Newsbriefs for February 2019

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Newsbriefs for February 2019

Sat, 03/02/2019 - 3:19am -- tim

Bernie Sanders will run for president in 2020

In a YouTube video posted shortly after 7 am February 19, US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) announced he will run for president of the United States in 2020 and called on Americans from all over the nation to join him in building a massive grassroots movement to win the Democratic primary, defeat Donald Trump, and enact an agenda that serves all people, not just the wealthy few.

Vermont Gas requests second rate decrease in two years

Vermont Gas has filed its rate proposal asking to decrease customer rates by 2.7%. This is the second-rate decrease request in as many years. The request is subject to the Public Utility Commission’s thorough review and approval. If approved by regulators, this rate reduction will mean customers will pay about 30% less or about $530 less per year - than in 2008.

PUC approves sale of Burlington Telecom

The Vermont Public Utilities Commission on February 20 issued an order granting certificates of public good to Champlain Broadband, and approving the sale of Burlington Telecom to Champlain Broadband, the local subsidiary of Schurz Communications from Indiana. This is the final stage of a process that the city began in 2014, with the resolution of the Citibank litigation and the transfer of assets to Blue Water Holdings, which allowed the city to stabilize its finances and improve its credit rating in order to save taxpayers millions. Opponents of the sale, who have sought to keep ownership local, have said, as expected, that they will appeal the PUC order to the Vermont Supreme Court.

Bertek closes Milton plant

Label-maker Bertek suddenly closed its doors February 25. The closing will cost 30 jobs for the Colchester firm, which is owned by Montreal-based firm Identification Multi Systems (IMS). No reason for the closing was given. IMS acquired Bertek in April 2017.

Amazon to hire Vermonters for virtual customer service program

Online-retailer Amazon has announced plans to begin hiring several dozen Vermonters later this year for new part-time positions in Virtual Customer Service, a program that offers flexible work-from-home arrangements for customer service agents.

Senate votes to raise minimum wage to $15 by 2024

The Vermont Senate has voted to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024. The bill now moves to the House. Governor Scott opposes the wage hike, which could trigger another veto showdown between the Democrat controlled Legislature and the Republican Governor. Scott vetoed a similar bill last year, which he says could drive employers out of state.

GlobalFoundries moves nano tools to Germany

GlobalFoundries, the semi-conductor manufacturer in Essex Junction, will move some nanotechnology tools from Vermont to its plant in Germany. These high-end tools, GlobalFoundries said, do not fit the needs of the Vermont's microchip production. According to WCAX-TV, the company said that local employment will not be affected.

January tax revenues beat expectations

The state released good economic news February 15. Secretary of Administration Susanne Young reported Vermont’s tax revenue results for January 2019. With the vital Personal Income tax leading the way (+$2.57 million), receipts activity in the General Fund (+$1.27 million) and Transportation Fund (+$0.21) were above their monthly targets, while revenue collection in the Education Fund fell short of the target by $2.85 million.

What the state needs to keep an eye on is the performance of the consumer-related taxes. The Rooms & Meals tax, which has been very strong for several years and at times has carried the state as other taxes have clumped, failed to meet expectations. The Sales tax, which has been one of those slumping taxes, also came up short. The Rooms & Meals tax largely tracks tourist activity. The Sales tax results dragged down the Education Fund.

Chittenden County sees 50% decline in opioid-related overdose fatalities

Chittenden County experienced a 50 percent reduction in opioid-related overdose deaths in 2018, from 35 deaths in 2017 to 17 in 2018. This reduction marks a reversal of what has previously been a steady upward trend in overdose deaths since 2014, and the total was lower than in any year since the State began publishing county-by-county results in 2013.

Preliminary data for 2018 currently shows that nearly all opioid-related fatalities among Vermont residents were of accidental or undetermined intent and that the overall state increase was very small (108 to 110), according to a recent report from the Vermont Department of Health. But the number of fatalities has skewed sharply toward southern Vermont. Opioid-related deaths in Chittenden County were cut in half from 2017 (28) to 2018 (14), but the four southern counties increased 56 percent and more than made up (+22) for the decline in Chittenden (-18).

