Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex-Orleans, is firing back at the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) over the lobbying group’s assertion that he was behind an 11th hour $50,000 appropriation to Lyndon State College to launch a wind project monitoring program.
The money was added to this year’s Capital Bill after it was vetted before the full Senate, and in committee hearings, Rodgers said.
The funds will enable Lyndon State College to purchase sophisticated sound-monitoring equipment to use at a number of as yet undetermined wind project sites. LSC will collect and analyze data, all of which will be made available to the public, said Sylvia Plumb, LSC’s spokeswoman, when the issue arose last week.
To get the $50,000 in state funds, the college must raise a matching amount. LSC reached out to a number of local town select boards, as well as the Green Mountain Club, seeking $5,000 contributions.
Plumb said in recent days that no contributions toward the required match had yet been pledged.
Thursday, Plumb said the college will not accept any funds from advocacy groups as it works to raise that $50,000 in matching funds.
VPIRG staff member Ben Walsh last week criticized the appropriation, and the involvement in the study of Lyndon State’s Dr. Ben Luce. Luce is a board member for Energize Vermont – a renewable energy lobbying group that has challenged some Vermont wind projects.
Walsh describes Luce as “…an avowed opponent of wind energy and serves on the board of an anti-wind group.” He is urging Vermonters to sign an online petition to administrators at Lyndon State College, urging them to reject the $50,000 state appropriation. In his post, Walsh calls the appropriation in the Capital Bill “a ‘golden fleece’ of a project.”
Walsh, on the VPIRG website, also wrote – “This taxpayer gift to the extreme opponents of renewable energy in Vermont was essentially hidden in the budget. At a time when many Vermonters are struggling, it’s outrageous to see taxpayers dollars wasted on a pet project like this, especially one where the outcome has already been so tainted.”
In an op-ed circulated to Vermont media (see guest opinion on page 4), Rodgers said he wanted to address the “untruths and misinformation.”
Rodgers said the Senate Institutions Committee “has been trying to help our colleges to buy equipment and offer programs where there are job opportunities.” The appropriation fell under that goal for Lyndon State College.
“Ben Luce has a Ph.D. (and) masters in physics, and a BS in sound recording, is published in nonlinear sound theory, and is not an opponent of wind energy…Luce has done the math and weighed the impacts and cost of industrial wind in Vermont and concludes that it does not work here,” wrote Rodgers.
“VPIRG supports developers like SunEdison, who own Sheffield Wind,” Rodgers writes. “SunEdison is bankrupt after getting billions in our tax dollars and paying their executives many millions for years.”
“If just the tax dollars (our money) from Sheffield and Lowell had been used to insulate Vermonters’ homes, 23,000 Vermont homes could have been insulated saving Vermonters millions and more than doubling the carbon reduction of those two industrial wind plants,” says, concluding “VPIRG exemplifies everything that is wrong with American politics, their lobbyists are pure puppets run by the ‘one-percenters,’ spreading their misinformation and bullying anyone that does not agree with them 100 percent.”
He urges people to support the LSC wind monitoring program and to donate to its $50,000 fundraising campaign.
The work LSC will do under Luce’s lead will not involve any consideration of health impacts, the college noted, saying that is outside the area of expertise the college will bring to the sound monitoring project.
Luce, contacted last week, said he would approach the work with students as a scientist, and will teach students how to use the sound monitoring equipment.
LSC has asked the legislature for some clarification regarding the appropriation for sound monitoring equipment.
The college is now in the early stages of planning the new wind monitoring program. The Vermont State Colleges has asked the chairs of the House and Senate Institutions Committees for a letter of intent, a press release last week stated, “regarding the appropriation to ensure the project is developed and executed consistent with that intent.”
“We expect that to be forthcoming in a matter of weeks,” said Nolan Atkins, interim president of Lyndon State College. “We will develop a specific scope of work based on that letter.”
“Lyndon State is excited that our faculty will have the opportunity to conduct academic research with equipment purchased with these funds,” said Atkins. “As interim president – and as a scientist myself – I am confident that the appropriation will be used for the highest quality research.”
“Lyndon State College thanks the Vermont Legislature for this opportunity to expand educational opportunities for its students and to conduct academic research for the betterment of Vermont,” an LSC press release said.
Walsh used the LSC inquiry to legislators as further evidence the program is a bad idea. “This is a mess,” Walsh said in an email. “Even the school that supposedly requested this money doesn’t seem to know what it’s for.”
“Certainly if it were actually about job training you’d think this money would be put towards clean energy jobs, a sector that’s growing by leaps and bounds in Vermont, rather than a pet project run by a diehard anti-wind activist,” said Walsh.