Does VPIRG really have ‘special interest’ ties? You decide…..

October 15, 2019 – Guy Page – In a recent “Dialogues with Meg Hansen” video interview entitled “Dark Money in Montpelier,” Ethan Allen Institute President Rob Roper claims the Vermont Public Interest Research Group is less ‘public interest’ and more ‘special interest.’

“They are what they claim to be fighting,” Rob Roper told Hansen. “Take a look at their board of directors and what you see is basically a revolving door for renewable energy special interests and other environmental special interests that are dependent on government subsidies in order to fuel their own bottom line. This is a lobbying organization for special interests, not the public interest.”

Headliners decided to check out Roper’s claim. Is it true the membership of  the VPIRG Board of Directors shows a close affiliation with renewable energy industry and environmental special interests?

Here are the names of the board of directors straight from the VPIRG website, with biographical info from the website and other sources. 

Officers:

  • President Ashley Orgain, Burlington – executive with Seventh Generation, manufacturer/vendor of renewable and recyclable household products. 7Gen is owned by Unilever, a multi-national conglomerate manufacturer of renewable/recyclable products.
  • Vice President Chris Miller, South Burlington – Social Mission Activism Manager at Ben & Jerry’s, also owned by Unilever. Former sustainability manager at Seventh Generation. Board VP of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, a pro-renewable power business lobby group.
  • Secretary Crea Lintilhac, Shelburne – Director Lintilhac Foundation, generous financial supporter and advocate for clean water, carbon reduction, and other environmental causes. It also supported the shutdown of Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power plant, which directly benefited the Vermont renewable power industry by removing a competing source of low-cost, low-carbon electricity.
  • Treasurer Marianne Barton, Moretown, a renewable energy financier: “founder of Catalyst Clean Energy Finance, LLC, and co-chair of Vermont’s Energy Action Network’s Capital Mobilization workgroup.”

 Trustees:

  • Biff Mithoefer, Dorset – yoga teacher who is also former “President of East Mountain Environmental  Services, engaged in the development of large-scale organic waste composting projects and is the former President and owner of East Mountain Transport, a solid waste handling, transportation, and recycling company.”
  • Drew Hudson, Columbia, SC – professional political/environmental activist – “Executive Director at Environmental Action and Founding Partner at PowerThru Consulting.” Field worker for Moveon.Org and campaign to elect Gaye Symington for Governor.
  • Dori Wolfe, Strafford – “Prior to launching Wolfe Energy, Dori co-founded groSolar, a national distributor and installer of renewable energy systems.”
  • Duane Peterson, Essex Junction – co-Director solar power installer SunCommon, former executive at Ben & Jerry’s.
  • Jane Stromberg, Burlington – UVM student and “President of the Renewable Energy Network, a student organization at UVM that connects students to professionals in the industry.”
  • Jen Duggan, Montpelier – “Vice President and Director of Conservation Law Foundation Vermont,” a pro-renewable power industry, anti-nuclear/fossil fuel power lobby organization.
  • Jennifer “Jen” Kimmich, Stowe – co-founder of Alchemist Brewery and member of VBSR public policy board.
  • Kati Gallagher, Burlington – UVM graduate student in community development and economics, former VPIRG employee.
  • Mark Floegel, Burlington – “Senior Investigator, Greenpeace USA….helped coordinate Greenpeace’s work in the effort to shut down the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.”
  • Mathew Rubin, Montpelier –  “President of Spruce Mountain Design where he is engaged in run-of-river hydro project operations and energy conservation work. Mathew is also President of East Haven Windfarm, a small commercial wind energy project.”
  • Dr. Michael Scollins, South Burlington – retired physician with interest in “innovative models for health care delivery and cost control.”

The website does not specify how board members are appointed, who appoints them, or length of terms. Except for student appointees, longevity of service seems to be part of the VPIRG board culture. The seven most senior members – Lintilhac, Mithoefer, Rubin, Hudson, Orgain, Peterson, and Scollins – have a combined service of 126 years.

But what about Roper’s “dependent on government subsidies” claim? Since VPIRG led the effort to pass a “standard offer” law in 2009, the State of Vermont has required utilities and their ratepayers to subsidized qualifying producers with higher-than-market rates for selected hydro, wind, biomass and especially solar power production. Depending on the installation date, size and nature of the project, most subsidized rates have varied from about 12 cents per kilowatt/hour to as much as 30 cents. At present the current rate for solar power is about 12-18 cents. Although the wholesale power market usually offers electricity at about 2-5 cents, Vermont utilities must buy the ‘standard offer’ power first if available, per the 2009 championed by VPIRG.