MONTPELIER – Remarkably, the dozen of us converged one recent morning at the Vermont Statehouse within minutes of each other.
Unremarkably, the round-table discussion that followed regarding environmental priorities and legislation, established a logic of its own.
The Burlington Free Press asked a panel of legislators and advocates to come together in Montpelier ahead of the 2013 legislative session for a moderated meeting of the minds.
Our participants in the first Green Mountain Traction Round Table outlined strategies to improve land-use planning, ridge-top wind power, Lake Champlain’s water quality and the transfer of heat, money and people through Vermont.
With encouragement, they discussed specifics. They also acknowledged that our environmental, organizational and economic challenges are marvelously intertwined.
• James Ehlers, executive director of Colchester-based nonprofit Lake Champlain International.
• Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, chairman of House Natural Resources and Energy Committee.
• Sen. Virginia Lyons, D-Chittenden, former chairwoman of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee.
• Deborah Markowitz, Secretary of Agency of Natural Resources.
• Scudder Parker, policy director of Burlington-based nonprofit Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (VEIC).
• Brian Shupe, executive director of Montpelier-based nonprofit Vermont Natural Resources Council.
• Annette Smith, executive director of Danby-based nonprofit Vermonters for a Clean Environment.
• Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden, vice chairwoman of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee.
Moderating the discussion: Joel Banner Baird, Terri Hallenbeck and Adam Silverman of the Free Press.
What follows is a transcript of the wide-ranging, nearly 90-minute discussion, edited for brevity and clarity:
Joel Banner Baird: To start us off: What we’re interested in is not so much talking points we’ve all heard them before but rather, how and where this session might move forward on important issues.
We’d like to dispense, as much as possible, from ideological or idealistic goals. This edition of the Burlington Free Press’ Green Mountain is called “Traction” for a reason: How, specifically, can we actually make our way forward?
Let’s begin with improving our water quality.
James Ehlers: We need more serious consideration of financing mechanisms for water infrastructure, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure, and pollution prevention – along with additional regulation.
Specifically, I’m referencing agriculture – which I know tends to put people a little on edge – but in certain watersheds, it’s clear that agriculture is the dominant source of pollution.
In other watersheds it’s development. Not really new development, because those communities are pretty well regulated – it’s the existing development that is very problematic.
Baird: What kind of funding mechanisms are you or are any of the legislators proposing?
Ehlers: Well, I’m not proposing one specifically, nor is my organization. But there needs to be serious consideration, both at the municipal level and at the state level, of the full cost of commodities such as water, milk, food and energy.
We’re not paying their true costs; we’re externalizing those costs – usually downstream.
In my work, there’s great overlap between agriculture and regulation. Perhaps we should be working towards a milk-pricing system that affords the industry the opportunity to have the revenues, to then comply with regulations. We’re probably talking $6 to $8 for a gallon of milk.
Terri Hallenbeck: Is that on the Agency of Natural Resources agenda?
Deborah Markowitz: Last session, the Natural Resources Committee in the Senate, and the Fish and Wildlife Committee in the House, asked us to put together a study looking at water quality. The act is referred to as Act 138. We’ve come up with a big, comprehensive report. That’s going to be the subject of a lot of conversation this session.
It’s a report that puts in one place what the scope of the problem is, what we see, what we see as the solutions, the things we need to do to clean up waterways and ensure that the ones that are pristine remain so – and then put a price tag on them.
I would bet that a large amount of time in the House and the Senate in those two committees is going to be spent taking apart our report – seeing what they agree with, what they don’t agree with; taking apart these funding mechanisms; taking a close look at the summary of activities we believe require investments.
Virginia Lyons: One of the things critically important in Act 138 is its focus on anti-degradation, and a net-zero outcome for the state.
In other words, keeping the waters that are clean, clean; and to clean up those that are now polluted. That’s an important bottom line to establish. We need to keep our feet to the fire on that.
