We have worked hard to secure land and easements so that the Long Trail, Appalachian Trail, and other Vermont hiking treasures are buffered against development where possible and protected from closure so as to preserve the trails and mountains we all value.
These land protection efforts have relied heavily on state support. Led by the likes of Gov. Howard Dean and former state Sen. Robert Gannett, the state has been a key partner in this on-going conservation effort. Today, we continue to work in partnership with the administration of Gov. Peter Shumlin to conserve lands within the Long Trail corridor.
At the same time, the draft state energy plan makes the ill-advised proposal of lifting the 2004 moratorium on wind projects on public lands. The state policy says “large-scale renewable energy development on (Agency of Natural Resources) lands such as commercial wind farms would be incompatible with the uses of and contrary to purposes for which ANR acquired these lands.” Seven years later, it still reads like wise counsel.
We as a state can make choices and we have long chosen to conserve special lands so as to protect them from development of all kinds. I hope we will find a way to continue that tradition rather than amplify the disagreement we have seen over large scale wind development on private lands by adding state lands into the mix.
The state’s energy plan should be commended for taking on the daunting task of planning for our clean energy future. The club, which has itself installed on-site solar power and clean-burning wood heating and hot water systems at its Waterbury Center headquarters, knows we as a state have hard work to do in addressing our energy needs while confronting our environmental challenges – most notably global climate change. The state has shouldered a great burden in confronting this.
We must walk the walk when it comes to confronting today’s environmental crises, and we must do it with clear planning and foresight of the cumulative impacts of development on the very environment we have worked so hard to preserve, always understanding that Vermont relies on her mountains for economic, ecological, and cultural sustenance.
Our 10,000-member club is entrusted by the Vermont General Assembly “with the responsibility for the leadership in the development of policies” relating to the Long Trail which the club began building in 1910. It is for that reason that we feel it necessary to weigh in on these matters.
While the club did not oppose the Lowell wind development, it fought successfully to include radar-activated lighting systems and a developer-funded decommissioning plan as part of the developer’s certificate of public good. We would however oppose development outright if it targeted the Long Trail itself. If the state were to lift its current moratorium, it must put in place protections for the Long Trail and other conserved lands.
The fact is that proposals for wind energy development should continue to be treated differently than other modes of energy production. By its very nature, most large scale wind development in Vermont would focus on the highest-elevation public lands, unlike solar power, which can more easily be generated on less fragile terrain like the GMC campus on Vermont 100 in Waterbury Center.
Lifting the existing moratorium – or simply ignoring it – would be a radical change in state policy at a time when the state continues a heated debate over the role of wind power development on our mountain ridgelines. Ending the wind development moratorium without clear rationale and rock-solid protections for our most-precious Vermont landscapes would be a significant step in the wrong direction.
Will Wiquist is executive director of the Green Mountain Club, the founders and maintainers of the Long Trail.