Two columns about renewable energy and industrial wind in last week’s Valley Reporter were, to many of us, long on emotion and short on facts. As part of the effort by the Friends of the Northfield Ridge (FNR) to support appropriate development of renewable energy in all its forms, including wind, we are continuing our efforts to share established facts with Valley residents for their consideration.
Utility-scale, is, unfortunately, a high impact/low return resource for Vermont. Solar, on the other hand, has the potential to be a low impact/high return resource, if sited and utilized appropriately.
Wind is a viable resource in places with big, flat expanses: the West, Midwest and offshore. Several Midwest states have more than 600 gigawatts of wind potential – Vermont has just six. The wind in the Midwest can be harnessed in large arrays, efficiently sited on flat fields.
Solar, meanwhile, can be to Vermont what wind is to the Midwest. The total raw solar resource here is almost 4,000 gigawatts. Just using a fraction of that solar potential would create a significant renewable energy resource for the entire state. Solar is scalable and can be sited in locations that are already developed.
It would take 700 to 1,200 turbines erected on 200 to 300 miles of ridgeline to do the same thing with wind. That would require many more miles of roads in rugged, undeveloped terrain and clearing many acres of alpine forest. Meanwhile we can create an enormous amount of solar electricity by using about 0.7 percent of all of Vermont’s open farmland – and that figure can be further reduced by incorporating parking lots and other open spaces already being used.
Being installed closer to load destinations, solar generation requires no new power lines. And, if a solar installation proves undesirable, it is easily removed or relocated. Imagine trying to get those towers off the Northfield Ridge.
Is solar financially viable? Increasingly, the answer is yes. Based on data from industry analyst Paula Mints, MIT scientist Immanuel Sachs and the U.S. Department of Energy, solar will be directly cost competitive with retail electricity by 2015 or sooner.
For all these reasons, more than 1,200 solar projects have been built in Vermont in recent years with little environmental damage and less controversy. This is not to say that solar is infallible; as we know here in The Valley, solar has to be “done right” just like any other kind of development. FNR supports the discussions currently underway to develop standards that will guide future solar installations in our communities to ensure they are responsible and appropriate.
Wind and solar have very different futures. To increase production, industrial wind plants are becoming even bigger, more expensive and more destructive. Solar, on the other hand, is going in just the opposite direction: smaller, cheaper and less invasive.
It is not the job of Citizens Wind to tell us these facts and others. As a business, their concerns are focused solely on profit and developing what they see as a resource – and we see as our home. It is our job to speak out for the Mad River Valley’s character, quality of life, economy and heritage.
Citizens Wind either does not understand or does not care how Vermont town government works. While their staff has stated on the record that Citizens Wind would depart if the Northfield Ridge wind project was unwelcome, the Waitsfield Planning Commission, after several well-attended meetings, has made it clear that for now the Town Plan’s prohibition on ridge-top development will remain in place. It is unfortunate that Citizens Wind staff have stated that they “don’t think that represents the majority opinion.” We hope that, should they choose to continue this conversation, they will have more respect for our local government.
Deciding whether to develop the Northfield Ridge would be a tougher choice if it could make an important contribution to Vermont’s and the nation’s energy needs. But it cannot. We all cherish this magical valley and the way of life it fosters. And what we all agree we need, for now and the future, are better ways of producing the electricity that we use, ways that are not as destructive to the entire planet and to our small, unique corner of it.
Richards is a member of Friends of the Northfield Ridge.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding