCC chairman endorsed the request in late May and the FCC voted to pass the rule clarification on June 18.Vermont AG: July 22, 2015
How do community solar projects work?Company B builds a 150-kilowatt community solar array in 2014. The array costs $600,000. The state gives Company B a $37,500 net-metering grant, and the company gets a $180,000 federal tax break on those panels. Company B attracts 30 homeowners who are interested in investing in the project. Nineteen of those households have roofs that can’t structurally support solar racking systems, and 11 that can’t afford up-front costs for solar. All of the households get a 7 percent discount on electricity bills. The education property taxes on the structure, which sits on an acre of land, are $600, paid directly to the state. How much money can developers make on commercial solar?Company A builds a 2,200-kilowatt (2.2 megawatt) commercial solar project and sells the energy to a local utility through the grid. Company A’s project costs $6 million, and the energy sells for between 10 cents and 11 cents per kilowatt hour.The revenue from the energy, assuming the panels are 14 percent efficient, is between $270,000 and $297,000 a year for 20 years. The education property taxes for the structure, in addition to the 15 acres of land underneath, would be $8,800. The company could take a $2 million federal tax break or sell the project to an investor who wants to add clean energy to its asset portfolio. How big are home and community solar projects?Community solar arrays are usually 150 kilowatts but can be up to 500 kilowatts. The power is shared among households. A roof-mounted solar array on a home is usually around 6 kilowatts. How can net metering be used on solar farms?Net metering can also be used on larger solar farms, up to 500 kilowatts, provided there’s a specific entity using the energy produced. In that situation, the developer would act as a middle-man. A developer can plan a solar farm and then seek out a town or school to be the end-user of the energy. The town would benefit by building up energy credits at a 19-cent net-metered rate while paying the developer 18 cents under a contract. The developer gets most of the money.Since projects that are any bigger than 500 kilowatts can’t use net metering, there is an incentive for developers to build either under the 500 kilowatt cap or way above it. Above 500 kilowatts, the going rate for energy is about 11 cents per kilowatt. That’s why developers are likely to build in the 2,000-kilowatt-or-bigger range. How much money can a homeowner save on electricity?Homeowner C made $80,000 in personal income in 2011 and decided to install 6 kilowatts of solar on the home she built in 2009. She paid $27,000 up front for panels and used a $4,500 state net metering grant to offset the cost. On her federal tax return, she deducted $8,100. She now produces more energy on her home during the summer than she can use, and pays $0 for electricity for that period. Green Mountain Power gives her credits for the extra energy because of Vermont’s net-metering law, so she pays very small electricity bills during the winter. There is no property tax on the panels because the installation is under 15 kilowatts. What is a commercial solar project?Projects larger than 500-kilowatts (equal to 5,000 watts or a half-megawatt) are considered to be commercial-scale. The largest commercial solar installations now in operation are about 2,200 kilowatts (2.2 megawatts), but the amount of energy solar installations generate is going up. Four recently proposed projects would produce 20,000 kilowatts each.Read more(link is external) SunCommon ExpandingEnter SunCommon, the company building a grassroots effort to have solar on every home and place 150-kilowatt community arrays throughout the state. The company launched its community solar program in fall 2014, right when Public Service Department grants were drying up.James Moore, the co-president of SunCommon, says four people started the company in 2012 with the idea that everyone should have access to clean energy. SunCommon has grown each year since. The money households pay for community solar goes right to the cost of construction, and the profits have been invested in the company, Moore said.“We’re definitely still in that startup phase, but we effectively launched a new business by launching our community solar program,” he said. “I don’t know when we’re going to be out of startup mode.”Emily McManamy, a spokesperson for SunCommon, said Vermonters rushed to buy solar through SunCommon when word got out that the Public Service Department grants were drying up at the end of 2014 and that the Investment Tax Credit could be gone by the end of 2016. More Vermonters than ever are signing up for SunCommon solar services, the company says.“We welcome that federal money flowing into Vermont,” McManamy said of the federal tax breaks. “A big message to people now is there literally has never been a better time to get in on solar.”SunCommon is expanding in Vermont because of its grassroots marketing approach. The company installed residential solar on 250 homes in 2012; on 450 homes in 2013; and 890 homes in 2014. The company expects to install solar on 1,100 homes in 2015.SunCommon has 69 limited liability companies registered with the state under “Sun CSA” for 150-kilowatt community solar arrays. Ten have been connected to Vermont’s power grid. Each community project is designed to provide power for 30 households. SunCommon takes the federal tax credit for itself and gives Vermonters who buy shares in the solar farm a 7 percent discount on their electricity bills.