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Wind At Their Backs? II

Annette Smith, the head of Vermonters for a Clean Environment (VCE), the only green group opposing wind power in Vermont (the other, Energize Vermont, is really a VCE spinoff) said she had spent a lot of time discussing the wind issue with officials of the other environmental groups, and suspects that one reason they are all so pro-wind is that a few of them have some financial connections with wind power companies.

So you want to build a whole bunch of wind towers on a Vermont mountaintop to generate electricity?

Not so fast. First you have to comply with a whole bunch of state and federal laws designed to make sure that - among other things - the roads you build up to and along those ridges, plus the huge platforms on which your towers will sit, don't pollute the water. All that excavation can cause erosion. Cutting trees along stream banks means less shade, hence warmer water. The law says the water can't be made more than one degree warmer or otherwise "degraded."

So what to do?

One obvious technique - the one preferred by most environmentalists - is first to test the streams. Take their temperature. Check for pollutants. Measure acidity and turbidity (suspended sediments in the water). That provides a baseline, a foundation for judging , as the project proceeds, whether the excavation and construction is doing unacceptable damage to the mountain waterways.

"How else to determine degradation?" asked Stephanie Kaplan, the Calais lawyer representing opponents of the wind project now under construction in Sheffield. "The logical thing is to test before and then during and after" to measure the impact, she... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

So you want to build a whole bunch of wind towers on a Vermont mountaintop to generate electricity?

Not so fast. First you have to comply with a whole bunch of state and federal laws designed to make sure that - among other things - the roads you build up to and along those ridges, plus the huge platforms on which your towers will sit, don't pollute the water. All that excavation can cause erosion. Cutting trees along stream banks means less shade, hence warmer water. The law says the water can't be made more than one degree warmer or otherwise "degraded."

So what to do?

One obvious technique - the one preferred by most environmentalists - is first to test the streams. Take their temperature. Check for pollutants. Measure acidity and turbidity (suspended sediments in the water). That provides a baseline, a foundation for judging , as the project proceeds, whether the excavation and construction is doing unacceptable damage to the mountain waterways.

"How else to determine degradation?" asked Stephanie Kaplan, the Calais lawyer representing opponents of the wind project now under construction in Sheffield. "The logical thing is to test before and then during and after" to measure the impact, she said.

That's not the way it's being done. Instead, First Wind, the developer of the Sheffield project, has committed to perform the work using "Best Management Practices (BMPs). Under this theory, if BMPs are followed, then, ipso facto, the streams are not being polluted.

Huh?

Well, it may sound absurd, but it seems to be legal. The Agency of Natural Resources endorsed the policy. So did Environmental Court Judge Meredith Wright. Though her decision is under appeal, the bulldozers, dynamiters, and chain saws are working on the Sheffield project.

Kaplan is convinced she has a chance to get the State Supreme Court to overturn the Environmental Court decision. She acknowledges that in some cases the statute (10 V.S.A. ยง 1264) allows for using BMPs. But it also says a project "can not raise the temperature more than one degree Fahrenheit, can not degrade the water, can not change the ph. Water quality standards have standards. If they are to mean anything there has to be way to determine whether these things are occurring."

Kaplan and her allies in the outnumbered and (so far) outgunned anti-wind forces in Vermont are both mystified and infuriated by the judge's decision, by the ANR's efforts on behalf of wind power, and perhaps most of all by the acquiescence of the state's mainstream environmental organizations. In the past, those organizations often opposed using BMPs as a substitute for actual stream monitoring. Their silence in this case only reinforced the suspicions of the anti-wind forces that the fix was in against them, that Vermont's establishment - government officials, politicians, the media, and even most environmentalists were stubbornly locked into their support for more wind power, regardless of the consequences.

"They all love wind, no matter what," Kaplan said.

