October 16, 2006

Douglas and Parker divided on energy

Republican Gov. Jim Douglas owns a fuel-efficient Neon without air conditioning for use when he isn’t chauffeured in a state car.

Scudder Parker, the Democratic challenger in this year’s gubernatorial race, drives a Toyota Prius on and off the campaign trail.

Douglas heats his home with wood. So does Parker.

Douglas doesn’t own a dishwasher and he and his wife hang their laundry outdoors to dry whenever weather allows.

Parker has energy-efficient lighting throughout his home, and he and his wife plan to replace their refrigerator and clothes washer with models that use less electricity.

Despite similar conservation ethics in their personal lives, Douglas and Parker disagree about each other’s competency to lead the state through the energy obstacle course that lies ahead.

Parker has made criticisms of Douglas’ energy record a cornerstone of his challenge.

“I don’t think they have a grasp of the cost implications or the growing vulnerability of Vermonters to rate increases and supply interruptions,” accuses Parker, referring to the Douglas administration. “Their actions are inadequate or symbolic and they have missed many opportunities.”

Douglas counters with a long list of accomplishments from his four years in the state’s top job. He notes, for example, that his administration updated the state energy plan, which had been allowed to lapse for a decade.

Energy is a hot campaign issue across the country because high gasoline prices brought home to many Americans the uncertainties of energy supplies.

In Vermont, there are additional worries. Contracts governing two-thirds of the state’s electric power supply begin to expire in 2012 – “which is sort of like tomorrow,” said Lisa Ventriss, president of the Vermont Business Roundtable. The Roundtable is a bi-partisan think tank that does not endorse candidates or contribute to political campaigns. Ventriss noted that negotiating power contracts or siting new power sources, from wind turbines to power plants, takes years, not days or months.

Vermont Yankee, the nuclear power plant in Vernon that provides one-third of the state’s electric power, must secure a new license to operate after 2012. The contracts that Vermont utilities have with Hydro-Quebec also run out beginning in 2012.

“The issue of energy is really at a crisis point right now,” Ventriss said. “Vermont’s decision-making horizon is so short.” She added, “It calls for strong leadership.”

Douglas’ record

Douglas brought his conservation ethic to Montpelier when he became governor, downsizing the official vehicles he rides in, buying a fleet of small cars, including hybrids, for employees to use for state travel, and increasing the efficiency of lighting, appliances and heating systems in state buildings.

He brokered an agreement in 2005 among six Northeastern states that commits each to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

He has promoted “cow power,” energy generated from the methane gas produced by cow manure, and recently endorsed a national initiative to meet 25 percent of the nation’s energy needs from renewable agricultural or forest sources by 2025.

He proposed a 50 percent increase in spending by the energy-efficiency utility this year, and supported the 75 percent increase granted by state regulators.

Also, in anticipation of future negotiations for electric power, Douglas said, “I have strengthened our relationship with Quebec.” Hydro-Quebec is a power company wholly owned by the provincial government. “I really believe the state has an important role to build relationships with suppliers.”

Parker’s experience

Parker got his early education on energy as a state senator serving in the 1980s, he said. He developed sufficient expertise so that after he left the Legislature, Gov. Madeleine Kunin recruited him for a new position – director of energy efficiency in the Department of Public Service.

In that job, he created a program to help schools increase their energy efficiency, set up the Biomass Energy Resource Center to promote woodchip energy, and worked with Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., to establish a farm methane program.

His greatest achievement, he said, was the development of a new type of utility that sold energy-efficiency strategies and technologies instead of electricity. Efficiency Vermont was set up in 2000 and is funded by a charge on electric bills.

“Efficiency Vermont has, over the years, developed into a program that has saved Vermonters millions of dollars, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and other impacts, and become a model for other states,” Parker said.

Parker left his state job after Douglas became governor, but stayed active on energy issues. In 2005, as policy director for Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, he crafted a political compromise, which the Legislature approved and Douglas signed, that entices rather than forces electric companies to add renewable energy to the state’s power mix.

