By Robin Smith, Staff Writer
NEWPORT CITY – Gov. Jim Douglas took his clearest position yet on industrial wind projects in Vermont on Friday, saying they would be “an imposition” on Vermont’s landscape.
Industrial wind turbines on ridge lines would not aesthetically suit Vermont’s small scale landscape, Douglas, a Republican, said at a brainstorming session with leaders of large and small businesses Friday afternoon at the Gateway Center.
To give up Vermont’s brand for an energy source that could only produce 6 percent of Vermont’s energy needs isn’t a good idea, Douglas said.
“I can’t make the case there’s enough gain for the pain,” he said.
“I just don’t think it’s worth it.”
Douglas said he has seen the wind farms in Quebec on the Gaspe Peninsula. “I think they are quite intrusive,” he said.
And the roads and power lines needed to operate big wind farms are “quite an imposition” on the landscape, he added.
“Appropriately scaled wind” is OK, Douglas said.
He wants to encourage development of smaller scale energy sources, including the idea of one-meter wide, low elevation wind turbines for homeowners.
Dick White, president of Community National Bank and chairman of Vermont’s wind power commission, also liked the idea of roof-top wind turbines.
Vermont could promote creative ways to use renewable energy on a small scale, a “Green Valley” of creativity and entrepreneurs, just as Silicon Valley in California was to the high-tech industry, Douglas said.
“It would be cool, I think, if Vermont became known for that,” White said.
Jay Peak Resort President Bill Stenger complimented Douglas for keeping good relations with Quebec and particularly with Hydro-Quebec, from which Vermont gets a third of its electricity.
“You’ve positioned the administration to take advantage of that relationship,” said Stenger, who is chairman of the governor’s new commission on keeping young Vermonters from leaving the state.
Then Stenger urged Douglas to take up another challenge: nuclear power, a source that has been promoted recently by Rep. Duncan Kilmartin, R-Newport, during energy forums.
“I know it’s politically challenging,” Stenger said, “but Three Mile Island was 30 years ago.”
The near melt-down of that facility created such a backlash against nuclear power that no new nuclear plants have been built since in the United States.
“The technology of nuclear is so different than it was. Somewhere in the mix of things we need a revisitation of nuclear,” Stenger said. “We can change the way these things are thought of.”
Douglas did not give his opinion on building new nuclear power plants in Vermont. But he didn’t reject nuclear power as an energy source either.
Douglas pointed out the upgrades at the Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon, which is producing 20 percent more electricity now after what he called an exhaustive safety inspection.
“It’s interesting when you see some environmentalists taking another look at nuclear power,” Douglas said.
He also promoted his recent announcement of grants and incentives to help farmers and lower income Vermonters purchase small wind turbines and solar panels.
He encouraged Vermonters to look at their own electricity usage, pointing to Harold Barrup who runs his own vehicles on cooking oil.
Houses are too big for what most people need, Douglas said. And now Vermonters are like the rest of the United States, using more energy in the summer with air conditioners than in the winter, as it used to be, Douglas noted.
Vermonters, Douglas said, are starting to shift to smaller cars. A farmer in southwestern Vermont is running his vehicles on oil from canola seed, and could do the same for other farmers if they would grow the seed, Douglas said.
A representative of Columbia Forest Products said Columbia is considering a co-generation plant using wood chips or pellets, but engineers had concerns over the permitting process.
Douglas and Kilmartin said they would help steer the company in the right direction to go co-generation.
Kilmartin and Rep. Michael Marcotte, R-Coventry, hosted the meeting, billed as a chance to talk about keeping Vermont affordable, one of the themes of Douglas’ re-election campaign this year.
Other business leaders asked about the costs of workers’ compensation, health insurance, permitting, and the governor’s proposed cap on education cost increases.
Forty-six states have some kind of control on education spending, Douglas said. The student population is dropping by 1 percent annually, he said, but the cost of education goes up an average of 7 percent annually.
“That’s unacceptable,” Douglas said.
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