For decades, organizations including Vermont Natural Resources Council, Conservation Law Foundation, Sierra Club, Vermont Public Interest Research Group, Preservation Trust and others could be counted on to show up at the merest hint of potential development anywhere in Vermont. Lobbying in Montpellier and using Act 250 and local regulations, those groups helped preserve the landscape that we love.
But now, as our pristine countryside is being truly inundated by a massive influx of industrial-sized power plants with far greater impact on the landscape than the worst imaginable fracking operation, all of those so-called “guardians” seem to have just quietly faded into the remaining, yet-to-be-clearcut-for-solar forest.
In just the past few years, more acres of productive farmland have already been industrialized than all commercial and residential development consumed in the previous generation. Just take a drive on any of our former “scenic” highways. Deceitfully called solar “farms” by some slick PR firm, these projects are, in fact, industrial developments on a scale never before seen in our state. As they age and rust, and become overgrown with popple, the negative impact on our visual environment will only vastly increase, since the front-loaded subsidies that created them will not be there for maintenance or decommissioning.
Nevertheless, by official state policy, 10 times as much land will soon be consumed to meet the dubious goals of the current government in Montpelier. Many more of these factories are presently in the scheduling pipeline than already exist. Yet, there is virtually no opportunity for communities or individuals to object — and no organized opposition.
We have many appropriate places for solar ventures including rooftops, parking lots, landfills, existing industrial parks, and underutilized urban properties.
Meanwhile, our elected representatives have eliminated the tools, including Act 250 and local zoning, which previously protected us from such massive industrialization. Answering widespread concern in true political fashion, the Legislature appointed a “task force,” primarily comprised of solar advocates and profiteers, to “consider” changing solar siting standards.
The issue is not that solar energy development is inherently wrong — though it makes little economic sense in Vermont’s climate without massive subsidies. We have many appropriate places for solar ventures including rooftops, parking lots, landfills, existing industrial parks, and underutilized urban properties.
The simple fact is that it is far easier and more profitable to build these projects on cheaper open farmland, with the inherent blessing of state regulators, than to place them in an area of existing development: providing a windfall for out-of-state investors cashing in on the subsidies provided by hard-working Vermonters.
And yet the guardians remain silent.
Is it because they truly believe that a possible miniscule effect on global warming is worth the destruction of Vermont’s tenuous agricultural economy, world-renowned working landscape, and vital tourist industry? Hopefully, is it not because they have been bought out, like the Legislature and administration, by the very aggressive solar lobby.
Massive solar arrays are NOT “farms,” they are industrial developments incompatible with Vermont’s pastoral landscape!
The Legislature’s Solar Siting Task Force meets at 10 a.m. on Sept. 17 at the Public Service Department.
Editor’s note: This commentary is by Leonard Duffy, who is an architect, artist and inventor based in Hinesburg. As a licensed architect in Vermont since 1973, he has testified on aesthetic issues before district environmental commissions, the Environmental Board, and Vermont courts. He served as chairman of both the Hinesburg and Chittenden regional planning commissions, as well as co-chair of a state ANR committee formed to develop improved standards for Act 250 Criterion 8, Aesthetics.