I’ll be introducing a bill, and there are others working on legislation, that would begin to look for funding sources, whether there should be a regional or a strictly local stormwater utility – or a stormwater utility at all – to deal with non-point agricultural runoff.
Markowitz: Under the U.S. Clean Water Act, there’s a threshold for communities where the community itself is required to get a stormwater control permit. It’s a stormwater permit that applies to all of the developments, large and small, in the community.
It requires the community to take action, to retrofit existing development, to put in new green infrastructure and build infrastructure to manage the stormwater discharges. It’s really costly in those communities.
One of the issues we’re facing as a state is – when there’s pollution that’s coming out of, for example, South Burlington, into the Lake Champlain watershed: It’s not just the people in South Burlington, those who actually live there, who are responsible for that. It’s all of our infrastructure, as a state. I go to shop in South Burlington. I go to the airport in South Burlington. I’m part of it. And we all share the benefits of clean water.
You know, the economy of Chittenden County and the economy of Vermont is so closely tied to having a clean Lake Champlain, that it impacts all of us.
The business community gets that: We have to spread the responsibility for clean water beyond those built communities that are now facing that added burden.
Hallenbeck: Legislatively, is there traction to do something about this?
Lyons: I think David’s (David Deen, D-Westminster, chairman of the House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee) putting some legislation together.
Last year was a year embedded in Irene. We were looking at the rivers and streams. And looking at the federal insurance program. And looking at FEMA requirements, and looking at whether we should be digging out streams, and looking at the latest science for rivers and streams.
We were all so stressed out, extremely, by the lack of funding and available funding sources for cleaning up the waters of the state.
So we sent that message to the House, and they returned an excellent recommendation for studies, which now the Agency of Natural Resources has done: It’s done an exceptional job in reaching out, meeting with a variety of groups and bringing to us a report that we can work with.
Brian Shupe: The Act 138 report is a comprehensive document. It does set out a lot of options.
Where perhaps it falls short is not providing a road map. I think it’s a little murky yet what the legislation might look like, because the communities will have to sort through the various options that are available and road-test them, and develop the priorities. I think there had been a hope that the priorities might have fallen out more, earlier in the process.
Diane Snelling: I would really like to see the state of Vermont take advantage of how many people are totally dedicated to water quality in this state.
We have a whole corps of individuals who year after year have voluntarily monitored water and reported back. There are a lot of innovative ways that we can address these situations that are not high-priced solutions.
Annette Smith: The other water issue we’re looking at is safe drinking water. A lot of these water systems in Vermont are having a really, really hard time meeting EPA regulations. They don’t have enough funding.
So the response is to add more chemicals to the water, which then ends up discharging into Lake Champlain. Whether the Legislature is going to grapple with that or not, it’s something that really is stressing a lot of communities right now, and it’s something that we need to be working on.
Ehlers: Just to put a bow on this. We’re constantly working with the public and helping people realize that these aren’t typically just environmental issues around bugs and bunnies. These are commerce issues; they’re economic development issues; they’re public health issues.
Hopefully the business community sees the Act 138 report as an opportunity for job growth. We know for a fact from the White House that the federal government, including the Congress, both parties, will not be supporting water-quality programs like we have seen historically.
Since the ’60s, this country has dropped in its investment in infrastructure, as a percentage of gross domestic product, from 3 to 1 percent. And there’s nowhere on the horizon where that looks to be turning around.
As a culture we’re going to have to accept that it’s probably not feasible anymore for us, as Vermonters, to ask other people to clean up our own messes. And, taking that down to the community level, communities are going to have to be responsible – not look for other communities in the state to clean up their own messes.
One specific example: the way that the energy community, the agricultural community and the clean-water advocates could work together – because no one likes supporting taxes or fees that don’t have a clear, specific target without some sort of idea of what the return might be – is looking at the methane-digester program at the dairy level, on a community-based scale.
The balance sheet for that has never been examined before. It’s always been looked at the cost: as far as what is the cost per kilowatt-hour for electricity without factoring in the cost of continuing to use rivers and streams basically as sewer pipes and our bays and lake as one big cesspool.
