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Wind developers seem to think that if they engage in the use of PC buzzwords, the public will buy it. Some knowledgeable citizens know when they have been hoodwinked, though. I know a physics professor whose email signature file reads: “People will do anything to save the world, except take a course in science.” By nature, wind developers can’t be forthcoming about their product; if they were, no one would want it.
Students, faculty, and staff of Sterling College recently wrote and signed a petition asking the Public Service Board to suspend the hearings on the proposed Lowell wind development. They also asked state regulators for a moratorium on other proposed ridgeline industrial wind projects in Vermont. According to The Caledonian-Record (12/28/10), the petition was signed by “a majority” of faculty and staff and an “overwhelming majority” of the students. Dorothy Schnure’s (GMP) response in a subsequent letter to the editor was to belittle the school’s effort by referring to these majorities as “some of the Sterling faculty and students.”
Of interest, the college is dedicated to sustainability. Accordingly, the students are very aware of what is sustainable and have thoughtful professors on their side. Students are people seeking the truth, with nothing to sell in connection with the industry. The students relate to Linda Ronstadt’s’ line, “I’ve been lied to.” They realize that the natural environment has been thrown under the GMP bus that carted PSB members around Lowell.
GMP folks, on the other hand, will tell you anything to make them sound good in order to get their way. They claim that wind energy is sustainable, but this is not true. They claim that wind energy is clean; this is also not true. And they pretend that all the power generated will remain in Vermont. As Vermont is tied into a regional grid, this statement makes no sense.
GMP has actually proved that commercial-scale wind is not sustainable. Witness the catastrophic failure of one of their turbines at Searsburg. In Germany, insurance companies assume that the gear box, the most expensive component, will be junk in 5 years. Blades often need replacement.
Recently, in an article entitled Rare Earths Leave Toxic Trail to Toyota Prius, Vestas Turbines, Bloomberg.com explains why “wind energy” is not as clean as it is promoted to be. The magnets used in wind turbines require rare-earth elements, the mining and processing of which causes extensive environmental damage. China, which produces the vast majority of these elements, is shutting down unregulated rare-earth mines and slashing exports. Vestas Wind Systems, the world’s largest maker of turbines, is worried that this will increase the cost of these materials dramatically.
The students and faculty of Sterling College are to be commended for their position. Unfortunately, however, they have not yet experienced how the PSB operates. To begin with, the PSB’s mandate is, essentially, to approve new electric projects. I have attended every technical hearing in one docket and some in others. I quickly learned that the term “quasi-judicial” means that the PSB will always conclude what it wants to conclude regardless of how right the opposition might be. The Board bases its decision entirely on the technical hearings. The developers (i.e., their lawyers) spend unlimited funds to present their side of the story. Expert witnesses are paid by the developer to promote what the developer wants, which may not be in the best interest of the public. The only recourse for opponents of a proposed project is to become an intervener, hire their own lawyers and experts, and fund their own studies, at great expense. The system is rigged. You can spend a million dollars to fight it and are likely to lose. It is a flawed process. Legislators, both state and federal, have received funds from industry lobbyists.
Unfortunately, the sincere efforts of the students and faculty will only be a soon-forgotten part of the public record. It will be like a brilliantly colored fall leaf now brown, dried up, and blown away. The PSB hasn’t commented on the petition because that’s not how things are done. The public record has no actual bearing on the decision-making. It only allows enraged citizens a chance to vent.
The petition was a good start, but it is not the end. The students and staff must make every effort to support the interveners, such as the towns of Albany and Craftsbury, perhaps helping with fund raisers. Kingdom Commons Group, Ridge Protectors, and Energize Vermont have had to raise a lot of cash over 10 years to get citizens to the point of awareness that we are currently at. Towns surrounding Lowell are up against the same problem that Sutton faced against Sheffield. The PSB pays lip service to 10-mile towns but rules that one town does not have jurisdiction over another. In order to be heard, citizens need to go to Montpelier and make it perfectly clear to your legislators, the DPS, and the PSB that you will not tolerate this sham.
To paraphrase the past commissioner of the Department of Public Service, David O’Brien, the Lowell Mountain Range is your Camel’s Hump. What Ridge Protectors discovered is that the quasi-guys craft a decision that the highest court in the state can’t overturn. They have also found that it’s OK with state agencies, as well as the Environmental Court, to ruin the natural environment for wind power.
This is the shocking power of the unsustainably subsidized industry that is out to ruin our state and hand us the highest electric bill we have ever seen. Many of the same people who think that wind power is great will be (too late) up in arms over electric bills that will drive other industries, farmers, and other people out of Vermont.
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