“Many Vermonters on fixed incomes, disability and Social Security are not able to benefit from federal tax incentives,” McManamy says, “so we set up the ownership structure for the arrays in a way that maximizes the ITC and other federal incentive programs.” What is residential net metering?Net metering is a complex system that gives Vermonters big benefits for producing electricity through solar panels.A homeowner who installs a solar system can essentially sell back excess solar power to a utility through the net metering program at a fixed rate of 20 cents. If the homeowner purchases power from the utility at a rate of say 15 cents, the 5-cent difference is applied as a credit for future power bills. Low cost, high demandAndrew Savage is the chief strategy officer for AllEarth Renewables, owned by renewable energy magnate David Blittersdorf. The company has built 12 megawatts worth of solar farms across the state. Another part of the company sells pole-mounting systems to other developers.Savage, who is also on the board for the Solar Energy Industries Association, said his company builds solar projects under separate limited liability companies with “AllSun Solar” in the name. Once the projects are built, they seek an investor who will buy the project from them, take the 30 percent tax credit for themselves and manage the project in the long-term.“They can own it for five years and sell it to someone else, or they can own it for 25 years and have it be a long-term annuity,” Savage said. “The payback period can be anywhere from 5 to 8 years. The investor is going to want to make somewhere between an 8 to a 12 percent return. If it’s lower, they might as well just put money in the stock market.”The 3.6-megawatt Essex solar farm, Vermont’s largest so far. Courtesy photos.Savage said the industry is benefiting from low interest lending rates, the declining price of solar panels and a growing consumer demand for solar.“[Panels] sort of steadied out around 70 cents per watt, but they came down from about $4 per watt,” he said. “Solar is a pretty stable investment. The economics really are there.”Savage said the expiration of the Investment Tax Credit would slow growth in the solar industry, but demand will remain because companies “can go to a customer and offer significant energy bill savings.”“It is definitely going to cause some contraction,” he said. “It’s definitely going to cause a change in the business model, but it’s clear that the technology is sound, and the demand for solar is increasing.”Gary Skulnik, director of marketing for groSolar, sees things differently. The 15-year-old company is based in White River Junction and has an office in Maryland.In 2015, groSolar had two commercial projects in Rutland Town and Hartland approved by the Public Service Board. Rutland Town is now challenging the board’s decision to approve the 2,300-kilowatt array.Green Mountain College solar project.Skulnik says the federal tax breaks may make building solar worthwhile, but the array of cash incentives that Vermont offers, and a political environment that has made it possible to develop solar virtually anywhere in the state, makes Vermont a great place to be a solar developer.“Vermont has some good land, some good sites, and it’s got a citizenry that for the most part is very supportive of switching to clean energy for a clean environment and to fight climate change,” Skulnik said. “It all helps, and it’s part of what makes Vermont attractive.”“Of course it doesn’t have the solar coverage of Texas or Oklahoma, but it’s got enough [incentives] to make these profits worthwhile,” Skulnik said. “If [Texas and Oklahoma] had the incentives that Vermont had, people would be building like crazy there.”Skulnik says his large-scale projects take his company about three months to build. He said if developers don’t start construction on new projects by Dec. 1, 2016, “you’re probably not going to make it in time” for federal tax breaks.“It’s not going to be the end of the solar industry,” he said. “However, we do want an extension.” How efficient is solar energy?The efficiency of any type of energy is measured by a physics term called the “capacity factor,” which is usually about 14 percent for solar in Vermont.Only a small percentage of the sun that shines on solar arrays gets turned into energy, especially in a place like Vermont, which has long winters and frequent rainfall in the summer months.To know how much energy a project produces in a year, physicists multiply the theoretical capacity of a project by the number of hours in a year (8,760) by the “capacity factor,” which measures the efficiency of the technology.While the capacity factor for solar is 14 percent in Vermont, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, wind by comparison is 33 percent efficient, hydropower is 38 percent, geothermal is 70 percent, and nuclear energy is 90 percent. Hydro trumps solar as share of Vermont’s energyThe state aspires to get 90 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050. Most of the renewable energy Vermont uses now comes from hydropower because solar panels are comparatively less efficient and the energy is more expensive.The Ethan Allen Institute, a conservative think tank, estimates that Vermont would need to install panels on 100,000 acres of land to meet 90 percent of its electric energy needs through solar.At Green Mountain Power, which serves about three-quarters of Vermont households, 42 percent of the company’s energy portfolio comes from hydropower from Canada.According to Kristin Carlson, spokesperson for Green Mountain Power, solar is currently 2.3 percent of Green Mountain Power’s energy portfolio, and about half of that number comes from commercial solar projects of 500 kilowatts or more. Green Mountain Power’s percentage of solar power the utility uses has increased from 0.5 percent in 2012, 0.8 percent in 2013 and 1.6 percent in 2014.Forty-four percent of Green Mountain Power’s electricity is miscellaneous power from the New England grid. The company values solar because it produces the most electricity during summer days, lining up conveniently with when Vermonters are using air conditioners.Residential solar, according to Carlson, reduces what the utility needs to buy from energy wholesalers. Green Mountain Power is now developing a mapping tool that would help the utility figure out which areas of Vermont need energy.Green Mountain Power wants to develop a strategy for purchasing solar power. The utility has not yet had to reject energy from a solar developer. by Erin Mansfield vtdigger.org(link is external) Vermont Business Magazine Contributed to This Story Solar is the fastest-growing source of energy in the country, and Vermont’s solar industry is growing dramatically. The solar industry is booming nationwide because of multibillion-dollar federal tax breaks, and developers have their eyes on Vermont because of its additional cash incentives. In 2014, the state ranked at 22 out of 50 states for total solar capacity nationwide and 8th highest in solar per capita. Rutland itself is now the ‘Solar Capital of New England.’ Vermont’s industry employs about 1,500 people at 72 companies, and produces $76 million in output, making it the state with the most solar jobs per capita.In just the past eight months, Vermont’s Public Service Board has approved 79 nonresidential solar projects across the state, including 11 commercial-scale installations. Last year, the board approved 138 nonresidential solar projects, including 23 commercial-scale installations.RELATED STORIES:SunCommon part of group to expand community solar in VermontRutland becomes the ‘Solar Capital of New England’Over the past 10 years, the total number of net-metered solar projects in Vermont has grown exponentially. The number and proposed size of commercial projects is also shooting up. The Public Service Department is now reacting to a handful of 20-megawatt commercial projects — which are 10 times larger than any of the existing projects in Vermont(link is external).The growing size and amount of solar arrays is directly related to a 30 percent federal tax break for unlimited investments in solar projects. The tax breaks are designed to drive the nation away from fossil fuels, and supporters hope that solar energy use will help to combat climate change.While state incentives pale in comparison, Vermont offers a tax structure that keeps solar developers rushing in, and a net-metering program that requires utilities to buy solar at a higher rate.Solar home in Rutland.The federal government’s Business Investment Tax Credit, or ITC, which lets corporations write off 30 percent of construction costs, is set to drop to 10 percent at the end of 2016. That means if developers want to write off one-third of each solar project’s installation costs, they need to get their applications in as soon as possible and make sure their projects are built by Dec. 31, 2016.The looming expiration date for the tax breaks has sparked a gold rush because developers know there is no guarantee that Congress will extend the federal Investment Tax Credit this year. U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., has signed on as a co-sponsor of a bill in the House that would extend the credit through 2022.The plummeting cost of solar panels in the past decade is another contributing factor. The cheapest ones come from China, and while they’re slightly less efficient than the more expensive products from the U.S., Korea or Japan, developers can install inexpensive panels across a larger land area to produce the same amount of energy.ISO New England (the regional transmission manager) released its “Final 2015 Solar PV Forecast Details” last spring (SEE REPORT)(link is external).Because of the loss of the ITC, solar installation, and therefore the increase in output, declines significantly starting in 2017 and continuing through 2024. However, by the end of 2024, assuming no change in the ITC, Vermont’s total installed capacity would increase from 81.9 MW in 2014 to 234.7 MW in 2024.ISO NE said in its report: “PV projects should continue to offer strong investment returns in the next couple of years if all incentives can be monetized. Recent trends in PV deployment should continue through 2016, and may accelerate near the planned decline of the federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC).”ISO suggests that the following trends in New England will likely result:• Policy drivers that do not significantly constrain the timing of PV development (SRECs, net metered project growth below caps) will likely facilitate accelerated deployment until the slated ITC reduction• Policies that involve periodic procurement or solicitation (CT ZREC, RI Renewable Energy Growth, Vermont Standard Offer) will likely facilitate more consistent, incremental growth• The planned decline of the federal ITC beginning in 2017, together with the planned reduction of some state PV policy support, creates more challenging overall PV economics in 2019 and 2024, as compared to 2015. Much more uncertainty regarding PV deployment in the region from 2017 onward• By the 2024 timeframe, the overall economics of PV investment does not entirely recover from the ITC reduction, despite the following assumptions:– Modest reductions in installed costs (in real dollars)– Improvements in system performance– Increases in wholesale/retail electricity rates– Existing net metering policies remain intact, and existing net metering caps would not be constraints on future PV investment.Small Percent of Energy PortfolioWhile solar arrays continue to sprout up across the Green Mountain State, the amount of energy from commercial and residential solar is rising, but in total remains only 2.3 percent of the energy portfolio of the state’s largest utility, Green Mountain Power. Canadian hydropower, in contrast, represents more than 40 percent.Chris Recchia, commissioner of the Public Service Department, says that while the state offers incentives to solar developers, the Investment Tax Credit is the main driver of the nationwide solar boom.