So if you start factoring in the environmental cost of having to deal with the pollution after the fact, the cost associated perhaps transporting manure – because the industry’s already doing it, from the barn to the fields – there’s perhaps great potential here.
Tony Klein: I have introduced a bill – there may be a number on it already: It is a mandatory, statewide land-use-planning bill.
I’m just going to read one of the findings we have in there, because it really speaks to what we’re talking about:
“The absence of a statewide land-use plan hinders the process of development review and environmental protection. Planning that affects land-use occurs in multiple forms that are not fully coordinated, including local and regional planning, state energy and telecommunications plans; further, instead of being addressed from a broad perspective in a coordinated and orderly manner.
“Significantly, issues affecting land use policy are often decided on a case-by-case basis in administrative proceedings or in judicial appeals from those proceedings.
“Examples of issues that would benefit from statewide land-use planning include the growth of sprawl and strip development in the state, and recent controversies over the siting of energy and telecommunications facilities.”
So I would be interested in us talking about it holistically, rather than in this constant, piecemeal approach – where we get nowhere. We’re never going to get anywhere that way.
Hallenbeck: Specifically, on energy-siting projects: How would that change the process?
Klein: I don’t know how. I can’t answer that until this plan is enacted.
What you’ve got now is a permit process with no planning. This bill addresses that, and pretty much says that it will be the Natural Resources Board that has to prepare a statewide land-use plan, and address all forms of development that would be presented to the Legislature and the governor for approval.
Lyons: I’ve also talked about having legislation that would have regional plans develop geographical siting places for community-scale and other energy projects. I think this gets to the energy issue. It would allow local planning and regional planning to work together.
And I think we need to be a little more specific in how we begin to identify how much energy we need. We need it to be secure, and we need to protect ourselves from externalities that we currently have today.
How much energy should, or can, each of our regional planning areas be responsible for? Is it 20 megawatts? Is it 60 megawatts?
To do that kind of analysis up front, we are really encouraging economic development within those areas because, remember: Whenever we have energy development, we have jobs created and economic development.
Baird: On the subject of parceling out or assessing a state energy load, I’d like to ask Scudder to comment, if you would.
Scudder Parker: I think one of the things that’s helpful – and in the earlier part of my career, I went through this attempt to do an integrated planning process – I think various people at various times have made runs at that hill. And it’s a difficult one.
I think one of the things that we learned in the 1980s is that if planning is regarded as abstract and an exercise of power by people you don’t trust, you won’t get very far. There’ll be a visceral reaction to it.
Vermont’s energy laws are very clear: efficiency first. That is Vermont’s energy policy. Efficiency and renewable energy and lowering the total costs of energy on the environment.
What we’ve done with Efficiency Vermont is actually empower people and communities and businesses. Vermont now saves about 2 percent of its electric energy use a year. We are the leaders in the nation; we’re basically reducing load.
But if you look at the climate change, that’s 15 to 20 percent of the total climate change impact in the state. Fossil fuel, used in buildings and transportation, is close to 50 percent. So it’s a start; it’s a model.
We need to be thinking about the connections between electric, fossil fuel, transportation and thermal use.
Carbon, cars, connections
Shupe: And we’re very hopeful that this year we’ll make similar progress in thermal efficiency as the state has with electrical efficiency in the past, with home heating and businesses heating, and coming up with revenue sources to fund some of our weatherization programs to achieve our goals.
And then you’ve got the transportation side of things. I haven’t seen Tony’s bill yet, but he can’t talk about transportation without talking about land use. To have efficiency in our transportation sector, we need to have better management of our settlement patterns and development patterns in the state.
Markowitz: Land use is critical to our future. I agree with Tony: It’s integrated; it’s all connected.
I’m interested in seeing his bill. It’s the right conversation to be having at this point.
We’re also concerned about transportation alternatives, about how we live in a way that reduces our greenhouse-gas emissions, and in what might make us more resilient to the changes that we’ll be seeing in the future.