Developer secures $20.5 million financing for Cambrian Rise

Vermont real estate developer Eric Farrell has announced that 375 North Avenue, LLC has raised $5.3 million in equity funding from accredited investors and closed on approximately $15.2 million in secured debt for the Cambrian Rise mixed use development in Burlington. Brokerage Services, LLC, a FINRA-member broker-dealer based in Burlington, is engaged by the company to raise capital from accredited investors and institutions and to provide strategic advisory services to the Company.

The financing allows Farrell to continue development of Cambrian Rise, the approximately 22-acre lakeside community on North Avenue, through the purchase of former Burlington College building (the former Catholic diocese headquarters and orphanage) and additional development rights. The property acquisition and subsequent development will add 90 apartments and 20,000 square feet of commercial space to the Cambrian Rise community.

Greg Knight elected to lead Vermont Guard

A Joint Assembly of the House and Senate elected Colonel Greg Knight, a 35-year Army veteran to be the next commander of the Vermont National Guard. He takes over this post at a difficult time for the Guard, as it faces accusations of sexism and misconduct.

Northern Power sells energy storage business, looks to sell rest

Northern Power Systems Corp based in Barre, a distributed wind company, on February 11 sold its energy storage business, including Northern’s energy storage project pipeline and related intellectual property, to WEG Electric Corp. At closing, NPS received proceeds of approximately $1.1 million and WEG hired eight energy storage focused employees from Northern.

Hermitage must pay over $40,000 in whistleblower case

The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has ordered Hermitage Club Realty LLC – a real estate company based in Wilmington, Vermont – to pay a former employee $22,693 in back pay and bonuses with interest, and $20,000 in compensatory damages. Hermitage Club Realty LLC terminated the employee on December 18, 2017, after informing the company of what he reasonably believed were illegal real estate referral fees, and after filing a formal complaint with Vermont regulators. An OSHA investigation determined that the employee’s actions were protected activity, and his discharge violated the whistleblower provisions of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA).

Cassie Polhemus named as VEDA's new CEO

The Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA) has announced that Cassie Polhemus has been named the Authority's new Chief Executive Officer, effective April 1, 2019. Polhemus is the current Chief Operating Officer at VEDA and joined the Authority in 2013 as a Commercial Lender. She will succeed Jo Bradley, who has served as VEDA's CEO since 1997 and is retiring on March 31st. 

Rutland Region partners collaborate on Lake Champlain water quality efforts

The Rutland Regional Planning Commission (RRPC) and the Rutland Natural Resources Conservation District (RNRCD) have expanded their outreach and services to landowners, municipalities, and the public in support of the Vermont Clean Water Act (VCWA) and tactical basin planning efforts for Basin 3, which includes the Otter Creek, Little Otter Creek, and Lewis Creek watersheds. The work is funded through two grants provided by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (VDEC). Activities began in late 2018 and will extend through 2019.

Workers’ comp sees third straight rate decrease

Governor Phil Scott has announced that workers’ compensation insurance will continue to cost less for most Vermont employers when new rates approved by the Department of Financial Regulation (DFR) become effective on April 1, 2019. This is the third straight rate decrease since Governor Scott took office and represents $10.5 million in pricing relief for Vermont employers. When coupled with the two prior decreases, Vermont employers are paying about $40 million a year less in workers’ compensation premiums.

Leahy announces statewide expansion of Northern Border effort

US Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) has announced that all communities in Vermont are now eligible to apply for funding from the Northern Border Regional Commission’s (NBRC) grant programs. The NBRC is a federal-state partnership with a mission to help alleviate economic distress and encourage private-sector job creation throughout portions of Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire and New York.  Leahy included legislation in the 2018 Farm Bill to make communities in the entire state of Vermont eligible, expanding the important grant program that previously only covered the northernmost six counties in the state. In all, $25 million will be available to Vermont, NH, NY and ME in 2019 for the grant projects.