“You’re going to see a lot of applications this year for construction next year because the thing has to be operational by Dec. 31 of next year to be eligible for tax credits,” Recchia says. “I think that’s probably the biggest interest in why we’re seeing those [solar projects] now.”Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex/Orleans, said subsidies on solar should end now that the industry has proven it can make money. Solar should be treated like any other business, he said, and developers should get the same level of subsidies as his masonry company, which is zero.“The people who are putting up the projects are millionaires or corporations held by very wealthy people, and the tax dollars are paid by all of us,” Rodgers said. “These solar deals seem to be very lucrative for them, and it’s on the backs of the taxpayer and the ratepayer.”Doug Tolles, a New Haven Selectboard member, also says the industry is dominated by people who are in it to make money. He opposes solar energy altogether, and his town has been at the forefront in land use debates.“This is corporate welfare is all it is,” Tolles said. “It drives me crazy. The Legislature has changed the rules so that the solar industrial generating plants get tax breaks, and the towns that host them get screwed.”What’s so great about Vermont?Developers look for flat land near three-phase power infrastructure that gets virtually no shade. That’s what makes the South and the Midwest popular regions to install solar systems.When developers come to Vermont, they usually steer clear of roof-mounted arrays that require expensive racking systems. Putting arrays in fields is more attractive because installation is cheaper and construction takes six weeks to three months.This is Part 1 of a two-part series. Read Part 2: Rural communities push back against solar.(link is external)“The solar boom is not equal across the country,” says Andrew Perchlik of the Public Service Department. “It’s a combination of federal policies and state policies. There are some other states where you can’t do net metering, for example.”Vermont’s net-metering law, which passed in the 1990s and was updated in 2014, allows residents to build as much solar as they need and essentially sell unused energy to their utility company at a higher rate than what they pay for the energy they use. In exchange, they receive credits to lower future energy bills. Developers can build large net-metered projects up to 500 kilowatts and enter into contracts with institutions, such as schools, towns or businesses, which essentially invest in the project.From 2004 to 2014, the Public Service Department gave cash incentives to Vermonters who wanted to install net-metered solar projects on their property. The department offered $2,500 per kilowatt in 2004; the number gradually decreased before disappearing at the end of 2014.Brattleboro Savings Bank solar project.Vermont continues to offer solar developers a 7.2 percent personal income tax credit for construction costs. Piggy-backed on the federal government’s tax credit, the state tax break means solar developers can subtract up to 37.2 percent of the price of installing solar farms directly from their taxable income.Vermont law says utilities like Green Mountain Power must pay 19 cents per kilowatt hour for energy from net-metered solar projects. In real terms, credits on a 150-kilowatt net-metered project add up to about $35,000 in revenue per year. Revenue on a 500-kilowatt net-metered project would be about $117,000 per year.For commercial scale projects, those larger than 500 kilowatts, developers only get 11 cents per kilowatt hour. That’s an incentive for developers to build either 500-kilowatt net-metered projects or multi-megawatt commercial projects. In contrast, utilities could pay between 4 cents and 8 cents per kilowatt hour for hydropower.“The savings to (utilities) is worth that (few) cents per kilowatt hour for renewable energy generation,” Recchia says, adding that it saves Green Mountain Power from having to buy energy from the rest of the Northeast electric grid.The state has also set a special formula for the assessed value of nonresidential solar arrays. Property owners pay $4 per kilowatt directly to the state’s tax department, which deposits the money into the Education Fund.In real terms, developers pay $600 per year in property taxes on a 150-kilowatt community solar farm sitting on roughly an acre of land or $8,000 for a 2-megawatt farm sitting on about 15 acres of land. Who has the most solar per capita?1. Hawaii2. Arizona3. Nevada4. California5. New Jersey6. New Mexico7. Massachusetts8. Vermont9. North Carolina10. ColoradoSource: 2015 data from the Solar Energy Industries Association