Hallenbeck: What would we do, though, in this session to solve this transportation issue? This is the most polluting factor that we have in Vermont.
Markowitz: We put a lot of emphasis on trying to be prepared for conversion to electric vehicles. And that’s because, in a rural state, having a robust enough public transportation system to really reduce fossil fuel use is really going to be a row to hoe. We’re also going to look at public transportation, but we can’t rely solely on our bus system, for example.
Parker: If I could give a couple of examples: We’re doing a study that is just an illustration of what Tony is talking about. In the home mortgage crisis, folks who live far out of town, those mortgages were much more susceptible to going into default than homes that were in town, where you could get by with one car or in some cases, no cars.
But we don’t think that way. We think: nice little house in the country. But we don’t think about: When you’ve made a decision to build there, you’ve made certain commitments to energy use, even if you can make some of them more efficient.
Baird: What are the chances of your bill passing?
Klein: This is a little different than the way I usually operate. Usually I come up with something that I’m passionately in favor of, and I put it on the table, and I defend it to the hilt. And I want it to pass.
What I’ve realized with this situation is: I don’t know, and I don’t pretend to know, and I haven’t met anybody who pretends to know what is the answer.
But first, to get to the answer, you have to frame what the problem is.
I think Scudder said it really well: that people in the state of Vermont are not going to buy in or trust being told what to do by something or somebody if they don’t trust that entity.
There’s going to be a lot of discussion about trust in this, and hopefully in the educational process, which is what I think has been missing.
Lyons: To get back to other specific bills: I’m working with Commissioner (Michael) Snyder (of the Forest, Parks and Recreation Department) on a bill that will provide incentives for reinvigorating our timber production and timber use in a sustainable way. It’s not just something that you cut down and hope it re-grows.
At the same time that we’re looking at converting to the district heating, we’re making a linkage with the folks that are growing the trees: We can stimulate economic development in our working landscape. Because if you do that at the same time you’re using new energy sources, you’re also protecting the very land and viewscapes that we so much desire in the state.
Smith: We’ve been asked to present the process we would like to see in siting energy projects, and that’s what we will be doing.
Instead of what I call the plunk-it-down model, where someone comes up with an idea or proposal that people react to – what if we engage in a community-based stakeholder process in a specific area, that is possible to manage, and use the regional planning commission and the district commissions, which we already have, using our existing structures, to empower that?
One process I’ve already seen just doesn’t work. I was chair of the Energy Committee at the Rutland Regional Planning Commission. And we sub-contracted out our energy plan.
It came back, and it was not an update of our previous plan; it was basically the state energy plan compartmentalized to Rutland County: “Here’s what you have to do: Reduce fossil-fuel consumption by 20 percent by 2020.”
That didn’t go over well at all.
So when you try to insert somebody else’s idea into a region instead of engaging people to look at what all the opportunities are – honestly, if you really want to inflame a community and get them interested, propose a ridgeline wind project. And then you have a captive audience to go and work with, to actually look at what could be done differently.
Shupe: I think by framing an issue like this – what can you do in the next three months? Tony’s bill for a statewide land-use plan, I have my doubts that that’s going to fly in the Legislature. But it touches on so many existing programs, some of which were partly successful.
All of those could be re-visited in the context of the big picture that Tony’s laying out. I think that’s going to be a healthy conversation. There’s a lot of opportunity in there.
It’s a plan
Silverman: I think we have to talk – just because it’s such a tough topic – not just among those of us in this room, but among people around the state – we have to talk about wind.
Hallenbeck: Is there a viable solution between those who want a moratorium and those who want more renewable energy? Something real, practical, somewhere in the middle, something that would please both sides?
Snelling: Planning is the heart and soul of Vermont. From town meeting to the planning commissions – I’m not so sure about development review boards – but moving forward, to me it really is about planning.TRIM
My suggestion, that’s not dissimilar to Tony’s, is that we move the jurisdiction for energy-siting review back to the Natural Resources Board, so that any project other than power transmission – any development – goes through the same process in Vermont. People are very used to Act 250. They know how it works; they know what’s going on.
And if we did that with energy projects, we would have a very different perspective.
Hallenbeck: If someone proposes a project like Seneca Mountain, how would that change the process?
Snelling: It wouldn’t go through the Public Service Board. That in itself is a huge difference, because the ultimate jurisdiction is not “public good,” it’s environmental impact, and the neighbors. And once you get back to environmental impact and neighborhood planning, town planning, you’re in a very different realm.
Silverman: And this certainly does slow down the process, though, doesn’t it?
Snelling: But it allows the conversation.
Lyons: The average time for an Act 250 proposal, I think, is about 45 days. Some may go up to 18 months, but the average time for an energy project is much longer than that.
Markowitz: With due respect – when you’re giving that statistic, it includes the ones that are just modifications. All of these energy projects would be complex cases – so I think the timeframe, as a practical matter, is longer: There are more steps.
Snelling: I just want to be clear that that’s the planning part. I know there are other issues in energy projects being sited.
But I think the planning part is really critical because towns really put the emphasis on planning. What’s happened in a number of towns, is that the “public good” ruler has completely obviated the planning that town already did. That really stops any true planning.
Markowitz: Just to weigh in here: I think the administration would resist that approach. And that’s because of giving up this public-good overlay. One of the things that we’ve experienced over the years is if it’s a community-by-community approach, some of these tough–to-site projects, like landfills, FOR example, are hard to get through them.
For example, in zoning, there are certain things that communities have to permit, like electric substations, for example. And they can only regulate them with respect to setbacks and side yards – the aesthetic pieces.
So already, in our land-use-planning content we have accepted that there are some things that we need to have, that people don’t want in their back yards. We need to have a system that succeeds in “getting to yes.”
Snelling: But that is planning, isn’t it?
Markowitz: Planning is part of it.
Snelling: But I’m saying that we if we’re talking about integrating different environmental issues, and we’re saying our approach must be comprehensive and state-wide, then that is planning in the biggest sense.
That’s my point: if we are planning for all the things we need, and all the things we need to restrict, we are making choices.
Klein: this is a good opportunity to let people know what I really think about wind.
I am not pro or con any specific wind project. Nor am I am for or against any specific solar project, biomass project, hydro project.
What I have been involved in, and what I am for, is in the creation of an energy policy in the state of Vermont since 2003, and I have been involved in the evolution of the regulatory processes since I’ve been here.
We’ve defined what the policy is – and I’m going to tell you: I’ve got the history of the entire legislative history right here, with the votes.
For example, last year, Act 170, which calls for 75 percent of our energy usage to be provided by renewals by the year 2032. What was the vote of both our houses? Unanimous. So here’s the policy: We’re requiring our utilities to have a certain amount of the power in their portfolio provided by renewables, and we’re requiring that by a specific date.
Wind, for better or worse, seems to be the tool at the moment, one that most efficiently and most economically – according to the marketplace, according to the utilities – gets them to that policy.
How do we expect our utilities to achieve the goal that we have demanded of them, by overwhelming votes, by statute?
Hallenbeck: Having set that policy, unanimously, are we saying to people, “tough” – because that’s what the state has ordered?
Lyons: The Department of Public Service under the previous administration did a long-term, protracted outreach to citizens in the state, looking at renewable energy: Would you want renewable energy? The answer was overwhelmingly “yes,” and that they would even pay a little more for renewable energy.
But we haven’t looked at how we get there.
Smith: In 2003, when the energy policy was being developed, I was in favor of wind energy. And at that time, what we had was Searsburg. Those turbines are 197 feet tall, and they don’t have to be lighted. And I think that I could sell those to Vermont.
I think the reason that a moratorium is absolutely essential right now is because we now have 3-megawatt turbines that were never envisioned at the time that this policy was put into place.
