by Rob Roper
Energize Vermont is a non-profit, member supported organization with a mission to promote renewable energy solutions that are in harmony with the character of the state and the well being of Vermont’s people. “Basically what that means, says Luke Snelling communications director for the organization, “is, we’re promoting renewable energy done right.”
Although Energize Vermont is not anti-wind, they do have serious problems
with industrial sized wind projects on Vermont’s ridgelines.
“We need to take a hard look at these types of developments in Vermont and see whether they are an appropriate fit,” says Snelling. “What we’re looking at right now in this state when it comes to utility scale wind, we’re basically in the crosshairs. Due to the mix of federal subsidies and an overzealous reaction to the need for renewable energy, we have set up about ten to twelve – and it seems to grow every day – proposals for utility scale wind projects.” Snelling describes what we’re experiencing as a gold-rush mentality.
“And the trouble with these projects, to put it succinctly, is that in the case of Lowell, we’re talking about 460 to 470 foot towers on our highest elevation ridgelines. The only place you can build these projects and have them be even remotely economically viable, even make them make sense with all the subsidies, is to have them on our high elevation ridgelines. These high elevation ridgelines are some of our most connected, some of our best habitats for wildlife. They are also the sources of some of our highest quality waters. So, what you’re saying is that we are willing to sacrifice some of our most sacred assets… for the development of cost-inefficient renewable energy that’s being publicly subsidized.”
The economics of industrial wind projects are a problem for Energize Vermont as well. Speaking specifically about the Lowell Mountain project, Senlling said, “The federal subsidies [are] worth something like 30% of this project. So, when you [ask] if this project is economically viable for the state of Vermont… without those subsidies, the project doesn’t make any sense.”
So, why, if these projects make no economic sense and they pose such a danger to the character of our state, our wildlife (including some endangered species), and the environment in general, do a majority of Vermonters support, at least in concept, the idea of industrial wind?
Snelling believes it is a combination of massive marketing efforts by financial interests, the political agendas of the administration and the mutually beneficial relationship between the two.” “There is a collection of political insiders that certainly have the governor’s ear and have supported these projects. I would include Mary Powell of Green Mountain Power in that group. These are people who do stand to gain from these projects.”
The political process through which these projects get approved is also a problem, according to Snelling. “It does not give a great voice to communities or properties that are going to be impacted by the project. The process is not really designed very well to figure out if the project should or should not be built. It’s designed to figure out how to adapt the project to figure out how to get it built. And, that’s a huge mistake when we make decisions about what to do in this state, because what we need to do is figure out whether or not these projects are right for the state.”
“We’re not an anti-wind organization,” concludes Snelling. “We’ve just taken a hard look at the role that these wind installations have to play in this state and have seen that developing wind in Vermont – large scale wind in Vermont – is drastically different than developing it in other places. Here you have to put it on these ridgelines. You have to put them on the places that we hold dearest, and you have to be okay with those impacts, and, frankly, our organization is just not okay with that.”
Snelling also points out an obvious irony. “If they did this for anything else – this level of industrial development on our ridgelines – whoever was proposing it would get laughed out of the state.”