McClaughry: Make big wind pay its own way


An intriguing battle is shaping up in the legislature, over industrial wind power.

On one side is the Shumlin administration, wind developers, and pro-renewable energy lobby groups like VPIRG.

The Governor has been a consistently outspoken advocate for renewable energy. He issued an edict in 2011 that Vermont must be made to obtain 90% of its total energy from renewables by 2050, in the name of defeating the menace of "climate change".

Last year the Governor asked the legislature to pass a Renewable Portfolio Standard (renamed RESET) to mandate utilities to steadily increase their purchases of wind, solar, hydro, wood, and landfill methane power, until 75 percent of their power comes from these sources by 2032.

In his January state of the state address Shumlin strongly endorsed "more smartly-sited renewables to power Vermont", and went on to favor "renewables on a Vermont scale homegrown, not corporate grown." But, curiously, he referred only to solar energy, completely ignoring corporate grown wind power on an industrial scale.

In the 2016 Comprehensive Energy Plan released last week, the Shumlin administration reiterates the "90 percent by 2050" and "75 percent by 2032" goals, and proposes a strategy "to facilitate development of instate wind projects in order to achieve the state's renewable energy goals ".

The report offers three scenarios for achieving 100% renewable electricity by 2050. Two of the three scenarios require increasing industrial wind generation (from turbines producing more than 500kw) to 750 Mw.

Achieving this level from instate wind farms would mean an increase of 631 Mw. At 2.75 Mw per turbine, this works out to 229 more ridgeline towers measuring 427 feet to the rotor tip. However the best located and most efficient turbines produce their rated power only 37% of the time. To get the full rated power, there would have to be either many more turbines, or natural gas backup plants near each wind farm (unlikely), or backup power from the grid.

To make way for this flood of renewables, the administration has pushed Green Mountain Power to reduce its dependence on safe, low-cost, reliable, emission-free HydroQuebec electricity by 53 percent from 2011 to 2017. The Shumlin plan will surely cause Big Wind to see Vermont as "the Beckoning Country".

On the other side of the issue are a rapidly increasing number of citizens and towns near present and proposed wind farm sites, joined by free marketeers disgusted with the corporate welfare subsidies, and some environmentalists concerned about the impact of huge turbines on wildlife, water, and viewsheds. Two Senate bills have been introduced to curb the wind explosion.

S.210, from Democratic Sens. John Rodgers and Bobby Starr of Essex-Orleans, would simply prohibit industrial wind towers. It has the advantage of simplicity, but it starkly threatens the Shumlin plan and the developers eager to install more turbines on Vermont ridges.

Another approach is contained in S.191, offered by Democratic Senator Jane Kitchel of Caledonia- Orange. It would require the Public Service Board to "defer to municipalities or regional recommendations [about proposed wind towers] unless there is a clear and convincing demonstration that [the proposed project] lacks a rational basis, or that other factors affecting the general good of the state outweigh application of the recommendation or measure."

Translation: small rural towns and their citizen groups are welcome to bring their Big Wind objections into the labyrinthine PSB forum, and try to overcome "other factors affecting the general good of the state" urged by the Shumlin administration and the Big Wind legal team. Lots of luck with that. They'll be whacked like a careless raptor hit by a spinning turbine blade.

There's a far better way to defeat Big Wind in Vermont. Big Wind developers are crucially dependent on an array of Federal tax subsidies. The vital one is the Production Tax Credit that gives the wind farm owner 2.3 cents per kwhr of power delivered.

Impose a 2.3 cents per kwhr environmental protection tax on every new industrial-sized wind project in Vermont. That will exactly cancel the major federal subsidy that makes Big Wind profitable. Result: Vermont will never see another Big Wind project again.

A bill to achieve this fits on one page. No costly, complicated, prolonged and lawyer-intense PSB process. No arguments about municipal plans or regulatory takings. And, let it be noted, there won't be any revenues from this tax, because there will never be another Big Wind installation in Vermont to produce power subject to the tax.

Problem solved. Sorry, Governor.

— John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute (


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