Railway fined for mismanaging hazardous materials at Newport facility

The Agency of Natural Resources Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has fined Central Maine & Quebec Railway US Inc, owner and operator of a railroad maintenance facility in Newport, $12,000 for improperly managing hazardous materials and releasing hazardous materials to the environment. During a May 2018 compliance inspection of the railroad maintenance facility, DEC personnel found absorbent materials contaminated with petroleum in open, unmarked containers.

Operator of salvage yard in Orange fined for failing to secure permit

The Agency of Natural Resources has announced that Walter Renfrew, owner and operator of Cherokee Connection in Orange, was fined $7,500 for operating a salvage yard without first obtaining a permit. Due to the inherent risk in managing hazardous waste, salvage yard businesses must follow state hazardous waste management regulations. Additionally, Vermont salvage yards must hold a municipal Certificate of Approved Location (COAL), which considers appropriate siting of the business, including its proximity to schools, residences, and drinking water sources. Once a salvage yard operator secures a COAL, a state-level salvage yard permit is required annually.

Imerys Talc Vermont files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

Imerys Talc America, Inc, along with Imerys Talc Vermont, Inc and Imerys Talc Canada, Inc, on February 13 initiated voluntary Chapter 11 cases in Delaware. The filing companies said in a press release that they reached this decision after evaluating a range of strategies to safeguard their long-term business interests and address their historic talc-related liabilities in the United States. As previously reported, Johnson & Johnson has been embroiled in lawsuits related to asbestos being found in talc-related products. A jury in Missouri last July ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $4.69 billion to 22 women who said asbestos in talc caused their ovarian cancer. The verdict is on appeal. Both Johnson & Johnson and its talc supplier Imerys say the claims are without merit.

Rutland RMI offers 'Concierge Service' to attract new residents

Building on the regional marketing campaign and grassroots efforts to help people move to Vermont, Rutland’s Regional Marketing Initiative (RMI) is “rolling out the red carpet” to prospective new Rutland County residents. The RMI has announced the creation of “Rutland Red Carpet,” a program to provide a local “concierge” to help people considering a move make a host of connections and facilitate the transition.

NEK creative economy study provides insights and actions

The Vermont Creative Network and the Vermont Arts Council released results of a six-month study that examined and documented the creative assets in the Northeast Kingdom (NEK). The outcome of the study is an action plan to support and expand those assets to bolster the economy throughout the region. The creative sector represents 9.4 percent of all the jobs in the NEK. Another important finding is that the concentration of creative industries is 31 percent higher in the NEK than the rest of the country.

EPA begins reviews of six Vermont Superfund site cleanups this year

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to conduct comprehensive reviews of site cleanups at six National Priorities List (NPL) Superfund sites in Vermont by performing required Five-Year Reviews of sites. The sites under review are the Bennington Municipal Sanitary Landfill; BFI Sanitary Landfill, Rockingham; Elizabeth Mine, Strafford; Parker Sanitary Landfill, Lyndon; Pownal Tannery; and Tansitor Electronics Inc, Bennington.

Business Conditions Survey leaves sour taste

Lisa Ventriss, President of Vermont Business Roundtable (VBR) and Jeffrey Carr, President, Economic & Policy Resources (EPR), announced the Q1 of 2019 outlook results of their joint initiative, the VBR/EPR Business Conditions Survey and Index. Survey results show that: More than 60 percent of respondents shared negative outlooks specifically with ease of hiring for available positions (64%); a slight shift toward neutral from the previous survey; a supermajority of respondents expressed a neutral or negative outlook about the state’s overall business climate (85%), a sharp increase from the previous survey.

Vermont small business survey reveals fading optimism

The latest small business economic outlook survey, presented by Davis and Hodgdon Associates CPAs and the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, has revealed that business owners’ attitude about the Vermont economy has become increasing more ambivalent over the last four years, while optimism in the US has generally improved over the same timeframe. However, both in Vermont and the US, optimism has declined since last summer and more so in the US over the last year.