And now we have projects at 459 feet – and the noise issue is the one that, for me, is the show-stopper. The environmental issues are very serious on these ridgelines, and there are many, many issues. But the noise issue has just in the past few weeks come much clearer.
There’s a study out of Wisconsin that was done collaboratively with noise experts – that were for wind energy, and against wind energy projects – and people who are just observers. They pooled their resources and they looked at homes specific distances away, monitoring for the low frequency and infrasound: vibrations that you can’t hear. Their goal was to develop good data that everybody could look at.
Our Public Service Board has set a standard at 45 dB(A).
Noise is a very complicated subject, but I’m getting it now. We need to be using dB(C), which does a better job of measuring decibels of low-frequency noise, infrasonic sound – which people can’t hear.
The government response all over the world has been to say, “Ignore it.” And in Vermont, I don’t want we want to treat our population like that.
So we now have three mountains – I wake up every morning to noise reports from people. This morning it was Georgia Mountain. Yesterday it was Lowell. The day before it was Sheffield. One man has got a bloody nose, and he’s been told to stop working. His head is pulsating.
This is not something that’s fake. It’s not people who were opposed or going to make this up. It’s just a real serious health problem.
And until we understand what the ramifications are, until we do some health surveys around these mountains, until we find a way to compensate people who have to abandon their homes, I think it’s really essential that we just pause and see if this is a technology that belongs in Vermont.
In my work, I will tell you that, although I’m going to be advising a community-based stakeholder process, the more people learn about wind energy, the more opposed they’ll become. That’s been the case in every mountain. You don’t see booster groups going up.
Baird: Is there any legislation in development that would, say, allow for the development of community-scale wind?
Smith: Unfortunately, we are right now grappling with the Vergennes turbine, which is 120 feet tall, and the neighbor next to it has been complaining of headaches for years.
The fellow who lived next to the one on Burke Mountain abandoned his home and has put his condo on the market because he’s been sick. This is really serious. If you’re prone to seasickness it’s nausea; it’s dizziness. People get headaches; they simply can’t function. This is not a new story.
I can say that we have some noise complaints from the smaller ones. Well, we’ve got to figure out what’s going on with these machines and why they’re making people sick.
There’s very good research on all of these. We haven’t had the opportunity to bring in any testimony on it. But in the past three years, it’s only gotten more and more clear about what’s going on.
Let’s have that conversation in this legislative session.
Snelling: I just have to respectfully disagree that it requires a moratorium, because I think with sufficient planning you would address exactly the questions you’re describing.
Smith: Except that we have these projects pushing, that other communities are feeling threatened – and they’re the ones who want the moratorium.
Snelling: My point is that with planning doesn’t mean that you would still build. It’s planning that gets to the issues that you’re discussing. Once you know what the full environmental impacts are, you would make a different choice.
Smith: Right now that’s not the system we have.
Snelling: That’s why I’m proposing to change it.
Markowitz: Let me just mention that there’s a process going on that’s looking at the siting process. There’s a commission appointed by the governor; it’s been meeting almost every week since its appointment. They’re getting testimony from other states. It’s been looking not just at wind siting, but also looking at energy generating facilities generally, not just renewable energy. They’re going to be making a report in April.
What we want is to have a robust process that allows information, scientific information about the impacts – about whatever the proposed project is – to be on the table, and considered by … right now, it’s the Public Service Board. This siting commission may recommend something different than that.
But by whatever board is considering renewable energy, the goal is to have a system where people feel like they’ve got a voice – and they actually do have a real voice.
And a system that can efficiently make decisions so we can move ahead on our energy policy: Building out renewable energy in Vermont.
Getting, staying, warmer
Parker: There is real dispute on the wind and siting. But one of the things we know is that efficiency works. What we do with electricity works. There is not controversy about this. It lowers bills. This helps people stay more comfortable and to be safer.
There are other enormous opportunities to provide direct, bill reductions for to Vermonters.
Because even though the actual usage of the number of gallons of oil has gone down, as the oil dealers point out, the dollar expenditures on that have gone up phenomenally.
