The economics and esthetics of wind power in Vermont have been controversial in the extreme in recent years, despite the fact that Vermont as a state likes to trumpet its "green" credentials at every opportunity. As a state we talk a good game about renewable energy, but too often, when push comes to shove - as in, actually doing something on a large enough scale to actually have some impact - walking the walk is another question.
One of the select board members from Hubbardton, a town that would be within view of the turbine array, and the site of a Revolutionary War battlefield (the only one actually fought in Vermont) summed up the status quo perfectly when he said that he thought wind power was a great idea, but just not here.
If not here, then where?
Sure, not every windy ridgeline is suited for wind development. But Grandpa's Knob, like
For anyone who still doubts the seriousness of climate change, the recent examination and analysis of the melting of the polar ice caps around the Arctic Circle in last week's issue of The Economist Magazine should be must-read reading. The evidence presented by a highly respected publication that generally skews in favor of red--blooded capitalism and limited government should debunk conclusively that climate change is for real, and the consequences potentially sweeping. And there's good and bad parts to the story. Vast new minerals and resources - ironically, lots of oil, one of the fossil fuels often fingered as the primary source of emissions causing the steady warming of the planet - are now more open to exploitation and development by the melting of the ice caps.
Back here in Vermont, it's all well and good to talk about niche projects that on a small scale reduce carbon emissions one household at a time. But seriously, at some point, if any real dent is to be made in reducing carbon emissions, we have to think a little bigger. That means large solar farms, hydro projects, biomass and yes, wind turbines.
You could probably blanket a couple of dozen ridgelines in Vermont with large wind towers and not come close to replacing the output of Vermont Yankee, the nuclear plant Gov. Shumlin and friends hope to shutter. We know VY doesn't sell any electric power in Vermont anymore, but it's a good example of the scale at which renewables would need to be ramped up to avoid having virtually all of our "green" energy come from Hydro Quebec.
It would be nice if energy from wind could be shipped in from Texas and Oklahoma where the winds blow early and often, but the nation's transmission grid, alas, isn't up to moving the needed quantity of electrons from the Midwest to here very efficiently or inexpensively enough. So not only for moral reasons, but for economic ones as well, we should be open to providing renewable energy for ourselves, rather than letting someone else do it.
That however, does not seem the prevailing view in Vermont, pious commentary notwithstanding. Like the Hubbardton select board member - and in fairness, what a lot of residents living here thought when we were going through our turbine moment in 2005-6 - Gov. Shumlin is all for wind power too. In fairness we note he backed the controversial Lowell Mountain project pushed by Green Mountain Power, the new overlords of Vermont utilities. At the same time he's also said no community should have to put up with a wind project if they didn't want it. In political-speak, that's called having it both ways.
Unfortunately, that view seems widely shared around the state. Wind power is great in principle - just not in my backyard. But without every form of renewable energy contributing to the green portfolio, it's hard to see where the needed scale will come from.