The Energy Rebellion is a fizzle

In the runup to Tuesday’s primary, I suggested that Peter Galbraith’s candidacy could backfire on his allies in the anti-renewable camp. I thought he was likely to finish a poor third, and that could damage the antis’ claim to represent a sizable and growing force in Vermont politics.

Turns out, they may be loud but they’re not terribly numerous. Galbraith did worse than I thought, finishing with a mere nine percent of the Democratic primary vote.

It remains to be seen if Galbraith’s poor showing diminishes the pull of groups like Vermonters for a Clean Environment and Energize Vermont; but it sure can’t help them.

I can almost hear them arguing that their numbers were split among Galbraith and Republicans Phil Scott and Bruce Lisman. But even if Scott wins the governorship, Democrats will hold the legislative power, and they should be unimpressed by the small number of anti-wind voters in Democratic ranks.

oil-wind-cartoonEnergize Vermont has been pushing the Vermont Energy Rebellion, which it cites as proof of growing anti-renewable sentiment. It boasts of 160 “cities, towns, and villages” in the ranks of the Rebellion. But when you take a closer look, there’s a lot of holes in that cheese.

No city, town, village, or Gore has actually signed onto an “Energy Rebellion” manifesto, for no such things exists. Rather, Energize Vermont has defined the Rebellion to include any community that has (1) rewritten its town plan to limit renewable development, (2) passed a resolution calling on the state to reform siting policy, or (3) come out against a specific energy proposal.

That’s an extremely wide net. And the vast majority of those communities have taken the least impactful of the three steps: passing a nonbinding resolution in support of siting reform. (Most of those, presumably, did so before the Legislature passed a major siting reform bill this year. We have no idea how many communities are satisfied with the changes.)

Only 24 communities have adopted town plans that restrict renewable siting. Only 25 have officially come out in opposition to a specific renewable project. And some of those are double-counted — a single community has done both things.

Also, needless to say, most of them are very small. There’s been no evidence of anti-renewable sentiment in Vermont’s larger cities and towns. All respect to Warren’s Gore (pop. 4), but it doesn’t deserve a veto over state energy policy.

In short, a closer examination of the Great Energy Rebellion reveals exactly the same thing as Tuesday’s primary and all the independent opinion polls of recent years: a substantial majority of Vermonters support our 90-by-2050 goal, and support the deployment of wind, solar, and hydro as part of that effort.

And now comes news that eco-minded individuals and renewable-energy interests are finally organizing a clear political voice of their own. Wind Works VT aims “to make the case that wind is a locally generated, clean and renewable source of energy  critical to meeting the state’s renewable energy goals.” To me it’s a welcome development; the anti-wind activists have generally dominated the public debate with inadequate pushback from those who favor the buildout of renewables.

Wind Works VT doesn’t plan to insert itself directly in the gubernatorial campaign, but rather to focus on raising public awareness. Which is nice, but the race for governor could make a huge difference in short-term renewables policy. Sue Minter is all on board with the state’s goal of 90 percent renewable energy by 2050, and acknowledges that wind will have to be part of the mix. Phil Scott has called for a halt to ridgeline wind development.

One of the things on the next governor’s to-do list is to name a new chair of the Public Service Board. Current chair James Volz’ term expires in 2017. The next governor will also have the option of choosing a new public service commissioner; Phil Scott would be likely to choose renewable skeptics for both posts.

As for liberals who oppose wind, they will face a difficult choice in November: cast a single-issue vote for Phil Scott, or support their broader policy agreements with Sue Minter.

She is likely to lose a few votes with her pro-wind stance; but there’s no evidence that the anti-wind crowd can actually turn an election. If they prove me wrong I’ll admit it but, ehh, they won’t.

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16 thoughts on “The Energy Rebellion is a fizzle

  1. Norm Etkind

    “a substantial majority of Vermonters support our 90-by-2050 goal, and support the deployment of wind, solar, and hydro as part of that effort.”
    Oops – – no mention of Vermont’s home grown renewable energy – – biomass. Or, maybe, because trees are a form of stored solar energy, it is included with “solar” above?
    Can’t blame the Vermont Political Observer for this, none of the candidates addressed this in their energy policies either.
    Yet, 38% of Vermonters utilize this renewable, locally available, job creating, carbon neutral fuel to heat their homes (according to an F&P survey).
    Are the “no-combustion allowed” people dominating the conversation?