We have a weatherization program that helps in a very high-quality way a number of low-income people every year. But if you’re just not eligible, you’re off the cliff; you get no help whatsoever.
So the working poor basically get dumped off the edge of the cliff on this. Vermont has an opportunity to find a way to do for delivered fossil fuel – oil and propane – what we do in natural gas, because we have required efficiency programs.
There are going to be the discussions, the debates and the complexities, but this is an economic development investment: We double our money, triple our money – and if you look at all the other economic impacts, we recapture sometimes five times the money.
I wouldn’t even think of it as an expenditure. I would think of it as an investment strategy in the infrastructure of Vermont.
Baird: I think, looking at the clock, we’ve got to move on to the “lightning round.” But let’s avoid, in your final words, only what you believe in. Let’s shoot for what we believe the Legislature, with our help, might accomplish.
Vermonters set aside a certain amount of their electric utility bill for investment in efficiency. It works for them, and they accept that. They recognize it as a strategy that provides real, long-term benefits.
Baird: But how can the Legislature do more?
Parker: Find a way to do a comparable assessment for generating revenue to support the development of the infrastructure for thermal efficiency. Much of it’s already in place, but we don’t have adequate funding for it. We’re already taking some electric rate-payer money in different forms and throwing it at thermal, fossil-fuel efficiency. And we need to find a way for oil and propane to pay their fair share.
Snelling: I’m thinking about, Yes, it’s always possible to say we need more funding; we need a mechanism. I think efficiency is the best way for us to go forward. At the same time, I just have to be cautionary about all the recommendations that require us to spend more money here, spend more money there. This is a real problem, because I would say the one thing we need to do and accomplish this session is to spend less – in all areas.
Shupe: I’d like to conclude with three things. One of them is thermal efficiency. I agree with Scudder. We do need to find a way to make an equivalent commitment to thermal efficiency as we have in electric efficiency.
Secondly, we should use Act 138 as the jumping-off point to make meaningful improvements in our water quality. Not only Lake Champlain, but all our surface waters, and focusing on something Ginny said: Prevention is the cheapest way to clean up our waters. Once you’ve degraded our waters, it’s very expensive.
Third, I’m looking forward to the discussion that Tony’s teeing up. There’s a lot we need to do to strengthen and improve our existing planning and land-use programs and policies. It’s a hodgepodge now, and having a comprehensive discussion could lead us to a lot of good directions: updating some of our criteria and some of the processes.
Smith: From our work in communities, what we would like to see coming out of this session is a focus on solving problems that we can bring people together to find solutions so we can stop fighting. Whether it’s drinking water – citizens who don’t want more chemicals in their water, who are feeling like they’re the enemy of a water district because they want to meet the regulations – or whether it’s ridgeline wind.
On the renewable-energy side of this, yes: Vermonters want renewable energy, and they want to have a say in it, in the communities.
We need to find the way to stop fighting, which I think is where the wind moratorium fits in. The fight is not doing us any good, and we’re not making progress on the things we can all agree on.
Markowitz: The wind conversation is a capstone conversation that we’re really looking forward to being part of. Even though the actual bill may or may not go somewhere, it will provide an opportunity to take a fresh look at criteria and a fresh look at what’s worked, and where we could be doing better with land-use planning and the implementation of those plans in Vermont
We’ll be bringing the recommendations from the Siting Commission to the governor and to the Legislature in April, and so it’s my hope that that will tee up the conversation about how we can improve the siting process so there’s transparency, so it’s efficient, so we can make sure that we’re operating in a way that invites public participation.
Ehlers: I don’t know if anyone in this room thinks that there’s a free market that exists anywhere – but perhaps we can work toward fair markets.
By that, I mean that municipalities are not covering the cost of providing wastewater services; they’re not covering the costs of providing drinking water. Our energy producers are not covering the cost of the pollution that results there; neither is our agriculture industry – and all of that winds up being reflected in our water. Which I guess you could say is the canary in the coal mine, if you will, for all of human society.
