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Sen. Joe Benning: a change in the wind

Recently I hiked up to the top of Lowell Ridge to see where 21, 400-foot wind towers will be placed. As I crested the mountain I came face to face with an energy policy that is at war with itself. The environmental destruction taking place there pits those seeking to reverse climate change against those who wish to preserve Vermont’s pristine natural resources. While that battle rages, the economic cost to Vermont has been pushed aside as irrelevant.

Our new energy policy calls for a 90 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. Targeting our entire energy spectrum (including transportation), it relies on instate renewables to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. At the same time we’re eliminating Hydro Quebec, nuclear power, fracked natural gas and less efficient biomass electricity as acceptable “renewables.” Industrial wind, currently the darling of the present administration, has become the power that now drives our legislative policy.

What price are we willing to pay for this new policy? Vermont currently does a better job than most states at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, so self-imposed mandates are not even necessary. And to those who believe Vermont will “lead the way” in reversing climate change, any hope that Vermont alone can cause a world-wide domino effect to achieve this lofty goal should be carefully balanced against the very real environmental destruction taking place right now in the cherished natural solitude of the Northeast Kingdom.

And more wind farms are coming as corporate investors, motivated by tax incentives and artificially inflated electric rates, seduce small towns with infusions of cash. Since wind is intermittent and has no storage capacity, our policy alone will require more wind farms and many miles of transmission lines to achieve our energy goal. Regulatory authorities are failing to insist on decommissioning plans, meaning our ridgelines will end up littered with forty story rusting hulks when this technology becomes obsolete. These new wind farms are encroaching on our wildlife corridors, destroying pristine mountain environments and radically changing the aesthetics of our state. They pit citizens of towns against each other, and towns against towns in a given region.

In the meantime, we in the Legislature have not been living up to the responsibility that comes with guarding Vermont’s Constitution. Article 18 urges us to be moderate and frugal when enacting only such legislation as is necessary for the good government of this state. At a time when Vermont already has more power than it can use, our new policy is not moderate, not frugal, and certainly not necessary. We haven’t even taken the time to ask ourselves what these policy goals will mean to our economy in the absence of similar goals in surrounding states.

I cannot support the raping of a pristine environment in exchange for intermittent power that has to be subsidized by both the taxpayer and the ratepayer. At a time when Vermont already has an ample power supply, this is no energy plan, it is a blind obsession. It’s time for Vermonters of every political stripe to join together in defense of “These Green Hills and Silver Waters.”

Sen. Joe Benning is a Republican serving the Caledonian-Orange district in the Vermont Senate.