    Reply
    1. John S. Walters Post author

      It was an oversight on my part. Considering that my home’s electricity comes, in large part, from the Coventry methane plant, I should have mentioned biomass. Thanks for the reminder.

      Reply
  2. Sen. Joe Benning

    I know it’s your blog, but I sure wish you’d stop conflating those of us who dispute industrial wind as an appropriate tool in our Vermont renewables arsenal with those who simply deny the need for renewables. It’s getting rather old. We are, as you know, part of a regional grid system called ISO-New England. On days like today when there is little to no wind, guess what that grid system has to use to make up the slack to cover our endless desire for consumption? You can find it right now on their website (check the pie chart):

    http://iso-ne.org/isoexpress/

    Most of us agree with the goal of moving towards as much renewable energy as possible. That’s just plain common sense, given fossil fuels are a finite resource and what pollution has done to the planet. Some of us just don’t agree to buy hook, line and sinker the argument that this one particular tool (industrial wind) is a smart device for the limited confines of Vermont. Destroying heretofore protected natural habitats to support the kind of pitiful contribution clearly shown by ISO-New England’s own website should at least demonstrate that there is a legitimate argument to make that reaching our renewable goals can be better achieved with a different tool and/or a different approach. When you cavalierly dismiss that discussion, you’re really no better than the other extreme. The only thing that does is create polarization, and the last thing this state/nation/planet needs right now is more polarization. But I’ll admit, it’s your blog.

    Reply
    1. John S. Walters Post author

      The reason I use “anti-renewable” is that the activists might as well be against all of ’em. They seem to oppose every single plan that comes down the pike. If they had their way, there wouldn’t be wind or solar anywhere except maybe Burlington rooftops. And that rips the heart out of our renewables buildout.

      Also, if you can come up with a shorthand version that describes the movement more accurately in your mind, I’ll be happy to consider it.

      Reply
    2. Dave Katz

      “Polarization”!!!!! Hey, Joe– it’s YOUR GOP that brought us the The John Birch Society, Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon and his Southern Strategy, kicking off Reagan’s presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers were murdered, Iran/contra, Lee Atwater and Willie Horton, N. Leroy Gingrich, Frank Luntz, Dumbya Bush, Richard Cheney, Sarah Palin, and now The Dump! Don’t come on here and bleat about polarization, Joe. Where’s your honesty, man, after your beloved GOP has spent 40 years racing to the bottom by any and every conceivable metric of decency? In the end, have you no shame, sir? Have you no shame?

      Reply
      1. Sen. Joe Benning

        With all due respect Dave, finger pointing at the absurdities in national politics is the last thing Vermont needs in this discussion. We’re talking about Vermont’s approach to reaching renewable goals. My party, the VTGOP, has produced environmental champions like Dean Davis (Act 250) and Jim Jeffords (opposing acid rain on the very ridgelines now under attack by dynamite charges for industrial wind). And educational champions like Bob Stafford, Bill Doyle and Graham Newell. And real statesmen like George Aiken and Bob Gannett. Some of us in the VTGOP have not forgotten about that. I can’t change the national GOP image because I’m not in Washington, but that’s a different topic. I’ll do what I can as a Vermonter to bring civility and common sense into the environmental conversation now before us. I’d encourage you to do the same.

    3. johngreenberg

      Joe Benning:

      “On days like today when there is little to no wind, guess what that grid system has to use to make up the slack to cover our endless desire for consumption?”

      And on days when there’s a lot of wind? Guess what the grid doesn’t have to use.

      Wind is an intermittent resource: turbines produce electricity only when the wind blows. That’s hardly a trade secret.

      But here’s another non-secret: when the wind blows, wind turbines DO produce power, which means that natural gas plants DON’T. The gas plants don’t fold up their tents and disappear into the sunset; they “merely” stop emitting pollutants into the atmosphere.