Specifically, we’ve known that phosphorus has been a problem for 40 years, and we’re still kicking it around. Meanwhile, we have a whole host of chemicals that we all use, and we’re all contributing pharmaceutical compounds and our personal-care products. We know Burlington Bay is slightly caffeinated. Most people find that humorous; I think I have a pretty good sense of humor, but I don’t find that funny at all.
So, I encourage you, Tony, to move forward with this land-use planning, because, if wind energy is what spurred it, we’re also looking at the landfill issue – we’re staring that in the face. We’re looking at crumbling infrastructure, which is hurting our downtown economies.
Now we want to move people and concentrate them as a part of planning, but we’re moving them into communities that are running on outdated technologies that no one seems to want to pay for.
So, if we’re not going to be willing to pay for the true cost of food, water and energy, we’re going to pay for it in sickness; we’re going to pay for it in a decreasing quality of life. This utopia that we all believe to be Vermont, this rural state where we all seek the amenities of Boston, will probably cease to exist for future generations unless we’re pretty aggressive.
Klein: I will speak toward energy, and what I hope the Legislature does and does not do. I hope the Legislature keeps moving forward on energy conservation, and energy efficiency and the creation and development of renewable energy.
What I hope the Legislature doesn’t do is buy into a wind moratorium proposal.
I’ll speak directly to what a wind moratorium will not do: A wind moratorium is not going to take Lowell offline; it’s not going to take Sheffield, Georgia Mountain or Searsburg offline.
I may be wrong, and I’m happy to be corrected: The only projects in the pipeline right now are proposals for Certificates of Public Good for wind-measuring instruments. Wind-measuring instruments go into an area to determine whether a resource is there to warrant whether a project be contemplated going forward.
Certainly no project would get through a permit process, would get developed, within the next two to three years anyway. So what it does is just say “No” to a renewable generation source.
I believe that a moratorium actually sends a message that Vermont is not interested in development of any form of renewable generation going forward, because – what is the next boutique issue that the Legislature will grab onto and put a “no” to?
We have a policy in place; we have a regulatory process in place.
My belief has always been that if a project goes through the process and gets a red light, don’t build it. If it goes through and gets a green light, build it. If we’re upset with the rules and the regulators, petition the Legislature to adjust those things.
We do it every year. We change how the Public Service Board operates. But to simply say “no” is absolutely the wrong message.
Lyons: I concur with Tony: A moratorium doesn’t do us any good. It perpetuates an argument. And I think what we do in this building is, we look for solutions and collaboration. We look for cooperation, and we look for compromise. So we will try to build that from all the good ideas that many people have expressed.
There will be a number of pieces of legislation introduced on that, and they all sound great, and they’re all viable. But I don’t think any one person makes a solution, and I don’t think that we dictate the solution.
I think we work together to do that.
Legislators and environmental advocates – and even journalists – lapse into jargon. Here is a brief explanation of some of the terms and acronyms we bandied about at the round table discussion:
Biomass district energy: A system that generates electricity by burning wood chips (the primary fuel in Vermont), and pipes the surplus heat to surrounding communities.
Digester: A system (some would call it a “reactor”) that converts animal and plant wastes into methane, which can then be burned to generate electricity.
Infrasound and low frequency noise: Sound which, although measurable, falls beneath the range of human hearing. Low frequencies travel farther without dissipation in strength, than audible or high frequencies.
Map overlays: Superimposed maps (historically, through transparencies; now software-driven) that allow for many kinds of information to be linked to geographical areas.
Megawatt: Approximately, and at any given moment, the electric “appetite” required of 1,000 average homes
Non-point agricultural runoff: Pollution, often in the form of excess nutrients (including phosphorus and nitrogen from fertilizers and/or livestock manure) that finds its way to a body of water.
PACE (Property-Assessed Clean Energy): investments made by a property owner that are financed in tandem with a mortgage, and continue to be paid by subsequent owners.
Thermal efficiency: wringing more heat from a given energy source.
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