Telling the truth about Vermont's energy policy
How often have we heard advocates for extensive wind and solar development on Vermont ridge lines and pastures (heavily subsidized by tax and ratepayers) say that these efforts are necessary to curb global climate change, prevent future Tropical Storm Irenes, and save the maple sugar and ski industries? Pretty often.
However, under recent questioning, high-ranking members of the Department of Public Service and a leading Vermont climate scientist have admitted that not only will Vermont's energy policy have no impact on climate change, affecting climate change isn't even a goal.
Vermont law mandates that Vermont get 75 percent of current electricity demands from renewable sources by 2032, and sets a goal for 90 percent of all energy, including transportation and home heating, by 2050. This is a tremendous undertaking that will require extensive industrialization of now-pristine landscapes. All Earth Renewables founder, David Blittersdorf, has stated he expects one third of Vermont's useable ridge-lines (200 miles) would be capped with wind towers in this effort. Still, this would only provide a fraction of the required power and an estimated additional 30,000 acres of solar panels would also be necessary.
This level of development will have negative impacts on bird and bat populations, and the habitats and migratory corridors of deer, bear and other wildlife. There are serious questions about the impact to water quality. It will change the character of Vermont from an aesthetic point of view, thus affecting the "Vermont Brand" we have all worked so hard to nurture.
It will affect the human population as well. Economically, the need to subsidize these projects through higher energy prices and, as some are now advocating, a Carbon Tax that would ultimately add 88¢ to the cost of a gallon of gasoline, will make Vermont an even more unaffordable place to live and work.
But the payback for all this hardship and sacrifice was supposed to be the knowledge that we were saving our grandchildren from an "unspeakably horrid" environmental future, to use the colorful phraseology of our governor.
This is not the case.
At a public forum to discuss the Comprehensive Energy Plan, Chris Recchia, Commissioner of the Public Service Department, said when asked about what kind of impact Vermont's renewable energy policy would have on global temperatures,
I disagree with the characterization that the reason we're doing this is to try and improve global warming. [P]rimarily why we're doing it is to have stable energy pricing and really secure energy resources that are renewable in our state." (VT Watchdog, 10/23/15)
Asa Hopkins, the Energy Policy Director for DPS, told a similar story.
Hopkins told Vermont Watchdog global warming targets aren't in the plan because Vermont's efforts won't affect climate change. "Climate change is a classic tragedy-of-the-commons problem where no one person's actions, no one state, or even one country's actions is attributable to even more than maybe a few percent of the global challenge. (VT Watchdog, 10/9/15)
Of course Vermont can't save the planet all by itself, so our policy is to be a leader and influence others to follow our example, and, therefore, have an indirect impact on climate change, right? Actually, not.
Asked if the draft had targets for states or nations following Vermont's lead, Hopkins replied, "No. We are focused on trying to take a path forward that works for Vermont. We're not taking action in hopes of inspiring action elsewhere." (VT Watchdog, 10/9/15)
The science behind these policy statements is backed up by Vermont climate scientist Alan Betts, who said, "If the whole world went carbon neutral tomorrow, the earth has huge lags in it, and we'll be faced with rising temperatures and greater extremes for the next 50 years. It's totally unrealistic to pretend that Vermont will control a global problem ." (VT Watchdog, 9/24/15)
So, in summary, the vast building and subsidizing of renewable energy facilities throughout Vermont will not affect climate change, and, therefore, will not prevent tropical storms or other extreme weather events, nor will it save the maple sugar and ski industries decades down the road. Our policies are not even aimed at doing these things.
And, those telling us otherwise are not telling the truth.
By following these policies we will not pass on to the next generation a Vermont that is one iota cooler or more stable than it otherwise would be. It will be, however, uglier, less accessible, more expensive, and harder to find a job. Talk about a call to burn down the village in order to save it!
Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. He lives in Stowe.
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