      Apparently, you don’t think that’s a good trade-off.

      Since you don’t want to be ‘conflated’ “with those who simply deny the need for renewables,” please tell us how you’d prefer to eliminate at least as much fossil fuel pollution as the wind projects in Vermont you oppose.

      No answer –which is the response I get most of the time when asking this question — is a very clear endorsement of the status quo. No wind projects means those natural gas plants will continue emitting their pollutants, and your willingness to remove a key alternative (wind) without suggesting any alternative means that this is just fine by you.

      Reply
      1. Sen. Joe Benning

        Fair question John, but I’ve never argued for the status quo. You’ve labeled industrial wind as a “key alternative” in our renewable portfolio. I disagree, for several reasons, but that is hardly the end of the discussion.

        First, I think we need to frame the discussion by asking ourselves how MUCH energy Vermont actually needs. The answer to that question begins the discussion on how we obtain it, but skipping that question means we are blindly building for the sake of building. This is counter-productive. And given that some of us have worked like hell in the past to preserve our natural resources, and that every new build means at least SOME temporary or permanent destruction of those resources, it behooves us to be intelligent about how much we actually need. Building no more than we (Vermont) actually need makes us good stewards of the land.

        Secondly, it should be forbidden to sell RECs out of state. This too is counter-productive, because we are then forced to build more just to meet our own goals. It also leaves us vulnerable to get-rich-quick developers who seduce us with the idea that we are being good stewards of the planet. We need to stop being self-delusional with visions of grandeur. Lost REC’s and the reality of Vermont’s extremely small geographical confines need to be part of this discussion. Utilizing every square inch of our ridgelines will have absolutely no overall impact on climate change. But it sure would change our image- and not, IMHO, for the better. That’s part of why I don’t think this particular renewable tool is smart for Vermont.

        Another part makes me wish all the Vermonters who have concluded that nuclear is not a proper tool for our renewable portfolio would pause to use the same analysis when it comes to industrial wind. An analysis is possible, but it requires taking a step back from the name-calling and polarization. Our current industrial wind facilities are part of the ISO-New England grid. They are combined with all the other wind facilities in that regional system in a pie chart on the ISO-New England website. For comparison purposes, go there on the windiest days. You will see that their combined efforts are tiny in comparison to other sources. Is that puny contribution really worth the trade-off of destroying heretofore protected pristine natural resources? Personally, I don’t think so, especially when there are better alternatives.

        To me, solar makes more sense than wind, because there is less impact on the land needed. Removal of solar panels will instantly return agricultural land to its previous state. You cannot replace dynamited ridgelines. It remains to be seen whether the concrete pyramids being placed there will be removed once the technology is no longer useful. All of us are now nervous about final cleanup of Vermont Yankee. Do we not have the right to be nervous about those massive concrete pyramids atop our ridgelines as well? Just how will our descendants force out of state or out of country entities to remove them once they’ve exhausted their profit motives? We should recognize that our current problems getting Entergy to clean up Vermont Yankee are likely to be repeated, especially if current industrial wind facility ownership changes hands through the years.

        It also makes sense to me to utilize existing renewable infrastructure like Hydro-Quebec. I say this for two reasons. First, although I certainly felt sorry for those lands lost to HQ’s build-out and the indigenous people who were displaced, we cannot reverse that now. But there is abundant power already available from that source that can help Vermont reach its renewable goal. To reject that available power for the sake of making some sort of stand on principle is misguided, especially when the alternative means we destroy more of our own natural resources to do so. HQ is already part of our regional grid system and has been providing us with inexpensive power for decades. Secondly, and more importantly, hydro is BASELOAD power running 24/7, unlike either wind or solar. It only makes common sense to choose a source that works all the time if one has that option. We do have that option, but choosing it will require us to de-polarize and have a civil conversation to make intelligent choices.

        I’ll close by saying that new alternatives are being developed all the time and we should devote whatever resources we can to fostering them. I am especially interested in pursuing
        micro-hydro and finally achieving an energy storage system that works. I agree with you that the status quo is not acceptable, but I also believe Vermont should make good choices moving forward.

        Hope I’ve answered your question. Thanks for the opportunity to discuss it.

