Everyone probably agrees with the fundamental goal of the legislation -- to protect Vermont's fragile environment by increasing the use of clean energy. But before lawmakers rush into mandates, they must ensure the measure doesn't inadvertently harm the economy or the landscape.
The state ought to have the goal of increasing the use of renewable
energy sources to reduce the reliance on foreign oil and polluting
energy sources such as coal.
However, lawmakers must be careful in mandating that outcome as they
consider a bill requiring Vermont utilities to provide 10 percent of
their power from renewable sources such as solar, wind, and water by
2013. While the goal is important, the devil is in the details.
Two issues must be paramount in discussions about this proposal. First,
will that mandate drive up energy costs in Vermont? Lawmakers cannot
lock Vermont into a renewable energy path that results in homeowners’
paying significantly more for power, or prompts businesses to leave the
state or choose not to locate here.
Supporters of the bill say it will not increase costs. But IBM has
voiced concern about that prospect, which ought to prompt lawmakers to
take an especially cautious look at this issue.
Second, will this mandate force the hand of regulators in siting wind
towers on Vermont’s mountaintops and ridgelines? There is at least one
proposal to build wind towers in Vermont, this one on a mountaintop in
the heart of the Champion Lands in the Northeast Kingdom. It is pending
before the Public Service Board with hearings starting next month.
Several other wind developers are already lined up to follow the
four-turbine project at East Haven, carefully watching its progress.
The decision by regulators on whether to allow lighted, 330-foot towers
on Vermont ridgelines cannot be influenced by any mandate for additional
renewable power sources.
Requiring a 10 percent renewable target by 2013 might have that effect
because there are only limited renewable sources available. Like it or
not, wind might have to be part of the mix to meet the 2013 requirement.
That would be a mistake.
It’s hard to know if the renewable mandate would, in fact, increase
pressure to build wind towers. Several lawmakers were divided on that
question last week at the Statehouse. Some said there are enough
renewable sources without wind to meet the goal, noting that Vermont
could buy its renewable power from outside the state if necessary;
others insisted that wind power would have to be approved in Vermont.
There needs to be a clear answer to this before lawmakers pass such a
requirement into law.
The movement to put wind turbines on ridgelines around the state is
being driven by private wind developers. Projects are being introduced
piecemeal, and wind measurement towers, the precursor to applying for a
wind development, are popping up around the state.
Industrial wind turbines on ridgelines would significantly change
Vermont. There ought to be a comprehensive analysis and public
discussion to decide if wind towers even fit in this state.
Also hanging over this debate is the reality that Hydro Quebec, which
provides one-third of Vermont’s power through the renewable source of
water, might stop selling to Vermont. Another unknown is the fate of the
Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon, which could go off-line in the
Everyone probably agrees with the fundamental goal of the legislation —
to protect Vermont’s fragile environment by increasing the use of clean
energy. But before lawmakers rush into mandates, they must ensure the
measure doesn’t inadvertently harm the economy or the landscape.
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