Vermont is experiencing an environmental crisis similar to the late sixties when real estate development was exploding with bad consequences for the Vermont landscape. At that time the problem was rampant large scale second home development, particularly around ski areas, without any consideration for the effect on the environment. Today it is unrestrained large scale industrial solar and wind development.
It was almost 50 years ago when the alarm was sounded and a bipartisan effort was undertaken to rein in the land developers. I was employed on the office of Attorney General Jim Jeffords and remember well the sense of crisis because mostly out of state corporations were buying large tracts of pristine land and subdividing them without any consideration even for septic disposal (“Killington where the affluent meet the effluent”).
Emergency regulations were issued and then Act 250 was crafted, modeled on Hawaii’s statewide land use law, and passed with bipartisan legislative support.
We have a similar situation today. Large scale industrial, solar and wind developments are being built with virtually no control over siting. The Public Service Board’s “build everywhere” policy is wrecking the iconic landscape that makes our state a special place underlies our tourist and second home economy.
An approach more respectful of Vermont’s fragile environment and viewscapes would be to remove siting control from our utility regulatory board and to allow local zoning and planning and Act 250 to control siting of these obtrusive developments. Act 250 is not perfect but it has played an important part over the years in protecting Vermont from some of the environmental messes in other states.
Construction might be slowed by treating wind and solar like other industrial uses, but it will occur in a deliberate and not a “gold rush” fashion. What’s the hurry? Congress has now renewed developer tax credits so that the deadline for building has been extended for five years.
Yes, Vermont should be making a contribution to reducing global carbon emissions but respectful of our unique landscape, and particularly considering that almost all our electricity is generated by low emission gas and zero emission hydro and, recently, a small amount of wind and solar when the wind blows and/or the sun shines.
Most of our emissions are from vehicle use and burning heating oil. Our electricity generation mix has for years been among the greenest in the country. Unlike the majority of states, our electricity does not come from coal or oil. Why does making a reasonable contribution to global climate control require cutting off pieces of our mountains and ridges and erecting 500-foot-high turbines and trying to cover the state with large clumps of solar collectors?
People move to Vermont and tourists come here to experience a relatively unspoiled and non-industrial landscape. People buy houses feeling protected by local zoning and planning only to find that state law allows industrial wind and solar developers to override the protections.
This is a land use crisis no less than in the sixties. Our unique Vermont landscape is at serious risk. Hopefully, our current Legislature will come to the rescue as its predecessor did in enacting Act 250 in 1970.
Ed Amidon lives in Charlotte.