Things is gettin’ a little cray-cray on the anti-renewables front, with signs of truly irrational behavior among those who don’t want solar farms anywhere, anyhow, anytime, anyplace, some of whom appear to harbor delusions that solar energy is our worst ecological nightmare. Others exhibit the more garden-variety strains of obstinate oppositionalism.
We begin down Bennington way, where it’s harvesting season in the nutbar orchard. In Pownal, Fire District No. 2 wants to install a 500-kW solar farm on the land where its pump and wellhead are located. The revenue would cover the cost of the FD’s water system, something local taxpayers have been unwilling to do.
(The array, FYI, would be less than half a square mile. Which, in terms of a sweeping Vermont landscape, simply isn’t that large. Small price to pay for keeping everyone’s fire fees low.)
There were the predictable anti-solar reactions — spoiling the view, affecting property values — but this one takes the cake:
Attendees expressed concern over possible pollution from the array, a risk of fire or explosion, and long-term logistics with the array’s maintenance and decommissioning.
A risk of fire or explosion?
There’s plenty of stupid in the rest of the article, but I’ll just stop there. Anyone suggesting spontaneous combustion at a solar array has forfeited all credibility.
And we have more stupid to get to. Starting right next door in Bennington, where the Select Board is trying to block two proposed solar projects. Last week, it voted to bring its concerns to state regulators:
The board is requesting the Public Service Board halt both solar projects because of “the inevitable damage to environmental, historical, safety, visual, and aesthetics of the surroundings.”
Emptying the bag, are we? Throwing everything against the wall and hoping something will stick?
Perhaps I shouldn’t expect any better from the town that, earlier this year, rejected fluoridation. Bennington seems not to be too big on science ’n stuff.
Both of these stories illustrate an unfortunate trend in reporting on solar projects. In both cases, the concerns were raised by fewer than 20 people — and yet, they received generous coverage in the local press. If you don’t read the stories closely, you could easily assume a mass uprising had taken place. The same thing happens time after time: a few people get shouty, and the media cover them like they’re a jam-packed Bernie Sanders rally.
Check that: Bernie doesn’t get nearly as much ink.
Speaking of faux uprisings, we turn our attention to Windsor, where a proposal by Green Mountain Power to build a solar farm on the grounds of the Southeast State Correctional Facility has prompted yelps from a handful of residents and panicky overreaction from their local elected officials.
One resident complained of “a huge impact on a beautiful piece of property.”
A state prison. Really, now.
Oh wait, that resident has a vested interest:
“It seems like a huge impact on a beautiful piece of property to power 1,200 homes,” said Sue Marchand-LeBrun, who skis on the land.
Aha. She’d have to find somewhere else to ski. In Vermont.
Such a hassle.
Okay, so tell us of the rampant despoliation this project would bring.
The array would stand eight feet high and would be surrounded by a fence to keep people out but allow small animals to move through the property. A skiing and hiking trail would cut through the middle of the array. The town would receive an estimated $45,000 yearly in property taxes on the array and after 25 years, there are two, five-year options to extend its use. After 35 years, the array would be decommissioned and the property returned to its current state. According to Kirk Shield, GMP’s director of development, the property is not considered prime agricultural soils, correcting a claim by project opponents.
Huh. Sounds like a well-designed project that would have minimal environmental impact while generating enough energy to “power 1,200 homes and help GMP toward its state mandated goal of having 55 percent of its power coming from renewable sources by 2017.” (And we do want Vermont to generate more renewable power, don’t we? Please?)
Ms. Marchand-Lebrun could even continue to ski there, if she can’t find anywhere else to ski. In Vermont.
Just about every time a solar array is proposed, someone raises the “prime agricultural land” canard. As if, somehow, farming is suddenly going to explode* and occupy all the available land.
*Pardon the expression, good people of Pownal.
Look, I’m all in favor of farming. I want more farming and more local food. My local farmers’ market is a must-stop on my weekend schedule. But Vermont has lots and lots of arable land that’s going unused, and you can’t classify every potential solar site as “prime agricultural.” The construction of a reasonable number of solar farms is not going to, in any way, shape, or form, hamstring the growth of Vermont farming.
At least nobody is using that argument in today final case study: a proposed solar array in Strafford, “on the site of the former Elizabeth Mine.” For those just joining us, that was an old copper mine turned environmental nightmare, one of the worst Superfund sites in Vermont.
The Environmental Protection Agency spent more than $50 million cleaning up the defunct copper mine after finding contaminants from mining from the early 1800s to 1950s were reaching the area’s waterways.
Because of the Superfund designation, “most other uses are banned.” And it’s an ideal site for solar, according to Dori Wolfe of Wolfe Energy, which is proposing the project: “It is a beautiful solar site, 28 acres of flat level already cleared.”
There have been some rumblings of discontent, but it’s too soon to say whether serious oppposition will arise in Strafford. I will say this: if the old Elizabeth Mine is to be considered untouchable for solar development, then what’s left? Anyone who trots out the “environmental degradation” or “property value” or “preservation” arguments for a goddamn Superfund site will have also forfeited their credibility.
I don’t mind reasonable restrictions on solar development, really I don’t. But when every solar proposal elicits screams of protest, then I can’t take the opponents seriously. They are not credible participants in a logical discussion about the future of renewable energy in Vermont. They are, purely and simply, obstructionists.