August 13, 2013

Energy plan criticized, Shumlin defends goals

By John Dillon | Vermont Public Radio | August 13, 2013 |

Gov. Peter Shumlin is defending his administration’s target of having Vermont use 90 percent renewable energy by 2050.

The ambitious state energy plan is coming under criticism from some who question the cost and the feasibility of reaching the plan’s goals.

But the governor says the renewable goal is realistic, and that Vermont must do even more to fight climate change.

The energy plan calls for a fundamental shift in how we power our cars, our homes and businesses. Its aggressive target of 90 percent renewables applies to not just electricity use, but to transportation and heating as well.

Guy Page is communications director for the Vermont Energy Partnership, a coalition that supports the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. He said most Vermonters don’t realize the scale of change to the landscape that’s required to achieve just a 5 percent increase for in-state renewable sources. More mountain top wind projects – such as those that have stirred controversy in Sheffield and Lowell – would be needed to reach the goal, Page said.

“About five more Lowell projects is one way to do it (or) 300 more small hydro dams, each of which takes five to seven years to get permitted, solar projects totaling 1.5 times the city of Barre, covering every square inch of that,” he said. “And that gets us just 5 percent closer.”

Some business groups are concerned as well. Associated Industries of Vermont has warned about the high cost of renewable mandates.

AIV represents companies like EHV Weidmann in St. Johnsbury, which makes insulation for electric transformers. John Goodrich is vice president and general manager. He said he fully supports environmentally friendly energy production. But Goodrich said policy makers need to be realistic about what a small state can do to influence global climate change.

“To reach that stated goal of 90 percent renewables by 2050 may be hampering our economic vitality if we make the wrong choices now as we pursue that objective, and we may shut off what might be bridging technologies that get us to the same point,” he said. “If we beat the crowd to that point we may have no business here at all because the energy’s costing us so much.”

But Gov. Shumlin said shifting to renewables will help grow jobs as more green companies invest here.

And he said any big social change such as the one needed to respond to climate change makes some people upset.

“It is real. And I think that both the economy and the politicians can rise to the challenge. But not unless we move quickly,” he said. “I’m proud of the fact that we’ve doubled the amount of solar projects since I’ve been governor. I’m proud of the fact we’ve built wind projects since I’ve been governor. I know it’s controversial, but it’s the right thing to do.”

The Vermont Public Interest Research Group also supports the renewable goals. Clean Energy Advocate Ben Walsh said there’s not much new in Guy Page’s critique of the energy plan.

“He’s essentially saying there are enormous benefits in getting to 90 percent renewable energy, and it’s going to be hard. And frankly that’s something that we know,” Walsh said. “But Vermonters don’t back down from a challenge. We have 37 years to get from here to there, and I absolutely believe it’s going to happen.”

Walsh said both solar and wind technologies are getting less expensive and more efficient – trends that should help the state reach the renewable goal by 2050.

[audio available]

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