Category Archives: Environment

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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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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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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VTDigger’s at it again

I was hoping maybe my recent post, “VTDigger is Biased Against Wind Energy,” would at least make the folks on the second floor stop and think.

I guess not. Because they’ve got another doozy today, entitled “Bird Advocates Concerned About Stiles Brook Proposal.”

The gist of the article is that an organization called the American Bird Conservancy has weighed in on the proposed Grafton/Windham wind farm with dire warnings about rising piles of bird and bat corpses.

“ABC questions whether the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of our shared ecologically important birds and bats justifies building any large, commercial wind energy facility in areas with seasonally high concentrations of birds and bats, like (Stiles Brook),” wrote Michael Hutchins, director of the conservancy’s “Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign.”

Okay, hmm. “Hundreds of thousands, if not millions” from a single wind farm? Sounds awful.

Too bad it’s completely false.

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VTDigger is biased against wind energy

Or so it would seem. Recent articles have been clearly slanted in presentation and sourcing. I’ve been hoping this would get better, but a story posted late Wednesday was the straw that broke my back.

It’s entitled “Searsburg Residents Gird for Wind Project Blasting,” which makes it sound like widespread panic over the potential devastation of a peaceful town. The particulars below; first, let’s outline the general pattern at work in Digger’s coverage.

It starts with the David-and-Goliath framing: aggrieved locals versus a big faceless developer. The locals are represented by a single complainer or, in the case of a continuing story, the same handful of folks. The vast majority of local residents who either favor a development or don’t much care are absent.

Never or rarely mentioned is the fact that a wind farm is a literal windfall for a town’s treasury, greatly reducing residents’ tax burdens and underwriting new programs and amenities. (With all our concern about Growing the Economy and Reducing the Tax Burden, you’d think that would be a compelling argument.)

An then there’s the extreme imbalance of outsiders. The same couple of anti-wind advocacy groups are routinely cited, while the numerous environmental groups that support wind energy are rarely if ever represented. A call always goes out to Energize Vermont or Vermonters for a Clean Environment; why not VPIRG or Vermont Conservation Voters or Wind Works Vermont or the Sierra Club or VNRC or The Nature Conservancy?

Finally, there’s space allotment. Within a story, opponents are given far more space than its supporters. Their arguments are quoted at length; supporters are allowed a token response.

That’s the pattern. Now for some examples in detail.

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On the VPR Poll

Must have been some soiled britches at VTGOP headquarters when the news came out: a new poll shows the race for governor is a statistical dead heat.

If it’s accurate, of course. Usual caveats apply. Doesn’t help that this is the only pre-election poll we’re going to get, since VPR is the only media organization putting up money for surveys this year.

But for the sake of argument, let’s assume it’s reasonably on target.

There were reasons to believe the race would be close, but the almost universal assumption (me included) was that Phil Scott was the front-runner because of his name recognition, his inoffensive image, and Vermonters’ presumed post-Shumlin fatigue with liberal policymaking. Minter, by comparison, was known (to the extent she was known at all) mainly as a Shumlin underling, which meant she would struggle to create a profile of her own.

Instead, here we are, with Scott at 39 percent, Minter at 38, and a rather surprising 14 percent undecided.

So why is this race so close? Assuming, again, that the poll is accurate.

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