By Don Keelan
Now that I am officially a retired CPA, I can devote a little more time to my own financial affairs — much of which have been ignored over the last 50 plus years.
I had decided to continue to maintain my office in Arlington and, in doing so, to look more closely at monthly expenses.
The billing from Green Mountain Power is about $75 to $80 per month. But what I found interesting in the detail of the charges were the assessments for energy efficiency charges and the Electric Assistance Program. The combination of the two amounted to approximately 9 percent of the total billing. This intrigued me.
I decided to investigate the former and found out that the monthly charge went to a nonprofit corporation in Burlington, Efficiency Vermont — an energy efficient utility controlled by the nonprofit Vermont Energy Investment Corporation.
VEIC is by no means your typical Vermont nonprofit entity. According to the entity’s latest reported Form 990 filing (fiscal year 2017), the Burlington company had annual revenues of $95 million and assets of $24 million. In addition to owning and operating Efficiency Vermont, VEIC operates in Ohio and Washington, D.C., where it works to bring efficiency to those regions’ electric users.
The mission of VEIC and its significant operating entity, Efficiency Vermont, is quite admirable: “Reduce the costs, both economic and environmental, of energy use.” I also reviewed its 125-page annual report and noted there are a host of areas where cost and energy usage reductions have been realized.
VEIC/EV, not unlike several other Vermont nonprofits — namely, the Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging and Vermont Housing Finance — are creatures of the Vermont Legislature. They are created as independent nonprofit companies with their own board of trustees who, in turn, hire the executives to operate the entities.
Then there is the issue of oversight. In the VEIC case, it is supposedly by the Vermont Public Utility Commission. Given the fact that the company receives tens of millions of dollars in transfer payments from Vermont residential and commercial electric ratepayers, some questions are raised based on VEIC’s 2017 data — for example, is there a justifiable need to have 373 employees to carry out the company’s mission, and is it necessary to have 12 executives annually earning between $151,000 and $186,000? Might the nonprofit company do just as well if it didn’t pay out $3,580,000 annually to independent contractors and consultants?
Payees were Capstone Community Action, Optimal Energy, Oracle, Techniart Inc., and Peer Consultants. The last three are out-of-state consulting firms.
But there’s more. Why is it necessary to have a Raleigh, North Carolina, CPA firm do the entity’s taxes when Vermont has many capable firms? Since the company and its mission are well known, why is it necessary to spend $928,000 on promotion and advertising, and who are the agencies that receive these dollars? Is the reason $885,000 went to travel expenses because the company has now branched out to Ohio and Washington, D.C.? Pretty expensive for a company that is Vermont-based.
Not many Vermont nonprofits could afford the $553,000 VEIC spends on conferences, conventions and meetings. Was this all spent in-state?
None of the above would be important to me if it wasn’t for the fact that the funding for this nonprofit is charged to Vermonters each month, who have little or no say on what is added to their electric bill.
And based on past experience, there is very little oversight from the Legislature or the Vermont attorney general’s office. The latter has the responsibility of overseeing how Vermont’s nonprofits are functioning, but rarely gets involved.
Several years ago, I was able to reduce the office heating oil consumption from 1,300 gallons per year to 400 by replacing 24 windows and the furnace. At the time, I never met any representatives from VEIC/EV.
Maybe I should just be satisfied that the charge I receive each month is not $50?
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.