      2. John S. Walters Post author

        I don’t have time right now to give you a comprehensive response; I spent most of the weekend canning (hey, I’m a Vermonter!) and today’s a travel day (family business). But I will say this about your very first assertion:

        Why in the world should we limit ourselves to how much energy Vermont needs? Aren’t we part of a larger whole? Should North Dakota shut down the Bakken shale fields once their gas tanks are filled? Hey, if Vermont has renewable energy potential that we could develop for export, isn’t that capitalism at work? Should we shut down GlobalFoundries because we’ve got all the chips we need?

        Sorry, got wound up a little.

  3. Dave Katz

    Sure, sure, Joe. What-sanctimonious-freakin’-ever.
    Didn’t, uhhh, Jim Jeffords jump shit–I mean, ship–on your party, iirc? And hasn’t the VTGOP has been using Act 250 as a smear against government regulation since the first one of you characters crawled up on the beach on Saint Ronnie’s Morning In America, shed your fins, gills, and Rockefeller Republicanism, and started worshipping at the feet of N. LeRoy Gingrvitis, Frank Luntz, Rush Limbaugh, and Grover Norquist–yes, here too in Exceptional Vermont!
    You voted for W. Bush, too, like a good ol’ GOP apparatchik, amirite?–and don’t even think of Sneetching out of it, bub. That star won’t come off– you cheered him on every time his poll numbers bumped, and, when he and his unique brand of arrogant, criminal ignorance flamed out and crashed into the sea, you and the rest of your ilk conveniently threw your complicity in the Bush Era down the memory hole, and gulped the KoolAid of the Tea Party(TM), dincha? Even here in Exceptimonial Vermont! Why, yes, you did. What possible business does any anti-government ideologue have being in government, Joe, other than to be wrecking it?
    And, back on topic, the Koch Bras have in fact made derailing the renewable-energy train their #1 legislative priority: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/27/opinion/sunday/the-koch-attack-on-solar-energy.html
    When you publicly denounce the American Legislative Exchange Council, their lackey subscribers, and their corporate sponsors, Joe, be sure and get the press release out. I, for one, will be very interested to read it.

    Reply
  4. johngreenberg

    Joe Benning:

    Thanks for your reply.

    Unfortunately, you didn’t actually answer my question.

    Let’s begin with what we already know, which is what I called the status quo. Vermonters currently consume roughly 600 MW of electricity on an ongoing basis, which peaks to 1000-1100 MW at maximum peak load. While our supply picture is constantly changing, and dependent on which utility one looks at, overall, most of our electricity these days is coming from the ISO-NE grid with another substantial share from HQ. Currently, electricity supplies very little of our heating or transportation needs, although with the advent of heat pumps and electric vehicles, that could change in the future. For now, though, let’s just assume that we are going to focus solely on electricity as currently constituted.

    The ISO-NE grid mix consists of: 40% natural gas, 25% nuclear, 16% imports, 7% hydro, 7% other renewables (Wind is somewhat under 2%) and 5% coal and oil. http://www.iso-ne.com/about/key-stats/resource-mix

    From that starting point, let’s look at the points you raise:

    1) “ … we need to frame the discussion by asking ourselves how MUCH energy Vermont actually needs.” I agree that this is a key policy decision, but asking the question isn’t the same as answering it.

    Roughly 8 years ago, DPS commissioned a study of how much efficiency could be achieved by state policies, and around the same time, McKinsey did a nationwide survey. While the methodologies and assumptions differed considerably, the conclusions of both reports were roughly the same: by simply using power more efficiently, we could use roughly 20% less power and there would be a substantial net SAVINGS for doing so. In Vermont, the estimate was $1 billion in savings.

    These studies were both explicitly conservative: they did not include voluntary efforts (people who changed their light bulbs without any public incentives), they excluded efforts by utilities to eliminate line losses, they excluded any programs which were not cost-effective, etc.

    Please note that so far we are NOT talking about any change in lifestyle. Instead, we’re simply replacing less effective ways of doing things with better ways of doing the SAME thing: produce the same amount of light as before, but using less electricity; produce the same amount of power as before, but with a more efficient motor, etc. In my parlance, I call these efforts energy efficiency.

