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Gambling on the future

An April 5 op-ed criticizes Vermont lawmakers for not supporting renewable energy. What had they done to be labeled as not supportive? They had considered passing a law that would require projects to undergo an Act 250 review process. The op-ed writer, Charles McKenna, is concerned that projects could be easily derailed by small groups. He ends by referring to Vermont Sen. Dick McCormack, D-Windsor County, who has “discomfort about the impact of renewable energy development on the Vermont landscape” but the senator’s concern about global warming forced him to overcome his discomfort.

It appears that the writer and the senator have already decided that all renewable projects are OK, and that local impacts must be accepted for the greater good – i.e. combating global warming. He says Act 250 was not designed for large energy projects that serve statewide needs. The writer seems not to be impressed by mere local concerns of “small groups.” The senator and McKenna seem to have reintroduced an older, realistic standard: Local areas must accept some impact for the greater good. For example, having F-35s at the Burlington airport is an activity that serves the national interest, and a little extra noise could be considered South Burlington’s “fair share” of the impacts of national defense.

The proposed future includes hundreds of turbines on ridgelines and everyone owning an electric car. The present grid cannot support much wind generation without an equal amount of gas-fired backup generation. Electric cars are now short range and expensive, with no improvements in sight. By proposing this energy future, the author is rolling the dice. He is betting that a much better battery for cars will be invented and that a large-scale storage system for the grid will appear. He is also betting that the issue of finding the scarce materials required for solar panels will be solved.

I’m for all alternatives, but against shutting down what we have now while betting on what some people hope will come true.

Howard Shaffer