Is this a realistic vision or a dystopian nightmare in which heavily subsidized "green" companies profit from building projects and rolling out technologies that ultimately contribute nothing to reducing global warming and leave generations of Vermonters in debt?
In a revealing exchange on Mark Johnson's July 17th radio show, Governor Shumlin answers this question. He said: "I say, as this Governor, that putting 440 foot wind towers up on into the sky will probably not be the energy technology in terms of renewables 40 years from now. I just think it will be seen as antiquated, frankly. There are going to be smaller wind projects, probably, you know, mounted to our houses and other lower
Apparently, blasting a mountain range flat, as happened with the Lowell mountains in the Northeast Kingdom with 700,000 pounds of explosives, putting an interstate across the top, and siting turbines on acres of concrete is akin to switching technologies from, say, VHS apes to DVDs, because "the trees will grow." But flattening mountains is a choice Vermonters will make forever.
This disregard for facts marks much of Shumlin's vision. The fact is that physicists cannot even agree on the efficacy of wind power because the intermittent electricity it generates cannot be easily integrated or stored, and must be backed up with a conventional power plant. For many experts, this unsolved conundrum means that building and installing industrial-scale wind projects generates more carbon emissions than will ever be reduced in a lifetime of production, thereby making them an implausible solution for combating global warming.
As for the electric cars the Governor wishes us to buy, according to a recent CBS news story, current battery technology cannot effectively power electric cars while struggling to heat them in a cold climate. That would be Vermont.
With Broadband, Shumlin invokes the old image of electricity being brought to "every last mile" with poles and wire, but on his watch Broadband will not be primarily transmitted via costly, but safer, fiber optic cable. It will be transmitted by extremely powerful cell phone networks that are also being put on the ridgelines - an estimated 160 to date. In light of his purported concern for global warming, one needs to ask where the electricity is coming from?
According to a recent New York Times story, the global Internet is powered by an equivalent of 30 nuclear power plants. Wind and solar energy simply cannot power Governor Shumlin's Broadband/Smart grid dream for Vermont. The truth is his vision comes with an enormous environmental cost, health and security concerns, as well as with an erosion of property rights that has already begun with utilities exercising eminent domain for new cell towers and expanded transmission capacity. Whatever one's feelings about blanketing the state in electric radiation and flattening the ridgelines for the illusory promises of industrial-scale wind power, Vermonters need to ask hard questions of our five official candidates for governor, and one write-in candidate Annette Smith who is a committed environmentalist and famously anti-industrial wind. The future will not magically repair itself with new technology as Governor Shumlin believes, and we need to make sound choices now to protect the planet, not indulge in a masquerade.
Justine Cook lives in Dorset