    We could – and I believe we should – also ask people to consume less: in Jimmy Carter’s phrasing, turn down the thermostat and put on a sweater. I like to think of this as energy conservation.

    As a policymaker, you need to ask (and answer) more than just your broad general question. First, how much of our current 1000 MW peak load can we lop off simply by implementing programs to achieve greater efficiency (and conservation)? Second, what programs do we need to put in place to achieve this goal? Then we can get to the real nitty gritty of who will do what, how much it will cost, who will pay for it, etc. (I have been pushing this agenda for years, but have yet to find a legislator willing to actually make this a core project).

    Simple arithmetic – assuming we don’t complicate things by discussing heating or transportation – will do the rest. I’m an efficiency/conservation optimist; I believe we can save ENORMOUSLY more than we now do, at less cost than what we are now doing. So let me throw out a figure by way of example: let’s say we can save 50% of the electricity we now use by implementing serious efficiency and conservation programs statewide AND eliminate any need for future demand growth as well. As a consequence, instead of needing 1100 MW at peak, we would now need approximately 550 MW.

    But now that we’ve decided on that goal, we can no longer rely any further on efficiency or conservation to supply the remaining power. So where will it come from?

    2) Before attempting an answer, let me pause to raise an issue your reply doesn’t consider. Utilities see their power portfolios quite similarly to the way individuals see their investment portfolios, and modern portfolio theory in both cases strongly recommends diversification in order to minimize risk. Putting all eggs in one basket is simply not a realistic option. Consequently, even though, 550MW of power COULD be obtained from HQ, for example, assuming the transmission capability were in place to transport the power, no planner would consider it prudent to buy all of this power from one source.

    In Vermont, our major shareholder utilities both put themselves in perilous financial straits with power portfolios that were roughly divided into 3 more or less equal components: nuclear (VY), hydro (HQ), and everything else. I suspect that asking utilities to return to that kind of dependence (33%) would be a struggle, and that anything more than that would be a losing proposition. And of course, we should all keep in mind that ultimately, it’s the utilities who make these decisions, within the strictures of law and regulations.

    With that in mind, let’s look at your remaining comments.

    3) You discuss nuclear power, but your discussion doesn’t make it clear what your actual conclusions are. VY is closed; that’s no longer an option. Keep in mind that we are already purchasing a substantial amount of our power through the grid and through long-term energy contracts with 3 of New England’s operating nukes. Also, 1 of the 4 (Pilgrim) will be closing in a few years.

    So, since you appear to lament the loss of VY, there are 2 potential nuclear options going forward: buy more power from the remaining nukes or build a new nuclear plant somewhere in New England. Since I don’t believe there’s any realistic possibility that the latter option will materialize, we are really left with just one nuclear option: buy more from existing plants.

    Finally, keep in mind that this is, at best, an interim solution. The 3 nukes which will remain after Pilgrim closes began operations in 1975, 1986, and 1990, and no commercial nuclear plant has operated for 50 years anywhere in the world (operating licenses and permits notwithstanding). So by 2040 (if not well before), there are not likely to be ANY nukes operating in New England.

    Without a substantial change in technology or politics, nuclear is a one or two decade possible option at best (in New England).

    4) Everyone loves rooftop solar, but at the very best, it can only account for, say, 5% of our new total demand figure. So if we’re going to build out more solar than that, it’s going to have to be larger-scale developments. Many of the same individuals opposing wind projects also oppose these utility-scale solar developments. Suffice it to say that, like wind, we will need to make more and better progress if we’re going to maximize our use of photovoltaic power in Vermont.

    So, with all this in mind, it’s your turn: since you don’t want to build any more wind projects, please provide some indications of how you would reach our new (post-efficiency and conservation) energy goals. Feel free to lower my 50% efficiency/conservation goal if you believe it’s too high. How specifically can we stop using as much natural gas, oil and coal generated power as we are now?

    You asked some of the right questions, but like most wind opponents, you’ve provided no real answers.

