Acceptable taint

The good people of Vernon have taken it in the shorts since the closing of Vermont Yankee. Actually, they’ve just begun to take it in the shorts. VTDigger’s Son of the South Mike Faher:

Vernon, like all of Windham County, still is in the early phases of grappling with the economic blow of Vermont Yankee’s shutdown. The workforce has been cut roughly in half since the plant stopped producing power Dec. 29, and more job losses are scheduled for 2016.

But, Faher reports, relief may be on the way — in the form of a proposed natural gas-fired power plant. Such a facility would take advantage of the robust electrical infrastructure that used to carry VY’s power far and wide. It wouldn’t provide as many jobs as the old nuke, but it would do much to soften the blow.

It’s all very tentative at this point. Such a plant would need a supply of natural gas, and right now it isn’t anywhere near a pipeline. However, there is a proposed pipeline that would run through northern Massachusetts a mere seven miles away from Vernon. Short spur pipeline northward, and voila — plenty of gas for a power plant.

I’m sure there will be plenty of opposition from the enviro community — FRACKED GAS, OMG OMG — although perhaps not as vociferous as in the case of the Vermont Gas Company pipeline through the Champlain Valley. But it brings to mind an interesting thought exercise: Is there an acceptable level of fracked-gas taint?

Truth is, Vermont gets the majority of its electricity from natural gas-fired power plants. They just happen to be located elsewhere, so we can view ourselves as pure of immediate responsibility for fracking and the continued burning of fossil fuel. Out of sight, out of mind, right? We’d rather indirectly burn natural gas than, say, build solar and wind farms, I guess.

So apparently we’re okay with getting our natural gas electricity from outside Vermont, but we don’t want to sully ourselves with a pipeline inside our borders. So what about Vernon?

It’s only barely in Vermont. The pipeline would only run a few miles inside our borders. The emissions from the plant would blow eastward, away from us.

Okay, I admit I’m trolling a little bit. But here’s the real question: if a gas-fired plant would help Vernon get through the existential crisis of Life After Yankee, are we willing to accept a little bit of fracking taint to make that happen?

And if we aren’t, then what responsibility — if any — do we have to help Vernon find another way?

Here’s my thing, and maybe it’s just me. I want to preserve our environment, I really do. But I don’t feel comfortable with simply saying “No” to every idea that comes down the pike. We have to provide some measure of opportunity for all Vermonters.

This is one of the reasons the liberal cause has lost part of the working and middle classes: we seem more interested in our own notions of purity than in their well-being.

There needs to be a balance between environment and economy. We have to be able to say “Yes” some of the time. In this case, if everything falls into place — the Massachusetts pipeline is built, a suitable site for a gas plant can be found, and the local community wants it — then I’d be in favor of it, fracked gas and all.

Indeed, for all those touting “local control” in the case of solar and wind, what happens when a community actually wants a development you don’t like?

I don’t have simple answers here. I do believe we have to be honest about the tough questions.

1 thought on “Acceptable taint

  1. jillm

    What is critical is a comprehensive plan, with teeth and funding, for southern Vermont that puts in place (should have already put in place, since we knew this was coming) the components of a new Southern Vermont economy. Folks in southern Vermont have been working on this, and have had some funds to do the planning, but this must be a whole state strategy with the funding to implement it. And no, I don’t live in Southern VT, I live in the central part of the state, but we all need to make a commitment to fall and rise together statewide.


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