Vermont Adaptive unveils $1.7M phase two of Home Sweet Home campaign

Erin Fernandez, executive director of Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports, the nationally recognized year-round organization offering daily adaptive sports programs to people with any disability, recently announced that the organization is officially underway with the final phases of its Home Sweet Home Permanent Homes Campaign and plans to break ground on a new state-of-the-art $1.7 million adaptive sports facility at Mt Ellen at Sugarbush Resort in Spring 2019.

Sterling College receives $1.34M challenge grant

Sterling College has received a challenge grant from the Peter Alfond Foundation to make possible $1.34 million to establish the Peter Alfond Wellness Center. As a natural extension of growing and preparing the healthiest food in any collegiate kitchen in America, Sterling will strengthen its programming in areas related to individual health and wellness for both its students and the greater community.

Healthy Living Market expanding to Shelburne, Williston

Healthy Living Market & Cafe has announced plans to open its third store in Shelburne and will partner on new Fire and Rescue Station. The high-end natural foods grocer will also expand into Williston at Taft Corners. This will be the company’s second and third locations in Vermont; the flagship location is located on Dorset Street in South Burlington, the other in Saratoga Springs, NY.

Intervale Center invests $1 million in buildings, trails

The Intervale Center, a Burlington-based food and farming non-profit, has launched the final phase of a capital campaign to invest $1 million into the buildings and trails of the Intervale. The launch was commemorated with a “silo swing,” moving a historic silo to a new location to be restored as a key piece of the last intact farmstead in Burlington. New last summer, there are improved paths, signage and trail blazes to help people better orient themselves throughout the 340 acres of open space available to the community. Additionally, there’s a new pack house at the farmer complex at 282 Intervale Road. Jointly owned by the Intervale Center and Intervale Community Farm, the pack house allows the Intervale Conservation Nursery, an enterprise of the Intervale Center, increase the number of trees they grow and sell by providing space for cold storage and an area to package harvested trees.

State awards $400,000 for nine EV charging stations

Governor Phil Scott has announced $400,000 in Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) Grant Program awards to nine towns and organizations across Vermont to install electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. The towns of Chester, Highgate, Norwich and Warren; the city of Montpelier; Marlboro College; Vermont Law School; City Place in Burlington; and Healthy Living Market in South Burlington were each awarded grant money to construct these stations. The grant money is derived from funds awarded to Vermont in the Volkswagen Mitigation settlement after the company violated the Clean Air Act.

State reaches lease agreement with DEW for Barre City Place

The State of Vermont and DEW Construction has signed a lease for Barre City Place on North Main Street in Barre, which will facilitate the move of Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) staff to Barre.

Norwich gets $200k grant from TD Foundation to build affordable homes

Funds from the TD Charitable Foundation will support the creation of Norwich University’s Design Build Collaborative. Building on the seven different affordable housing prototypes Norwich has developed since 2011, the Collaborative will not only continue to design and prototype regionally informed, resilient housing, but also organize and coordinate related research and programs between the schools that make up the College of Professional Schools: Architecture + Art; Business & Management; David Crawford School of Engineering; and Nursing to produce and site additional affordable homes in the next several years. The houses built through the Collaborative will be created for low-income Vermonters, providing a cost-effective means of homeownership.

Heritage Aviation converts to Benefit Corporation

The employee-owners of Heritage Aviation, located at Burlington International Airport, have formalized their commitment to using business as a force for good by converting to a Vermont Benefit Corporation, a decision that requires the company to consider not only financial responsibility to shareholders, but also social responsibility to employees, the environment, and their communities.

Scott appoints Lisa Hango to represent the Franklin-5 district

Governor Phil Scott has appointed Lisa Hango as Representative for the Franklin-5 district serving Highgate, Franklin, Berkshire, and Richford in the House of Representatives. Hango, a Republican, will serve the two-seat district along with Representative Charen Fegard (D). Hango, a resident of Berkshire, was appointed to fill the seat vacated by Joshua Aldrich, also a Republican.

