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With the Lowell Mountain wind project, timing (and money) is everything

I listened to Gov. Peter Shumlin’s remarks on Vermont Public Radio’s Vermont Edition on Feb. 11. My attention was riveted on his response to a question regarding wind development on ridgelines in Vermont. The governor waxed about the need for Vermonters to be environmental stewards, to be thoughtful and deliberate in going forward with projects, that our scenic beauty and Green Mountains are our legacy. He then stated that he had charged his natural resources secretary with the task of developing a comprehensive plan for determining what areas must be protected forever and where it would be feasible to place renewable energy projects. He said that this task needed to be on a fast track and that he asked that the plan be ready for public hearings this spring and ready for implementation by this coming October.

His timing was impeccable: There was a sense of urgency in his voice. He was hurrying to make order of, he said, an aspect of Vermont’s resources that had been not only neglected, but ignored for the last many years. He wanted a framework for planned protection of Vermont’s natural resources and placement of renewable energy projects only in those areas that would most efficiently sustain and support it.

The next day, the Burlington Free Press (Feb. 12) published an Associated Press report stating that Shumlin endorsed the large-scale wind power project planned for the Northeast Kingdom’s Lowell Mountain Range. It also reported that Shumlin insisted that it was coincidental, but of no significance, that Mary Powell, Green Mountain Power’s CEO, chaired his inaugural committee and, he added, that he had campaigned on a platform of supporting an expansion of renewable power sources in Vermont.

The timing of the sharing of these two bits of information points to a glaring cynicism in the governor’s office: Let’s get out a plan, but not before the final decision on Lowell Mountain is made. If the governor were being ingenuous, he might advocate a moratorium on any proposed wind project (and Lowell Mountain is only one in a long line of proposals) until his secretary had completed her charge. If he wants to develop the kind of comprehensive plan he suggested on VPR, he ought to be inclined to give the process its due course. For him to act otherwise, especially in light of his warm relationship with CEO Powell, looks and smells very much like patronage and reveals a dreary peek at the spoils system we may be embarking on.

We know why Shumlin and Powell cannot wait: Federal money available for this, otherwise, “never never” plan evaporates at midnight at the end of this year if the Certificate of Public Good is not in hand. So now opponents to this project can add as additional adversaries in this asymmetrical battle, Shumlin and the ANR. No matter how the governor frames his decision, (e.g., offsetting the impending closure of VY, moving toward energy self-reliance, implementing green technology – all of which are compelling in the abstract) he has cast his considerable political stock against the long-term best interests of Vermont’s environment in general and the irreplaceable and continually dwindling scenic beauty of the Northeast Kingdom, specifically.

This op-ed is by Phil Lovely, a resident of Craftsbury.