A recent Rutland Herald editorial, entitled “Powering up,” concluded that we need to move with urgency toward the renewable power of the future. While that is correct, the editorial goes on to complain that “old ways” of thinking dominate the discussion in Vermont. At issue: the editorial then proceeds to propose “old ways” to move us forward.
When it comes to energy development in Vermont, the industrial wind industry leads the “old way” pack. Wind operators and developers have been living off federal subsidies since the early 1990s and have been wreaking havoc in Vermont for just as long. It’s time to boot them out of the state and employ creative Vermontsized energy solutions.
The editorial employs the “old way” strawman tactic when citing the arguments of industrial wind opponents. Legitimate concerns of Vermonters are minimized when the only argument acknowledged against ridgeline destruction is to mock “the exquisite timidity of those who grieve over birds killed by wind turbines.” It’s a cheap shot that does nothing to advance the conversation.
We should instead be talking about the entire range of problems industrial wind development brings to Vermont: mountaintop dynamiting, destruction of intact eco-systems, stormwater runoff, habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation, noise and health impacts to neighbors and wildlife, safety risks, community division, aesthetic degradation, tourism, property devaluation, and, yes, impacts on birds, bats, and even bears.
We should also talk about what does and doesn’t work. As environmentalist Suzanna Jones recently told us, “Despite the platitudes of its corporate and government backers, industrial wind has not reduced Vermont’s carbon emissions. Its intermittent nature makes it dependent on gas-fired power plants that inefficiently ramp up and down with the vicissitudes of the wind. Worse, it has been exposed as a renewable energy credit shell game that disguises and enables the burning of fossil fuels elsewhere.”
The editorial expresses concern about mass extinction facing numerous species around the globe. Bravo! Then let’s protect the ecosystems that will enable those species to migrate, adapt and survive and abandon the “old way” of thinking that allows our ridgelines and forest habitat to be destroyed by energy developers and their energy sprawl. As wildlife biologist Sue Morse tells us: “New England’s ridgelines will play an increasing and integral role as global climate change forces countless species of plant and animals to seek new habitats in which to adapt and survive.”
The editorial call for an improved large-scale infrastructure capable of transmitting intermittent power from remote, industrial-scale wind plants is another “old way” solution; rural areas are sacrificed to enable our unsustainable wastefulness. Treasured areas like the former Champion Lands, once valued for their ecological significance, become collateral damage. Large-scale transmission from rural to urban areas is a misguided “old way” use of our resources.
There is both wind and sun in our urban areas (Lake Champlain Wind Park, www.champlainwindpark.com) anyone?). We should be supporting renewable development in already-developed areas while protecting undeveloped areas.
We should also be emphasizing community scale generation facilities sited in the communities that they serve. This would reduce energy loss over lengthy transmission lines, improve system reliability, and preserve our vital wildlife habitat. This is the Vermont-scale approach that is in tune with Vermont values.
Some view turbines on distant ridgelines as a visible sign of our commitment to climate action. They’re wrong. A closer look shows that those turbines are exacerbating the very climate impacts that we wish to avoid. Industrial wind plants are putting money in the pockets of investors, developers and a few landowners, but they’re not addressing the very real and pressing problem of climate change.
The industrial wind lobby is fond of saying say we need to make sacrifices. We do. But where those sacrifices come from, whether or not they’re effective and, most certainly, who profits and who loses from them should shape our solutions. We need to change the way we live, we need to stop being so wasteful, and we need to support solutions that actually work. We need to invest in unsexy work of weatherization, efficiency and demand reduction. We should support renewable development in already-developed areas and prevent new development in resource rich areas. We should be focusing on the least destructive renewable technologies and develop microgrids around community scale generation.
Yes, we need to sacrifice, but that doesn’t mean sacrificing our natural resources. It means changing the way we live and protecting the earth. All of it.
Noreen Hession is a retired engineer, community organizer and environmental activist who lives in the Northeast Kingdom.