Scott appoints Judy Henkin deputy commissioner of Corrections

Governor Phil Scott has announced the appointment of Judy Henkin as the next Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Corrections. Henkin, who will assume the role on February 19, takes over the position left vacant after then-Deputy Commissioner Mike Touchette was appointed commissioner of the Department of Corrections.

Vermont infrastructure earns overall GPA of 'C' from ASCE

The 2019 Report Card for Vermont’s Infrastructure has been released by the Vermont Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), giving nine categories of infrastructure an overall grade of “C.” The report assigned the following grades: aviation (C-), bridges (C+), dams (C), drinking water (C-), energy (B-), roads (C+), solid waste (B-), stormwater (D+) and wastewater (D+). A “C” is the same overall grade the state received in the 2014 Report Card for Vermont’s Infrastructure.

Vermont earns poor grades in ‘Tobacco’ report

Tobacco use remains the nation’s leading cause of preventable death and disease, taking an estimated 480,000 lives every year. This year’s “State of Tobacco Control” report from the American Lung Association finds Vermont had mixed progress on its efforts to reduce and prevent tobacco use. While the state is leading the way on Smokefree Air with an A grade, the American Lung Association calls on Governor Phil Scott to increase funding for tobacco prevention and control funding and raise the age of sale of tobacco products in order to reduce youth tobacco use and save lives.

Casella reports growth for Q4 and FY 2018

Casella Waste Systems, Inc (NASDAQ: CWST), a regional solid waste, recycling and resource management services company based in Rutland, has reported its financial results for the three- and 12-month periods ended December 31, 2018. The Company also provided guidance for the fiscal year ending December 31, 2019. Shares were up about a dollar the following morning to $34.80 and are trading on the high end of its 52-week range ($22.15 - $35.58).

Walter Cerf Community Fund provides $251,060 in grants

The Walter Cerf Community Fund (WCCF), a component fund of the Vermont Community Foundation, announces $251,060 in grants to 35 organizations to support work through summer 2019. The grants from the 2018 application round, some of which will be awarded over three years, support a range of organizations and projects focused on the arts, education, historic preservation, social services, and the needs of underserved populations—reflecting the pattern of giving established by Walter Cerf during his lifetime.

CBD store Ceres acquires organic maple beverage maker Tretap

Cere’s Natural Remedies, Vermont’s original CBD Store based in Burlington, has announced it has acquired Vermont based Tretap beverage company, creator of 100 percent organic sparkling water beverages from sustainably harvested maple tree water. The move will align the wellness-based missions of both brands and create a new line of high quality hemp derived CBD infused beverages. Both companies have grown in popularity by building reputations for high quality organic wellness-based products and innovative cultures that cater to a wide range of health minded consumers. 

DEC teams with CCV to offer free green production course

For many businesses in Vermont, protecting the environment is a key aspect of daily operations. To support companies interested in becoming more sustainable, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Community College of Vermont (CCV) are teaming up to offer a free class focused on green manufacturing and production.

Ledyard reports record earnings for 2018

Ledyard Financial Group, Inc (ticker symbol LFGP), the holding company for Ledyard National Bank, has reported record earnings for 2018 of $5,152,324, a 34 percent improvement over 2017. 2018 was the first time in the Company’s history that net income was over $5 million. Ledyard is based in Hanover, NH, with a branch in Norwich, Vermont.

VSP acquires new airboats to help with rescues and patrols

The Vermont State Police has a new tool to help with water and ice rescues, search and recovery operations, and more: a pair of 20-foot airboats. State police acquired the life-saving vessels entirely through federal grant funding. They are the first of their kind to be owned by the Vermont State Police. The boats are stored at the Williston Barracks but are available year-round for use statewide, from shallow areas of the Connecticut River to ice-covered portions of Lake Champlain, and everywhere in between.