Future choices

When the Vermont Yankee and Hydro-Quebec power contracts expire, with their guaranteed prices, Vermont’s utilities could buy replacement power on the market – but it would cost a lot more than electric users pay today.

To avoid this result, people like Ventriss of the Vermont Business Roundtable and James Moore of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, say the next governor needs to promote conservation and efficiency to reduce demand, and to encourage the development of new, renewable sources of power in Vermont.

“Our elected officials have tremendous impact on what choices our utilities make,” said Moore, whose organization serves as a watchdog and consumer advocate but doesn’t endorse political candidates.

Douglas, if re-elected, said he would look to the results of an upcoming series of public meetings on energy to guide policy decisions, but in the meantime, he would promote energy efficiency, renewable projects, transportation alternatives and relations with Quebec.

Parker said he would expand the scope of Efficiency Vermont to include heating fuels, invest more in weatherization, use incentives and competitions to encourage efficient building design and create an Office of Energy Independence and Security to coordinate energy initiatives.

Although both candidates say they support development of more in-state power, Douglas and Parker have sparred over the potential of wind power.

Douglas says he supports Vermont-scale projects and has charged his Democratic rival with supporting industrial development of the state’s precious ridgelines.

Parker counters that Douglas has discouraged wind development, when it should be encouraged. “The size and scale of projects must be determined in partnership with communities.”

They have feuded, too, about whether the state should have purchased hydroelectric dams on the Connecticut River. Parker calls it a missed opportunity to secure a reliable source of renewable energy. Douglas says that the state couldn’t afford to buy the dams, but made a responsible attempt through an unsuccessful joint bid.

Neither candidate has ruled out Vermont Yankee as a continued source of power, but only if it meets stringent safety standards during a relicensing review.

Parker said relicensing of Yankee would have to address long-term storage of nuclear waste at a location other than Vernon. He said he would oppose a new nuclear plant in the state.

“I don’t want to pre-judge the Yankee case, but more and more environmentalists are taking another look at nuclear power,” Douglas said. He agreed that storage of nuclear waste remains a concern, but said, “It has been a reliable source of power.”

Contact Nancy Remsen at 651-4888 or nremsen@bfp.burlingtonfreepress.com
The candidates’ energy views Here are the views of Republican Jim Douglas and Democrat Scudder Parker on the role that various energy sources should play in Vermont’s future:
Nuclear DOUGLAS: Safety remains my top priority and the regulatory process will determine whether the Vermont Yankee license is extended.
PARKER: I would not support a new nuclear plant. I will insist on an independent safety and reliability review before I will negotiate with Vermont Yankee about license extension.
Wind DOUGLAS: Wind can play an increasing role in our energy portfolio. I will continue to support appropriately sited, Vermont-scale wind projects.
PARKER: Wind should be part of an energy strategy. The size and scale of individual projects must be determined in partnership with communities.
Water DOUGLAS: Hydroelectric generation is an increasingly valuable clean energy source. My administration will continue to encourage locally supported projects.
PARKER: Vermont missed a critical opportunity by not buying dams on the Connecticut
River. We need to do more to pursue small, local hydro projects.
Solar DOUGLAS: More homes and businesses are generating their own clean power through solar technology supported by investments we made in a renewable energy grant program.
PARKER: Our state must do more to support the growing solar industry in Vermont and make options available to consumers and businesses.
Natural gas DOUGLAS: While we want to move away from fossil fuels and resulting global warming emissions, there is an interim role for natural gas in Vermont.
PARKER: Natural gas is a relatively clean fuel that needs to be used thoughtfully as part of Vermont’s energy supply pool.
Oil DOUGLAS: It is important that we continue to work aggressively to reduce our dependence on oil through increased investment in renewable energy and conservation.
PARKER: Many Vermonters rely on oil to heat their homes. The state must give Vermonters the tools to help them use the least amount possible.
Conservation DOUGLAS: Dorothy and I are strong conservationists; each of us, through our own actions, can play an important role to reduce energy consumption.
PARKER: As Efficiency Vermont demonstrated, Vermonters can have a better quality of life while using less electricity.

By Nancy Remsen
Free Press Staff Writer


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