    *****

    Finally, let me clear up some miscellaneous points you raise. First, RECs. They’re a red herring here. RECs are sold annually. If and when Vermont implements near-term portfolio standards, developers will stop selling RECs to the extent that they are needed to meet the standard. Until then, selling RECs allows power to be sold at lower prices and saves Vermont ratepayers money. There’s much more to the issue, of course, but this is not the pertinent place.

    Second, decommissioning. The PSB requires wind developers (and solar developers) to set aside adequate funds to decommission their projects as a condition for receiving a CPG. So specifically: “Do we not have the right to be nervous about those massive concrete pyramids atop our ridgelines as well? No.

    Third, referring to the ISO-NE pie chart, you write: “You will see that their combined efforts are tiny in comparison to other sources.” There are 2 problems with this. First, if Vermont were to have 1100 MW of functioning wind – that is, if wind supplied ALL of our power – the ISO-NE pie chart would reach somewhere in the 5% range. Vermont is a VERY small player in the New England grid system. The second problem is that it’s more than a little disingenuous to fight every effort to actually build wind projects and then turn around and complain that they don’t supply much power. As the kids say, well duh.

    Final considerations. Up till now, I have left out two key points. First, developing in-state resources creates jobs (both directly and indirectly), tax revenues, and fosters economic development. Remarkably, in Vermont, we seem to be able to lament the loss of a few hundred jobs at VY while at the same time totally ignoring the development of more than 10,000 new jobs from renewable development and energy conservation. Succinctly put: in-state renewable development is becoming a key driver of our economy. This is true not only in Vermont, but worldwide.

    Second, a key consideration in all of this should be the scientific studies comparing energy sources. All of those I’ve seen show that wind and solar development creates LESS environmental and health damage than fossil fuels. Period. This is INDEPENDENT of the issue of global warming, which of course, heavily weights the equation further in favor of wind and solar. Ignoring the devastating pollution from fossil fuels while harping on every conceivable (and usually unproven) allegation about wind and solar is not a basis for rational discussion. Yet most of the Vermont dialogue is centered on just such a frankly foolhardy approach.

    I’ll close with just one example to underscore this last point. If every allegation were to prove true, wind development in Vermont MAY be linked to relatively minor health problems (stress, loss of sleep, etc.) affecting (generously) maybe 100 individuals. (However, it is important to note that the peer-reviewed literature has clearly been unable to establish ANY causal link between the kinds of problems reported here and elsewhere and wind turbine noise. Still, for the sake of argument, let’s just assume that the link is real.) Meanwhile, EPA studies have established that fossil fuels KILL thousands of individuals every year, and cause serious health damage (e.g. heart attacks, lung diseases, etc.) for thousands more. Which one do YOU think represents the greater health threat to Vermonters?

    In any serious public policy debate, it’s vital not to lose sight of the basis background facts. But thanks to a blinding flurry of propaganda, that’s precisely what we’ve done here in Vermont when it comes to renewable power development.

    Reply
    1. Dave Katz

      All extremely noteworty and valid observations, John. It is, I think, necessary to be brutally frank in considering what the intellectual arena of dealing with public policy has become, to wit: One side has jettisoned intellectualism and empirical reasoning and has actively been de-legitimizing it for a long time. The other side has all the traditional tools of dispute resolution in hand and ready to be used, but their opposite number isn’t going to go that proven- effective route. They’ve made reputations and garnered power to themselves over decades by deliberately dismantling the avenues of policy discussion and implementation and dismissing, with malice, the intellectual process itself.

      Here’s a quote from an article in VOX that captures the current zeitgeist in another context, but it’s a valid read as background summation:

      “But in conservative land, opinions like these are perfectly acceptable to hold. Outside criticism is dismissed as a product of liberal bias in media and academia, or as rank apologism for the Obama administration. This is the environment in which climate change denial flourishes, and the idea that cutting taxes on the rich decreases deficits can remain a respectable thing to say.

      “There is no bright line between Bret Stephens and Sean Hannity. They can both only exist in a conservative informational environment where independent intellectual authorities are disregarded and a certain set of politically convenient but indefensible ideas are treated as catechisms. The key difference is that Hannity is less pretentious about it.

