Category Archives: Energy

The case for wind

Most of Vermont’s media coverage of wind energy tells a David-and-Goliath story: the plucky locals and underdog activists going up against a corporate developer and the state regulatory system.

The pro-wind case usually gets short shrift. But even when it gets equal time, it’s almost always in response to anti-wind arguments. Rarely, if ever, is the positive case for wind given a fair hearing. As a result, there’s quite a bit of stuff about large-scale wind that most Vermonters don’t know. Here’s a list, with details to follow.

— For all our bluster about fossil fuels and gas pipelines, Vermont remains heavily dependent on fossil fuels, including fracked gas.

— Wind is a necessary component of a renewable system. There is no way we can reach our “90 percent by 2050” goal without large-scale wind.

— Wind has huge economic benefits, including tax payments to local and state governments and a healthier trade balance.

— Large-scale wind cannot be replaced by residential  turbines. It just doesn’t work. And replacing large-scale wind with more solar would dramatically increase solar’s footprint on our landscape.

— Thanks to recent advances, large-scale wind no longer has to be sited on the highest mountaintops. Lower ridges and hills are now suitable sites.

— Siting on developed land and rooftops is good, but it’s only a fraction of what we need. There aren’t nearly enough developed sites and roofs in Vermont.

And now for the details.

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Four anti-wind activists ran for the House. They went 0-for-4.

The one-sided votes in Grafton and Windham against the Stiles Brook project were victories for the anti-wind movement. But there were some setbacks that call into question the movement’s political sway.

Four prominent opponents of ridgeline wind were candidates for the State House this year. None were elected.

Each race was different, and generalizing form a small sample size is a mug’s game. But there are a couple of inferences that strike me as valid.

1. The anti-wind movement is not strong enough to have a measurable impact on elections. The results support the movement’s image as noisy and dedicated, but numerically small. There aren’t many voters who are motivated by the issue.

2. The movement is hamstrung by its own political divisions. There are anti-wind activists in all three of Vermont’s major parties*. Two of the four losing candidates ran as Democrats; the other two as Republicans.

*Liberty Union may be a Major Party by Vermont’s very generous legal standard, but it is not a “major party” by any objective measure.

So now, let’s review the four anti-wind losers.

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I seem to have struck a nerve

In my roughly five years of blogging about Vermont politics, I’ve criticized just about everybody at one time or another. Even our sainted Congressional delegation has come in for a bit of bashing here and there. For the most part, my targets handle it well. (Either that, or I’m beneath their notice.)

But there’s one group that is more easily offended than any other, and more likely to react badly. It’s not politicians or operatives or lobbyists or bureaucrats.

No, it’s media organizations.

Curious, if you think about it. The media is accustomed to dishing it out, but has a harder time taking it.

The touchiest media outlets in Vermont are the Burlington Free Press (blocked my access to its Twitter feed) and VPR (one staffer told me I “hate VPR”, which is not true; I hold it to a high standard because it’s so richly resourced in an age of media shrinkage).

To that list we can now add VTDigger. Which is a shame because I respect and support ($10 per month) its work. But this year, Digger has failed to live up to its own standards on the subject of ridgeline wind. I have recently written three pieces exploring Digger’s apparent bias on the issue; the most recent was posted last weekend.

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VTDigger punts on third down

it looks as though Vermont’s best nonprofit news organization has stepped away from the hot-button issue of the Stiles Brook wind farm on the Windham/Grafton border.

From what I hear, VTDigger decided a couple weeks ago that it would stop covering the story. At least until after Tuesday’s advisory vote.

Which is too bad. I mean, from my point of view, better no coverage than the badly one-sided anti-wind stories Digger had been posting. But I’d much rather they examined their product and took steps to improve it. Dropping the subject like a hot potato looks like timidity, not a desirable quality in a journalistic enterprise.

Plus, in calling a halt to its coverage, its earlier slanted material stands as VTDigger’s official record.

On the news side, I understand that Digger editors declined to pursue a story about apparent bias in the Windham town clerk’s office. The clerk is a vocal opponent of Stiles Brook, and was accused of misusing her position to sway the town’s advisory vote on the project. The issue was covered by the Rutland Herald’s Susan Smallheer and Seven Days’ Terri Hallenbeck; the latter is a fuller account. Nothing from VTDigger.

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About the Iberdrola offer

So, wind developer Iberdrola has come under fire for its cash offer to people in Windham and Grafton, should its proposed Stiles Brook wind farm be built. The individual payments would be in addition to sizeable payments to each town government.

Opponents call it bribery. Attorney General Bill Sorrell’s office said no, it wasn’t against the law. But a few days ago, Secretary of State Jim Condos said he was “greatly concerned” by the offer. As VTDigger’s Mike Faher reported, Condos acknowledged that the offer wasn’t illegal, but it was “pushing the envelope” in using cash to influence voters.

(I’ve been critical of Faher’s wind coverage, but full credit to him for a well-written, balanced piece.)

Sounds dire. But when you read the whole story, it doesn’t seem nearly so clear-cut.

First, Condos didn’t contradict the Attorney General’s legal decision. In fact, he said that he respects the AG’s ruling and “will follow [its] guidance.”

And second, when Iberdrola clarified its offer, Condos walked back his initial statement.

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Here’s how you report a wind story

As one of my correspondents put it, “It’s a sad day when the Chester Telegraph is outperforming VTDigger.”

But it’s true. While Digger posted a slanted, incomplete story about the American Bird Conservancy weighing in on the Stiles Brook wind farm, the Chester Telegraph’s piece is a model of good journalism. It explored the story beyond the press release, it discovered nuances, identified relevant expertise, and fairly represented both sides of the story.

VTDigger’s Mike Faher, you may recall, uncritically reported on the American Bird Conservancy’s criticism of the Stiles Brook plan, giving weight to the wind farm’s potential impact on the threatened Bicknell’s Thrush. ABC’s Michael Hutchins was given loads of space to air his concerns — and only at the end of the article did Faher reveal that Hutchins didn’t actually know anything about Stiles Brook.

By contrast, the Telegraph’s Cynthia Prairie dug into the background of ABC’s involvement, and actually contacted a Vermont-based organization that’s been studying the Bicknell’s Thrush for a quarter century: the Vermont Center for Ecostudies.

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When the truth isn’t truthy enough

The Phil Scott and Sue Minter campaigns are in full froth over alleged negative advertising. Each accuses the other of willful distortion: Team Scott is upset over ads questioning his pro-choice credentials; the Scott campaign, meanwhile, is slammed for tying Minter to a proposed carbon tax.

Funny thing is, they’re both right on both counts. The attacks are based in fact, but are designed to mislead.

The pro-choice ads were produced by the Planned Parenthood Vermont Action Fund. They cite two pieces of evidence that call Scott’s abortion stance into question. The first: his past support for some restrictions on access to abortion. The second: the fact that Right to Life Vermont “recommended” Scott.

Both are accurate. But still misleading.

Second point first. RTL did not endorse Scott, but it did “recommend” him as, basically, the best of an inadequate lot. RTL doesn’t particularly like Scott, and they’d much prefer a harder-line candidate, but he was, in RTL’s view, the least bad option.

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