Representative Jim Masland of Thetford joined other Vermont legislators in a stand last week against a proposal that would exempt Vermont’s largest user of electric energy from the state’s Renewable Energy Standard (RES) and requirements of the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA). Masland was one of 22 House members and 6 Senators who signed a letter to the Vermont Public Utility Commission (PUC) requesting denial of a petition by GlobalFoundries to become an independent electric utility.
GlobalFoundries, one of the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturers, is the owner of the former IBM plant in Essex Jct. and Vermont’s largest private sector employer. By the company’s own account, it consumes 8% of the state’s electric energy, more than the entire city of Burlington. If approved, the proposal to establish a “self-managed utility” would allow GlobalFoundries to purchase power wholesale from generating stations without complying with the RES, rather than through Green Mountain Power (GMP), which must comply with the RES. Members of Gov. Phil Scott’s administration have endorsed the proposal, as well as a plan for the company to follow a greenhouse gas emissions protocol different from that required by the GWSA. A letter of intent, signed in October by the heads of the Department of Public Service and the Department of Environmental Conservation, describes a plan for GlobalFoundries to avoid rules enacted in the future. That plan stalled when it became clear that GF had provided the State inaccurate greenhouse gas emissions data.
Last Friday’s letter signed by Masland and the other legislators asking the PUC to deny the petition says, in part:
We believe that the PUC lacks the authority to approve or create a “self-managed” utility. This concept does not appear anywhere in Vermont statute and the concept thus ought to be subject to the legislative process, particularly at a time when other utilities and Vermonters will be working hard to comply with the requirements [of the RES and GWSA].
The Vermont Legislature has not enacted a statute authorizing the establishment of anything like a so-called “self-managed” utility, and has not granted rulemaking authority for the PUC to create such an entity. Nor has the Legislature authorized the PUC to establish a regulatory program in which a proposed “self-managed” utility, or any other entity like it, would be permitted to circumvent legislation such as the Renewable Energy Standard or the Global Warming Solutions Act.
Defining and exempting a new form of utility without legislative approval would set a dangerous precedent for both the Vermont Legislature and the PUC with regards to our respective roles and processes.
The nonprofit Conservation Law Foundation opposes the GlobalFoundries petition and has been granted intervenor status by the PUC. GlobalFoundries’ proposal is supported by both GMP and the State’s Department of Public Service.
There’s a question about why the State would advocate for a global corporation at the apparent expense of Vermonters who are being asked to make sacrifices to avoid runaway climate change. Some recent history regarding the operation raises even more questions.
GlobalFoundries is 89% owned by Mubadala Investment, United Arab Emirates’ sovereign wealth fund, with current assets of $243 billion. In April, 2021, GF moved its corporate headquarters to Malta, NY, where it plans to invest $1 billion in an existing semiconductor facility and an additional plant. In June, GF announced a $4 billion expansion of its facility in Singapore, in partnership with that country’s Economic Development Board. In July, GF's CEO met with the German finance minister and expressed confidence that there will be government financing to expand its facility in Dresden. GF has not announced comparable investments in Vermont.
Employment at the Essex Jct. plant reached a peak of about 8,500 in 2001 when IBM owned the operation. Since then the number of workers has steadily declined to less than 2,200 under GlobalFoundries’ ownership. The company says that its energy costs in Vermont are higher than at its New York facility, although GF has benefited from special low rates from GMP. The chip maker claims it will see 50% savings on energy costs if it’s allowed to become a self-managed utility, exempt from the RES. GF has threatened to “shutter its operations in Vermont” if doesn’t get the deal it wants.
However, GlobalFoundries may be planning to leave Vermont anyway. Under the proposal before the PUC, the exemption from the RES and GWSA would be transferred to a new owner when the facility is sold.
That raises the question, is the State of Vermont willing to dance to any tune that GlobalFoundries calls? Will our brave little state increase the resale value of GlobalFoundries’ property by making it singularly exempt from requirements of our climate laws, only to see the operation close up shop sometime in the next few years?
Masland and Thetford’s other two legislators are members of the Climate Solutions Caucus. Senator Mark MacDonald sits on the Natural Resources and Finance committees, which handle climate-related bills. Representative Tim Briglin chairs the Energy and Technology committee, where climate bills are considered. Briglin was a lead sponsor of the Global Warming Solutions Act.