      “Conservative politicians were all too happy to cater to these institutions — after all, they help them win. Several academic studies have found that Fox News has had statistically significant (if occasionally overstated) effect on Republican vote share in presidential elections.”

      Reply
    2. Sen. Joe Benning

      John:

      Thanks for your well thought out discussion. Let me begin by saying I completely agree with you on the need to be more efficient and conserve. I did not bring that up in my original statement because I was only discussing what build-out tools make sense moving forward. You are absolutely correct that conservation and efficiency should be our first step.

      Secondly, I also completely agree with you with respect to fossil fuels. It was certainly not my intention to leave you with the impression I was supporting either them or the status quo. This seems to be where needless battle lines are being drawn- that “you’re either with us or against us” mentality that has polarized us into paralysis. I might not have been clear enough, but I tried to say that I was very much interested in devoting resources to new alternatives and gave the example of micro hydro. Since then I’ve seen new technology utilizing the ocean’s currents and waves that offers yet another approach. The point is that I believe we should be fostering these kinds of efforts to provide alternatives to fossil fuels.

      With respect to nuclear, I remember arguing with my father when I was a teenager that the long term refuse from using that tool wasn’t worth the short term advantage of having the power, especially if other alternatives were available. I’ve never been a fan of nuclear. At most, I once described myself as “a reluctant supporter of Vermont Yankee” back in 2010 when I first ran for the senate. I said that at the time because I was weighing the loss of good jobs and a major, baseload power source against the evidence contending that the plant was dangerous. But I would not today argue that we build more nuclear.

      I’d like to set the record straight on my position regarding industrial solar. I am cognizant that rooftop solar will not alone fill our needs. I know there are some who disagree with me, but if our needs require build-out of an intermittent industrial anything I would MUCH prefer solar over wind. (I will always prefer baseload over intermittent.) Properly sited solar fields can blend in with an environment and image that we have heretofore protected. When the technology is no longer necessary, the removal of said fields will have little impact on the environment. Five hundred foot tall spinning skyscrapers built on gargantuan concrete pyramids that are enabled only after dynamiting pristine habitats that constitute our best carbon scrubbers just doesn’t fit Vermont’s image. No amount of decommissioning funds will ever replace what we’ve lost once that technology is no longer relevant. I never intended to dismiss industrial solar; I in fact prefer to choose that over industrial wind. My apologies if my comments gave confusion.

      We’ll have to agree to disagree on RECs. From my perspective, although these commodities have kept the price of renewables down, they’ve created in Vermont a sort of Wild West atmosphere of local and international developers salivating over our ridge lines. Since I’m absolutely opposed to destroying any more ridge lines, I don’t support them. I also think it is disingenuous to proclaim we’re being good stewards of the planet by using RECs to enable brown power elsewhere.

      I’ll close here by saying I really don’t think we are that far apart in our objectives. We both appear to be in agreement that a.) we need to conserve and be more efficient; b.) we need to move away from fossil fuels; c.) we need to move towards renewables; and d.) we need to invest in the research necessary to develop renewables. Our only point of contention appears to be what KIND of renewable tools make sense for Vermont. I’ve been to the top of Lowell mountain and I don’t like what I’ve seen there. If you’ve been there and don’t reach the same conclusion, I’m not sure how to bridge that gap, but I welcome the ability to continue the conversation. Thanks again.

      Reply
      1. johngreenberg

        Joe Benning:

        Again, thanks for your reply.

        But again, you didn’t really answer the question.

        Let me put it as starkly as possible. Our electricity supply is currently heavily dependent on fossil fuels, particularly on natural gas, and to a lesser extent nuclear power. Your comments indicate that you don’t support using either. (“I also completely agree with you with respect to fossil fuels” and “I would not today argue that we build more nuclear.”)

        You failed to address my comments on portfolio diversification, but I will take your silence as tacit consent. If that’s the case, there is only a limited amount more power we can purchase from HQ.

        You do endorse utility-scale solar, which can provide substantially more power in the future than it does currently.