Five Public Hearings Scheduled Across Vermont in October: Essex Jct, Lyndonville, Montpelier, Rutland, WestminsterVermont Business Magazine By vastly reducing reliance on fossil fuels, increasing conservation and using more renewable electric, especially for transportation and heating, Vermont will reach its goal of meeting 90 percent of its energy needs through renewable sources by 2050. The Public Service Department today released the Public Review Draft of the 2015 Comprehensive Energy Plan. The draft, which weighs in at a governmental 386 pages, reaffirms Vermont’s 90 percent goal and provides additional details on how to get there. The PSD sought significant public and stakeholder input to inform the draft and has been working across state agencies – including the agencies of Natural Resources; Transportation, Agriculture, Food and Markets; Commerce and Community Development; and Human Services – to put the draft together.The PSD will be holding a series of five public hearings around the state in October to seek reaction and comments on its draft Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan. In addition, comments are welcome in writing via the comment form at the CEP project website, http://energyplan.vt.gov(link is external) until November 9, 2015.“The 2011 Comprehensive Energy Plan drove concrete actions to meet Vermont’s energy goals and advance our economy, environment, and public health,” said Commissioner of Public Service Christopher Recchia. “The updated plan builds on that success and shows paths forward to continue that progress. We welcome public review, and will incorporate comments in the final plan to be released toward the end of the year.”Dr. Asa Hopkins, director of energy policy and planning at the Vermont Public Service Department added “We are particularly interested in hearing from the public about what we’ve gotten right, what we’ve gotten wrong, and what’s missing from the draft plan. The Department and our sister agencies will be continuing to refine the plan, and public input will definitely improve the final product.”This draft 2015 CEP expands upon the ambitious long-term goal of obtaining 90 percent of the state’s total energy needs from renewable sources by mid-century. When combined with the statutory goal of 25% renewable by 2025 (10 V.S.A. § 580(a)), this draft CEP proposes the following set of goals:• Reduce total energy consumption per capita by 15% by 2025, and by more than one third by 2050.• Meet 25% of the remaining energy need from renewable sources by 2025, 40% by 2035, and 90% by 2050.• Three end-use sector goals for 2025: 10% renewable transportation; 30% renewable buildings; and 67% renewable electric power.The plan emphasizes the importance of efficiency and conservation. This includes efficiencies gained by using new electric technologies (heat pumps, electric vehicles) that are substantially more efficient than previous technologies. It also includes efficiency in electric generation that comes from shifting away from wasteful power plants that send heat up smokestacks, and toward wind, solar, and hydroelectric. The focus on strategic electrification reinforces the shift toward distributed energy resources that support our grid, increase resilience, and lower infrastructure costs.The draft CEP builds on the state’s accomplishments since the previous plan was completed in 2011. Some of those accomplishments include:• passage of Act 56 establishing a Renewable Energy Standard;• the Thermal Efficiency Task Force and two Clean Energy Finance Summits;• updated building energy codes and a Vermont residential building energy label;• pilots of new financing programs including the Heat Saver Loan;• signing of the multi-state Zero Emission Vehicle memorandum of understanding;• expansion of the Standard Offer program while lowering the cost of new contracts by more than 60%;• expansion of net metering to 15% of peak load and an ongoing process to design a sustainable net metering program; and• expansion of solar net metering and standard offer projects in the ground by 10× since 2011.Meanwhile, electric rates in Vermont have increased only 4.2% since 2011, which is slower than overall inflation, while New England average rates rose 11.9% and U.S. average rates have increased 5.7%.Since the last CEP was published in 2011, Vermont has added more than 100 MW each of wind and solar PV electric generation to the state.When the renewable power from Hydro-Quebec, which has been approximately 30% of supply, is counted, nearly 60% of the power supplied for purposes of Vermont end-use consumption is presently from renewable sources. Courtesy H-QPublic HearingsDates and locations for the hearings are:• Oct. 7: Lyndonville (Lyndon State College, Moore Community Room)• Oct. 13: Essex Junction (Essex High School, cafeteria)• Oct. 21: Montpelier (Vermont College of Fine Arts, Noble Hall)• Oct. 26: Westminster (Bellows Falls Union High School, auditorium)• Oct. 29: Rutland (Rutland Regional Hospital, Community Health Education Center)The hearings will run from 6-8 pm and light refreshments will be served.“We know that energy issues, including the economic and environmental benefits and costs, have been at the top of the news in many communities,” said Dr. Hopkins. “We look forward to the opportunity to hear from Vermonters about how your experience and vision should be reflected in the final plan.”The hearings are hosted by the Vermont Department of Public Service, in partnership with the local regional planning commission.For more information on the CEP, for more detailed directions to the public hearing locations, or to comment on the draft plan, visit: http://energyplan.vt.gov(link is external).GMP photo of Searsburg wind farm.