ReSOURCE YouthBuild receives $900K from US Labor Dept

The US Department of Labor has awarded a $900,000 grant to ReSOURCE YouthBuild as part of an $85 million national grants award to YouthBuild programs in 32 states. ReSOURCE offers the only YouthBuild programs in the state of Vermont. ReSOURCE YouthBuild students, ages 16-24, have the opportunity to graduate with their high school diploma, learn construction skills, and earn construction certificates in OSHA10 and NCCER.

Energy Co-op expands services to North Hero

In response to an increasing number of Champlain Island year-round and seasonal homeowners looking for ways to use less energy and save money, the Energy Co-op of Vermont is now offering their full menu of services to the town of North Hero.

Inspections unearth underground storage tank violations

In February, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources concluded legal action against two Vermont entities that failed to perform and record monitoring of commercial underground storage tanks (USTs), as required by the Vermont Underground Storage Tank Rules. During routine inspections in July 2018, the Agency discovered violations of the UST Rules at the Williamstown Town Garage and at Cunningham’s Full Service Station, LLC, in Canaan.

GPMS and Bell helicopter announce exclusive distribution agreement

GPMS of Cornwall, Vermont, has entered into an exclusive distribution agreement with Bell for GPMS' Foresight MX predictive health monitoring system on Bell 407 helicopter models. The agreement allows Bell to leverage the industry's first true predictive health management system for helicopters and rotating industrial equipment to enhance the safety, and reduce operating costs and unscheduled maintenance events for helicopter operators.

Franklin farmers complete Nutrient Management Plan

Dairy and beef farming requires as much attention to the land as to the animals, and this winter 13 local farms dug into the details of improving their land. Through six weeks of class, farmers have worked to complete a Nutrient Management Plan. The plans will guide their nutrient applications and crop rotations for the coming years, aiming to improve farm productivity, soil health, and water quality.

Penguin Plunge raises $548,000 for Special Olympics Vermont

The 24th Annual Burlington & Cool Schools Penguin Plunge to benefit Special Olympics Vermont was held on February 2nd at the Burlington Waterfront. Despite temperatures in the teens, with an even lower wind chill, over 1,200 people braved the elements and plunged into the frigid waters of Lake Champlain. The Penguin Plunge is the largest fundraising event for Special Olympics Vermont, and this year, over $548,000 was raised to support sports training and competition, health screenings, and leadership opportunities for children and adults with intellectual disabilities in Vermont.

Saint Michael’s College a top producer of Fulbright scholars

Saint Michael’s College is included on the list of U.S. colleges and universities that produced the most 2018-2019 Fulbright U.S. students – that is, American college students awarded Fulbrights for educational experiences around the world. Fulbrights are highly competitive international grants given to students, scholars, professors and young professionals to study, research or teach overseas. Each year the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs announces the top producing institutions for the Fulbright Program, the U.S. government's flagship international educational exchange program.

Wake Robin CEO Patrick McKee to step down in September 2019

Patrick McKee, President & CEO at Wake Robin in Shelburne, has announced that he will be retiring from his position by Labor Day 2019. McKee has served as President and CEO of the non-profit, Lifecare Community since May 2014. During McKee’s tenure at Wake Robin, he has overseen the development and management of the Maple Expansion Project, which includes construction of a new apartment building, an expanded community center, and expansion and updates to the Linden Health Center.

Lisa Ryan of Rutland appointed to Vermont Commission on Women

The Senate Committee on Committees has appointed Lisa Ryan of Rutland to serve on the Vermont Commission on Women. Lisa Ryan is the Program Manager of the Rutland County Community Justice Center at BROC Community Action, where she provides restorative justice practices, including Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) and Restorative Circles, to the offender population. This work involves addressing crime and conflict through dispute resolution, training community volunteers, and overseeing reentry and reparative programs.