        So, with wind taken out of the mix, how does one construct a power portfolio that makes any sense for Vermont? That is the challenge that confronts us, whether we admit it or not; those of us who choose to indulge in responsible public policy making are charged with providing some kind of roadmap as to how we plan to meet the challenge.

        Failure to do so effectively means either electricity blackouts or tacit support – willing or otherwise – for the sources available to the utilities which have to keep the lights on. That’s why I keep saying that not answering the question is tantamount to support (willing, witting, or otherwise) for the status quo. You have the luxury of vagueness and reliance on fostering future technologies. Utilities don’t.

        Let me address some of your specific points.

        1) “You are absolutely correct that conservation and efficiency should be our first step.” Excellent. How do we implement that as public policy for Vermont? Is my 50% goal reasonable/achievable? If so, it clearly will not be achieved by simply continuing our current efforts. So how do you propose that we get there?

        2) For the record, my comment did not advocate the use of RECs. I merely pointed out that, to the extent they are time-based, we can decide to stop relying on them whenever we want, and that doing so will raise rates for Vermont ratepayers. I do not recognize anything like the “Wild West atmosphere of local and international developers salivating over our ridge lines” that you describe, and consequently their relevance to this discussion remains unclear to me.

        3) “I will always prefer baseload over intermittent.” If our DEMAND for power were constant, such a preference would make total sense. But it isn’t. As I pointed out in a previous comment, there is a 400MW gap between Vermont’s baseload demand and its peak demand.

        Solar power corresponds almost perfectly to this gap, since it produces power pretty much during peak hours and peak seasons. Solar doesn’t produce any power at night, but we don’t USE much power at night either. Clearly, wind is more problematic in this regard.

        There is a lot of mythology floating around about the virtues of baseload power and the sins of intermittency, frankly thanks to the ongoing efforts of the anti-wind crowd to cloud the picture.

        In addition to the basic fact just pointed out, here’s one other: all grids must maintain reliable backup resources at all times or risk going dark when any resource (generation or transmission) fails. The plants which require the MOST backup are actually the largest generators, and they are usually baseload generating plants.

        ISO-NE plans its backup capacity around the largest generator (or transmission line) in any given area. Until a grid is heavily dependent on intermittent resources (which, almost by definition will be spread out over large geographical areas), it’s large plants, not wind projects that keep grid operators up at night. As I already mentioned previously, ALL of Vermont’s power (assuming supply = demand) is around 5% of the ISO-NE grid, and consequently not a major source of anxiety.

        4) “Five hundred foot tall spinning skyscrapers built on gargantuan concrete pyramids that are enabled only after dynamiting pristine habitats that constitute our best carbon scrubbers just doesn’t fit Vermont’s image. No amount of decommissioning funds will ever replace what we’ve lost once that technology is no longer relevant.”

        When I hear hyperbolic language like this, I wonder where you and those who share these sentiments were when every building, parking lot, industrial center, etc. was constructed in Vermont’s “pristine habitats.” No one but wind developers uses dynamite? Decommissioning a shopping mall will easily bring back the farmland it was built on? And where is ANY land in Vermont pristine? Since European settlement, this whole state has been transformed by human occupation. Those pristine ridgeline forests were once open fields for sheep and not all that long ago.

        When you’re ready to apply the same standards to EVERY OTHER DEVELOPMENT in Vermont that you apply to wind turbines, please let me know.

        Similarly, how does the standard you’re applying to wind fit any other energy sources? There are no oil developments in formerly pristine habitats? Natural gas pipelines flow only through already polluted neighborhoods? No habitats or carbon scrubbers are removed to provide the fuels, the plants that burn them, etc.?

        Coal and nuclear are not mined with industrial resources and dynamite? And when we’ve burned all these fuels, how easily will we decommission the waste products?

        Let me close by stating my continuing problem with your position succinctly. We need to replace our dependence on fossil and nuclear resources as soon as possible or continue to pollute our planet. We now know that, in addition to all the other pollutants of concern, fossil fuel burning risks bringing on changes which will be far greater than a few sticks of dynamite or a few acres of ridgeline.

        Currently, there are few tools available for making this transition. Removing any of them, for what still appear to be entirely specious reasons (sorry) is not going to take us in the direction we need to go.

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