Vermont has a history of being first. It was the first government in all of North America to outlaw slavery, support the education of all children, and enfranchise all men. The tradition continued with robust environmental protection 1970 and civil unions 2000. The value that these accomplishments represent is an uncommon respect for the individual that extends to the environment.
The proponents of ridgeline wind projects argue that these projects are responsible steps to reverse global warming. Opponents of the wind projects argue that global warming may be more effectively addressed with options that do not damage priceless and irreplaceable resources-our communities and our mountains.
The Lowell Mountains wind project debate has been characterized as vehement-more heat than light.
In order to decrease the heat and increase the light on energy policy two national institutes-the National Energy Policy Institute and Resources for the Future-combined their resources and performed a comprehensive quantitative analysis of all policies that may reduce our use of foreign oil and decrease CO2 emissions. The analysis is entitled “Toward a New National Energy Policy: Assessing the Options” and is available on the internet.
The major finding of the analysis is: without penalties on carbon emissions all renewable energy and efficiency projects fail to have a significant impact on CO2 emissions. Since we do not have penalties on carbon emissions, all current energy policies fail to significantly impact global warming. Renewable energy projects are an essential part of a solution but to be effective they must be placed in a context of penalties on carbon emissions. This finding raises the question, “Suppose that there were penalties on carbon emissions, would ridgeline wind projects be fostered in Vermont?” The analysis finds that CO2 emissions could be effectively reduced at maximum costs of $13-$25 per metric ton of emissions-the costs for reducing CO2 emissions from the Lowell Wind project is more than $100 per metric ton. In an effective policy context, rational decision makers would not propose wind turbines on the Lowell Ridgeline because there are options that are 4-8 times more cost-effective in reducing co2 emissions.
On January 15, 2009 US Airways Flight 1549 with 155 passengers took off from LaGuardia Airport. Three minutes after take-off the plane hit a flock of birds, disabling both engines. The copilot was flying the aircraft at the time of impact. Eight seconds after the impact, Captain Chesley Sullenberger announced to the cockpit “My plane.” indicating that he was taking-over responsibility for control of the aircraft–now gliding over millions of people at low altitude with zero thrust. He assessed the available options and concluded that he had only one option-landing in the Hudson River. Two minutes and 34 seconds after taking command of the aircraft, the Captain Sullenberger safely landed the aircraft. The professionalism of Captain Sullenberger and his crew sets a standard for leadership- define the problem, generate a list of options, analyze each option, decide on the best, and focus all participants on the solution.
Our Vermont leadership is asking us to support the Lowell Wind Project that has no meaningful relationship to reversing global warming, permanently damages an intact mountain ecosystem, divides our communities and costs rate payers far more than is necessary to achieve meaningful CO2 reductions. We are being asked to support an analytically unsound project from a limited list of options that costs rate payers more than $100 million than is necessary for the same amount of energy and CO2 reduction. We are missing the opportunity for another Vermont first: the first state to put the needs of its citizens and environment ahead of those of energy corporations. We need our communities, our mountains, and a responsible, transparent and effective energy policy. It is not too late for Gov. Shumlin to take over full responsibility for piloting the state, say, “My State” and aspire to the standards for leadership achieved by Captain Sullenberger.
Robert R. Holland, MD, MS