Tag Archives: solar 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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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?

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More obstructionism from anti-renewable lawmakers

The Northeast Kingdom has become a hotbed of anti-renewable sentiment. They think they’re overburdened by the renewable buildout in their neck of the woods — although they seem to be just fine with Bill Stenger’s ambitious development plans, which would include a dramatic expansion of the Jay Peak resort with the concomitant loss of open space and wildlife habitat.

The Kingdom’s nominally Democratic Senators, Bobby Starr and John Rodgers, have proposed a bill that would effectively hamstring development of solar energy projects. They have a cover story, as they always do; this isn’t about energy, it’s about farming!

… the bill would apply Act 250 standards to renewable energy developments proposed for high-quality farmland.

Starr told finance committee members that he wants to balance the need for renewable energy with the need to conserve farmland, and he said the proposal could encourage solar development on more appropriate locations, such as rooftops.

Right. Rooftops. Vermont has so many of those.

There are a few problems with this bill. In no particular order:

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A misleading report on RECs

Kevin Jones has a bug up his butt about one aspect of Vermont’s renewable energy program. The latest emission from the Vermont Law School professor’s policy shop is a report slamming the sale of Renewable Energy Credits. It deliberately overlooks the purpose and endgame of RECs, focusing largely on one immediate consequence:

“Vermont gets virtually none of its grid power from wind or solar sources, according to a report Vermont Law School students presented recently to the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee.

Developers and utilities sell Vermont’s wind and solar power to other New England states, using what are known as renewable energy credits, or RECs. As a result, although Vermonters subsidize these forms of energy, utilities in other states actually benefit from them, the report found.

The topline there — “Vermont gets virtually none of its power from wind or solar” — is technically accurate but fundamentally misleading.

It’s true that Vermont doesn’t immediately get “credit” for our renewables. But in reality, we are producing significant amounts of carbon-neutral energy. That’s a good thing, even in the short run when the “credit” goes elsewhere; and in the long run, the RECs will retire and we will get the “credit” for cheap energy that helps combat global warming.

Jones’ influence on reports like this soil the reputation of VLS, and honestly, I don’t know why they let him get away with it. He is having a malign influence on our energy debate under the VLS imprimatur, and teaching his students some bad policy lessons.

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The VPR Poll: Everything You Know Is Wrong

Previously in this space, I looked at The VPR Poll’s reading of the race for governor. To encapsulate: Phil Scott has a huge early lead, Bruce Lisman’s in the crapper, and the two Democratic candidates are still trying to build identities with a largely uninvolved electorate.

The poll is an important snapshot of the race — really, our first since last fall, when the field was still a work in progress. But even more interesting are the issues results, which campaign builders ought to be examining closely. Because the message, as Firesign Theater once put it, is

Everything You Know Is Wrong

Well, maybe not everything, but a whole lot of things.

Issues that are supposed to be driving forces in 2016? Eh, the voters don’t much care.

Positions that could make or break a campaign? Over and over again, The People fail to conform to conventional wisdom.

Darn people!

Generally, the poll depicts a populace that’s more or less okay with how things are going and not especially engaged in politics. This, despite an ongoing barrage of doom-and-glooming by Republicans and certain interest groups.

Examples: A broad desire to stay the course or go even further on health care reform; widespread acceptance of large-scale renewables; strong endorsement of Vermont’s efforts on climate change; healthy support for the state’s school consolidation efforts; and huge majorities in favor of modest gun-control measures.

After the jump: the details.

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Who speaks for renewables?

The anti- wind and -solar crowd had a big to-do at the Statehouse yesterday, wearing construction-type green vests and lugging all kinds of props as they pressed their case for the current iteration of anti-renewables legislation: a ban on ridgeline wind and “local control” over siting decisions.

This post is not about their arguments. This post is about the absence of response from those who supposedly favor renewable energy.

With the exception of VPIRG, our environmental groups have been curiously silent. On paper, they support renewables as part of a broad-based effort to combat climate change. But in practice, they stay off the battleground.

Disclaimer: I don’t have pipelines into their war rooms, and I don’t know the details of their lobbying efforts. I’m judging based on what I can see. And what I see is an extremely active anti-renewable movement and a distressingly quiescent response.

I’m talking VNRC, the Conservation Law Foundation, and the Sierra Club among others. They all pay lip service to renewables, but what do they actually do? Where is the pro-renewables gathering at the Statehouse?

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Will the VTGOP run an anti-renewables campaign?

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign…

— 2010 Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Dubie emerges from five years of political hermitage to reveal himself as a vocal anti-wind advocate. He insists his stance has nothing to do with a proposed wind farm near his house, ahem.

— Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, the likely GOP gubernatorial candidate, doesn’t like ridgeline wind. He has described a road-to-Damascus moment when he was biking in rural Vermont, saw wind turbines on a ridgeline, and thought they looked ugly.

— Former Douglas Administration Ag Secretary Roger Allbee comes out of the weeds with an essay questioning whether wind and solar energy are in keeping with “Vermont’s environmental heritage,” which he describes in extremely rosy terms.

— Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, a potential candidate for Lieutenant Governor, has expressed (on this very site) his opposition to any more large-scale renewable projects in the Northeast Kingdom.

— Then you’ve got VTGOP Chair David Sunderland, who has said “there’s science on both sides” of the climate change issue.

Taken together, that’s quite a few signs that the Vermont Republican Party will be running an anti-renewable campaign in 2016. Well, they’ll dress it up as favoring local control and taking “sensible” action (meaning little or none) while providing plenty of lip service about climate change.

This is one of the potential negative effects of a Phil Scott governorship: he would be a major obstacle to further progress on renewables.

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