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Rebuttal to Avram Patt

I am writing in response to Avram Patt’s Opinion piece titled, “Wind farms: Large, visible … and necessary” published by VTDigger on Jan. 31, 2012. While Mr. Patt made some interesting points, there are issues in his piece that must be addressed.

For example, he asserts that there is a one-to-one ratio between wind power generated and the reduction of power generated from other sources. There is no reliable data to support this assertion. Here in the New England grid with the inefficient ramping of natural gas plants wind may be actually increasing GHG emissions rather than reducing them. We don’t know.

The capacity numbers Patt presents for Sheffield are inaccurate. While the “nameplate” capacity of those turbines might be 2.5MW, the most optimistic estimates are that the turbines will produce around 30 percent of their theoretical potential. These are the numbers the developer provided the Public Service Board. Project supporters and press often overstate how much production we can actually expect from these destructive projects in their attempts to defend them.

Patt’s claim that “mountains are not being blasted apart” glosses over the truth. The mountains in Lowell are, in fact, being blasted apart. There GMP has blasted away at so much mountain they have created new 40-foot cliffs that previously weren’t there. Additionally, they have created miles of bulldozed roads and turbine pads in what once was untouched forestland, headwaters and wildlife habitat. This description is apt, and it is happening right here in Vermont, and is unlike anything happening at our ski resorts.

Patt suggests it is time to move because we have been discussing the issue for years. Years of planning unfortunately are not the same as experiencing the impacts firsthand. With two operating projects, three others approved or under construction, we are now just beginning to understand the full-scale impacts of these developments. Now is a good time to pause and take a look at what is really happening.

I agree with Patt that the most valuable thing we can contribute to the fight against climate change is, in fact, our ridges. Our most valuable resource, though, is not the wind that blows across them, but the habitat they create. As climate change happens, plants and animals under stress will need refuges, places where they can go to survive. Unspoiled mountain ridges are the best refuge available, and that’s one thing that Vermont has that few other places do.

We must respond to climate change, but we should do it in the most effective ways. We can’t have both big wind and unspoiled ridgelines in Vermont. By developing our ridgelines to take advantage of a mediocre resource, we are destroying a premium resource.

Lastly, Patt is unnecessarily negative about the outlook of smaller community-scale renewable energy projects. Solar is undergoing a historic cost decline, and innovative energy storage technologies will be available in the next couple of years. Imagine how we will feel if we sacrifice our mountains now for technology that is outdated in a few short years.

We have two paths, the first is is doom and gloom and sacrifices our unspoiled mountains. The second saves the resource Vermont is uniquely positioned to contribute to the cause, and harnesses the power of our communities to overcome the challenges we all face. I’ll take the second, and keep the mountains.

This op-ed is by Lukas B. Snelling, the executive director of Energize Vermont, a nonprofit, statewide, Rutland-based, renewable energy advocacy group.