(Though apparently not all with the same ardor. The Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) and League of Conservation Voters are the most gung ho for wind development. The Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC) is more ambivalent. Its water resources expert, Jon Groveman, also disagrees with Judge Wright's decision on the BMPs. The Conservation Law Foundation is generally pro-wind but has not taken a position on most of the specific proposed projects in the state)

"I'm a little baffled, myself," said Annette Smith, the head of Vermonters for a Clean Environment (VCE), the only green group opposing wind power in Vermont (the other, Energize Vermont, is really a VCE spinoff). Smith said she had spent a lot of time discussing the wind issue with officials of the other environmental groups, and suspects that one reason they are all so pro-wind is that a few of them have some financial connections with wind power companies.

Wind power has obviously created a schism in the green community, one which reached its apex (so far) last week when the mainstreamers rejected an advertisement Kaplan wanted to buy in the program for an environmental conference Saturday on behalf of "citizens working to protect their communities, mountains, wildlife and streams from the environmental destruction caused by industrial wind turbines."

The language and tone did not "match our community position," said one environmentalist, in urging that the ad not be published.

Touchy, touchy. But there is ample ill will and possible misunderstanding on both sides of this green civil war. These wind projects are not the first ones in which officials have used Best Management Practices to determine compliance. In fact, similar standards are used in enforcing environmental (and other) regulations all around the country.

Furthermore, these ridges are not wilderness. They have been logged, often more than once. Vermont has never made a decision to protect its privately owned ridge lines from development, however remote and beautiful they may be. Which is another way of saying that the state has made a decision not to protect them, but to allow development on them.

"We haven't said no to high elevation development in Vermont," said Chris Kilian of CLF. "In fact, we said yes to ski areas. We have restaurants on the top of our mountains. Vermont made a major strategic decision to open up summits to development."

Kilian said he is not entirely happy about all this situation, and thinks perhaps high elevation projects should "be analyzed in a different way."

Another thing Vermont has not done, said Elizabeth Courtney of the VNRC, is implement a statewide energy plan. With one, officials might be able to determine how much additional power generation the state needed and how it should be supplied. Without one, she said, "the developer gets to choose where the project goes, not the people."

Assuming, of course, that the developer can get approval from the Public Service Board and the Agency of Natural Resources. But that doesn't seem to be difficult. Even though it isn't clear that more generating capacity is needed, even if the wind projects rip up the mountains, official Vermont, backed by most of the state's environmental lobbyists, appears determined to approve wind power.

Because even though they might be a bit hyper-sensitive, Stephanie Kaplan, Annette Smith and their small band of allies are right: the fix is in for wind power in Vermont. Not because anyone (except the wind developers and some landowners) are making money or have been corrupted by donations. But because being pro-wind has simply become the established wisdom. It's rather like being pro-choice on abortion in some circles. Everybody one knows, all the "right people" are pro-wind.

And it's easy to see why. The anti-wind forces have been allied with the coal and oil industries or with nuclear power, specifically the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant which Vermont environmentalists have been battling for years.

Or - worse - the anti-wind camp is part of the climate change denial school, the minority (but a very well-financed minority) which defies the scientific consensus that the world is warming because people are burning too much oil and coal. At least after the turbines have been built and installed, wind power produces almost no greenhouse gasses.

Anyone wanting to understand why Vermont environmentalists are so devoted to wind power need only read from the opening paragraph of the recent joint statement they released, where they expressed their "deep concern that society has not moved fast or aggressively enough to address the most urgent environmental crisis in human history: climate change."

On that, they are as correct as they are sincere. And they are sincere in their conviction that exploiting Vermont's wind power potential can ease this crisis, can produce enough power to allow the state, the region, the country to burn less coal and oil, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. production and easing the impact of global warming.

If they're right about that, they could have a good case that it's worth blowing up a few mountains.

But suppose they're wrong about that.


Source: http://www.vermontnewsguy.c...

NOV 17 2010
http://www.windaction.org/posts/28990-wind-at-their-backs-ii
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