We must all remember Hans Christian Andersen’s wonderful story, The Emperor’s New Clothes.
If an attorney for Green Mountain Power had been standing beside the clear-eyed little boy who shouted “But he isn’t wearing anything at all,” he would have asked him two questions:
“Are you qualified to evaluate the Imperial wardrobe?” and
“Has your opinion that the Emperor is naked been peer reviewed?”
Ron Holland of Irasburg was in the little boy’s position when he testified against the Lowell wind project before the state Public Service Board.
Green Mountain Power said its project was the most cost-effective way it could produce green energy to combat global warming.
Dr. Holland doubted that, and said so.
Instead of challenging his argument, Green Mountain Power challenged the source. “Every word of their cross-examination was aimed to degrade my experience,” he said last week.
Then Dr. Holland learned that, as a party to the PSB hearing process, he had access to the numbers GMP was keeping from the public.
With those in hand, he applied his own professional experience in evaluating the cost-effectiveness of public policy alternatives, hired an expert at his own expense to help with the intricacies of the power industry, and produced his own analysis.
His finding: At $295 per metric ton of carbon dioxide spared from the atmosphere, the Lowell Mountain project would be 12 times as expensive as the average alternative energy project.
Dr. Holland made an upward adjustment in he cost of the wind project’s power; and a downward adjustment in the amount of power it would produce.
But even if one gives Green Mountain Power the benefit of the doubt and plugs its original figures into the equation, the cost works out to $168 per avoided ton, more than six times the average cost of $25 per ton.
The obvious conclusion: The Emperor has no clothes. At such a cost, it would be folly to flatten the top of Lowell Mountain and spoil one of the Northeast Kingdom’s signature views.
If Green Mountain Power took the massive investment it is poised to make in Lowell and used it to make low-interest loans to help homeowners convert to geo-thermal heating systems, it could have far more impact on global warming at a fraction of the cost. It could also sell a lot more electricity.
But Green Mountain Power doesn’t have to worry about the cost-effectiveness of its project. It will sell the power to its customers and, alas, to the customers of this area’s major utility, Vermont Electric Co-op.
The cost, however ridiculous it may be, will be added to its cost of service. The Public Service Board will let Green Mountain Power add a 9 percent profit margin, and send out the bills.
The more money Green Mountain Power spends with the PSB’s blessing, the more its Canadian owner will make.
That’s why it was so critically important for the board and our “protector” in the process, the Public Service Department, to take a hard and intelligent look at the reasonableness of the project’s cost.
They didn’t do it. Nobody did, it seems, until Dr. Holland got hold of the numbers. And his discovery came too late for the board’s formal hearing process.
We, as a state, are about to make a profoundly stupid mistake in carving up our treasured ridgelines to make room for hopelessly inefficient wind turbines.
We are about to squander millions of dollars that could be spent on smaller, smarter alternatives that reflect the realities of this place, its economy, its scale, its weather and its geography.
Dr. Holland has made the critical observation. Our energy regulators need to acknowledge that they have been evaluating the details of a naked man’s wardrobe, and re-open the hearing process. – C.B.
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