House gives final approval to H57, 'preserving the right to abortion'

House gave final approval to H.57, which codifies a woman’s existing right to access safe and legal abortion procedures in Vermont. While opponents criticized the bill as going too far, proponents were quick to point out that nothing in it changes the status quo in Vermont. Although abortions were decriminalized here in 1972, there is nothing in Vermont law that expressly addresses a women’s right to choose. The legislation passed the House 106-36 and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

UVM dean part of multi-school team to receive $5 million NSF grant

Linda Schadler, dean of the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences at the University of Vermont, is part of a nationwide collaboration that will collect data on nanocomposites. The project is funded through a five-year, $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Cyber-infrastructure for Sustained Scientific Innovation program.

Senate approves raising tobacco age to 21

The Vermont Senate has passed legislation  that would raise the legal age for tobacco purchases, including e-cigarettes, to 21. This would result in less tax revenue from such products. The effort is largely in response to sales of products like e-cigarettes to teenagers. The bill now moves to the House for action after the Town Meeting break.

Marijuana tax and regulate retail bill moves to House

The Vermont Senate has passed a bill to allow for the retail sale of marijuana. The bill, which refers to it as cannabis, includes a 10 percent tax, which would increase to 11 percent in towns that have a local option sales tax. The bill also allows for strict regulation of such sales. The House will now take up the bill. The Senate vote was 23-5, enough to override a veto from Governor Scott, who opposes it. The House would also need to have enough votes to override if it came to that.

First medical cannabis drive-thru opens in Vermont

For the first time, medical cannabis patients in Vermont now have the convenience of using a drive-through window to purchase products for pain relief and other ailments. Southern Vermont Wellness (SVW) is now approved to dispense its full range of medical cannabis products at its new home at 942 Putney Road in Brattleboro.

REV and GMP launch energy storage program

Green Mountain Power has partnered with Renewable Energy Vermont on a new Bring-Your-Own-Device battery-backup pilot program that will allow about 600 GMP customers to offset the costs of new energy-saving devices in their homes with incentives. Space in the pilot program is limited. When total enrollment reaches 2 megawatts of storage or about 600 customers, it will be full and no longer able to accept new customers. GMP reserves the right to access the stored energy to offset peak load costs.

More Vermont individuals are covered by health insurance

The Department of Vermont Health Access reports that enrollment in Vermont’s individual health plans increased to 34,396 in January, up nearly one percent from the prior year. The number of subsidized members and unsubsidized members both increased relative to the prior year. Due to increased federal subsidies for those who qualify, the average subsidized member is paying $131 per month in 2019, compared to $163 in 2018.

Encore Renewable gets $1M to expand solar projects in New England

The Flexible Capital Fund (Flex Fund) of Vermont, Coastal Enterprises (CEI) of Maine and New Hampshire Community Loan Fund (Community Loan Fund) has announced a joint investment of $1 million in Encore Renewable Energy, a Vermont-based clean energy company with a proven track record of reclaiming undervalued real estate for community-scale solar PV systems.

Middlebury to divest $55 million carbon portfolio

Students at Middlebury College are celebrating a win after a seven-year student-led campaign calling on the school to divest from fossil fuels succeeded January 29. Middlebury’s Board of Trustees unanimously has voted to fully divest the approximately $55 million of its $1.056 billion dollar endowment invested in the fossil fuel industry, over the next 15 years, as part of its Energy2028 plan.

Scott welcomes child care advocates Jennifer Garner and Mark Shriver

Governor Phil Scott, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe hosted Jennifer Garner and Mark K Shriver, CEO of Save the Children Action Network (SCAN), at the Robin’s Nest Child Care Center in Burlington to highlight the educational and economic impacts of increasing access to high-quality, affordable child care.

Ford Foundation President Walker to give UVM commencement address

Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, will be the University of Vermont’s 2019 commencement speaker. Walker has served as president of the foundation, an internationally renowned philanthropic organization, since June 2013. Among many successes in his career, he chaired the philanthropy committee that brought a positive resolution to the city of Detroit’s historic bankruptcy and is co-founder and chair of the U.S. Impact Investing Alliance.