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When will Rep. Klein be held accountable?

Rep. Tony Klein has managed to effectively eviscerate what remained of S.30, turning it into a summer study of a just completed winter gubernatorial study. However, there may be some relief with Sen. Jane Kitchel’s initiative to add funds to the budget for the health impact study of big turbines. Sen. Kitchel and her committee’s effort represent a significant positive to understanding some of the potentially unsettling consequences of this technology. Now, we’ll have to wait and see where things go from here.

While we’re waiting to see where big wind energy ultimately goes, the Governor’s Energy Generation Siting Policy Commission released its report this week laying out a number of issues requiring attention. Concomitant with the release of the citing commission’s report, Department of Public Service Commissioner Chris Recchia stated: “I think the fundamental problem is that we’re trying to figure what our energy looks like on the ground, on a project-by-project basis and it’s not working.”

The commissioner now admits the process is not working. Isn’t that basically what Sens. Joe Benning and Robert Hartwell were saying when they introduced S.30 and asked for time to get things done correctly? For some reason, many in Montpelier were more interested in being first or the nation’s leader in big renewable energy generation. It seems that being first was more important than getting it right for some of the most powerful people in Montpelier, most notably Rep. Tony Klein, chairman of the House Natural Resource Committee.

Rep. Klein is perhaps the most dogmatic supporter of large renewable energy projects in the Vermont Legislature. Being such a strong proponent, one would reasonably believe that he would have established a well-articulated rationale for his support. But a look at his record on big renewable energy reveals a pattern characterized by an absence of any objective rationale in support for his positions. In other words, he seems to be for large renewable energy projects simply because he thinks they’re a good idea with no expressed economic or technical data to back up his beliefs. The reason for this absence is that there are no defensible economic or technical data that support his position to such an extent that they would overcome the inherent negatives.

In the recent past, the best justification Rep. Klein has been able to provide is to cite the need to send a message to the rest of the country that Vermont is a leader in renewable energy, hardly a solid foundation for lining ridgelines with giant industrial wind turbines (IWTs). Does one ever hear him mention air quality improvement, lower electric costs, fossil fuel savings, human health issues, local community support, wildlife or anything else to warrant the high societal and environmental costs associated with erecting giant wind turbines?

What is even more odd than the absence of any objective rationale on Rep. Klein’s part is the near total lack of notice or questioning of this gaping hole by the members of the House who support his thinking on S.30 and other related matters. For as adamant a position as Rep. Klein has taken in the face of so much public skepticism, one should have expected a bounty of sound data in support of his positions, but there has been none and his colleagues have failed to ask why. What is the general public to think?

To give Rep. Klein the benefit of the doubt, I have gone back over years of news articles quoting him and citing his position on big renewables, but found no compelling justification on his part to support his promotion of industrial renewables. In the past, he has cited a looming energy crisis, which is not solved by IWTs being built in Vermont. He also cites an IWT moratorium being anti-business. He must have meant bad for the renewable energy industry as most regular Vermont businesses are very concerned with the escalating cost of electricity that renewables will bring.

In March 2012, Green Mountain Power through its spokesman, Robert Dostis, expressed concern that the cost of electricity would increase for Vermont families and businesses as a result of aggressive expansion of high-priced renewables such as wind and solar. Mr. Dostis went even further saying overly aggressive renewable portfolio standards could put Vermont at a competitive disadvantage in New England. Well, so much for Rep. Klein’s anti-business concerns related to slowing the expansion of big wind and other renewables.

Rep. Klein’s aggressive renewable energy push has no merit based on technical and economic factors. As a matter of fact, overly aggressive expansion will be harmful to the state’s economy and environment. Now, when will Rep. Klein’s House and Senate colleagues finally realize this fact and demand sound reasons to back up his positions on industry renewables?

Rep. Klein would be most welcome to share with the people of Vermont, plus his House and Senate colleagues, his list of objective reasons for so aggressively pushing industry renewables while ignoring all the accompanying negatives. He has to be held accountable for his actions.

Even better, perhaps, would be Rep. Klein’s call for a reassessment of the Comprehensive Energy Plan. The CEP has created a standard demanding the build-out of big wind and solar projects of dubious real value in a state not equipped to handle the task. This wanting has led to the questioning and doubt we are experiencing today.

This op-ed is by Peter Yankowski, a retired bank president who was deputy insurance commissioner in the Douglas administration. He lives in Rutland Town.