BRATTLEBORO – Windham County Sen. Peter Galbraith announced Monday his plans to introduce legislation banning a controversial gas-producing practice and wind projects on Vermont-owned property.
Galbraith, a first-term Democrat from Townshend, said his measures would prohibit hydro-fracking, a practice for producing gas from shale rock, and ban wind projects on state land. For any large-scale wind turbine project, all Vermont municipalities within the “viewshed” would have to sign off on the measure prior to construction.
The legislation, expected to be introduced during January’s session, is designed to protect the state’s water and landscape. Galbraith said Vermont’s natural beauty is a valuable resource.
“A lot of people discuss it in terms of tourism, but I think that’s the wrong way to think of it economically. What is important about Vermont is our landscape, it’s our good services and quality of life that makes it an attraction place for people to live, and that’s why people want to do business here,” he said. “I don’t think it makes sense to destroy our landscape for what is a very minor gain in terms of renewable energy because the future of wind is so clearly offshore, where the wind blows all the time.”
According to Galbraith, hydro-fracking is an “unproven technology” for extraction of oil and gas from shale that involves injecting a high pressure mixture of water,
sand and other chemicals to break up rock. The senator says oil companies have refused to disclose the chemicals used in the process, asserting it is proprietary information.
“We really don’t know the consequences. You’re putting deep into the ground an unknown cocktail of chemicals, which can get into the aquifers and in underground deep water,” he said. “The assurances that it is safe – at best, we can say we really don’t know.”
Advocates of hydro-fracking say the process presents an opportunity to utilize an abundant natural resource to stimulate local economies, particularly in rural counties. With proper regulation to promote responsible development, supporters say it could give farmers a boost during the recession.
Neighboring New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation estimates hydraulic fracturing will provide more than 17,000 full-time jobs.
While Galbraith acknowledges the results can produce significant revenue, he said it could have long-term geological effects on a region.
The Green Mountain State has few topographical areas that are available for the hydro-fracking process.
“It just strikes me that this is something that we don’t need in the state of Vermont. If at sometime in the future we want to take a look at hydro-fracking, we can do so, we can change the law,” Galbraith added.
Vermont Public Interest Research Group has pushed for a ban on hydro-fracking.
“Our organizational position is we support a ban on hydro-fracking for natural gas in Vermont. That would include the broadest definition of hydro-fracking, either horizontal or vertical hydro-fracking,” said VPRIG Director Paul Burns.
“There’s a lot of places in New York state and Pennsylvania for instance, they’ve been doing vertical fracking for some time and it is certainly true that the horizontal fracking represents the new and very serious threat to the environment and public health, but since we don’t have either one going on right now in the state, the vertical fracking often leads to horizontal,” he continued. “It makes more sense just to ban the entire practice.”
But VPRIG support for Galbraith’s legislation ends with the hydro-fracking.
Burns said the senator’s call for a wind power prohibition on state-owned land was a bad idea when the moratorium on wind projects was put in place seven years ago and “it ought to be repealed.”
“I would not support Sen. Galbraith’s legislation to preserve that executive order. It would be a very bad idea to put that into legislation and part of the reason is not because we’re suggesting there should be wind turbines on every bit on state land, it’s just that there’s no legitimate reason to treat wind differently than we treat a number of other technologies available for consideration on state land,” Burns said.
He cited Galbraith’s plan to have other communities within the “viewshed” of turbines as a “ridiculous public policy,” saying it is absurd to establish restriction on only wind generation.
“It would have zero chance of passing and certainly we would not be supportive of it,” Burns said. “It’s very important that wind be part of our energy mix. If we’re serious about promoting renewable energy solutions in this state, wind is simply one of the best available technologies.”
Nevertheless, Galbraith pointed to the hotly-contested Lowell Wind Project as evidence his legislation is needed. Lowell residents supported the utility plans to erect 21 turbines, but surrounding municipalities opposed the construction. Recently, Sterling College students were arrested for attempting to block construction by camping within the safety perimeter of a nearby blasting zone.
“It seems to me that all the affected communities ought be part of the decision-making process,” said the senator. “Wind turbines affect more than the town where they are located and all affected towns should have a voice in their development.”
His legislation would also require industrial scale wind projects on private land to require the consent from neighboring towns as well.
“State lands include the ecologically important places in Vermont and they should never be used for wind projects,” Galbraith continued, emphasizing he is not against wind projects in general. “Wind is a critical to a strategy aimed at combating global warming. The future of wind power is offshore where it could generate one half the electricity used in the northeast by mid-century. Wind farms on Vermont’s ridgelines are marginal to the future of wind but come at a too high cost to our state.”
The senator anticipates receiving support across party lines when the Legislature reconvenes in January 2012.
“This isn’t a Democrat, Republican, Progressive issue. There are people on different sides of this issue within each party,” Galbraith said. “This puts me, in terms of the wind, on exactly the same page as [former Republican Gov.] Jim Douglas, who often said he didn’t think Vermont’s ridgelines were an appropriate place for wind development.”
Sen. Vince Illuzzi, R-Essex-Orleans, said the state owns some of the most scenic areas of Vermont, such as the highest peak Mount Mansfield.
“Places that no one would want to see developed,” Illuzzi said. “As a general right, the answer is yes [regarding his support for the legislation], but it’s hard to be overly general other than to say that as a matter of principle I would agree with the thrust of his legislation.”
The longtime senator, who has a 10 kilowatt wind turbine on his property, said there are limited sites in Vermont when considering proximity to the transmission grid and sustainability of the land. “That rules out 95 percent of the state,” said Illuzzi