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Wind forum held in Dorset

DORSET – On Wednesday, Nov. 13, Vermonters for a Clean Environment hosted a discussion about industrial wind energy in Vermont at The Long Trail School in Dorset. A DVD, “Peak Keepers: The Future of Vermont” was shown, followed by a discussion led by executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment Annette Smith and Bennington County state Senator Robert Hartwell.

Smith kicked things of by discussing the lawsuit she and other plaintiffs have filed against the federal government in connection with the Deerfield wind project. This project, proposed by Iberdrola Renewables, the second largest wind operator in the U.S., according to its website, is a continuation of the current wind turbines already in use in Searsburg, off Route 9.

“If this project goes forward, it opens up… not only Green Mountain National forest but all U.S. Forest Service land to wind development and if you can put a wind project next to the George D. Aiken wilderness in Vermont then you can put it next to a wilderness just about anywhere,” Smith said. Hartwell spoke about the political process surrounding the wind energy debate, specifically the moratorium on wind development. He said Act 250, a Vermont law passed in 1970 to help regulate land use and development, has lost some of it’s weight following the introduction of the energy debate to the state. Before this debate, he said, all land above 2,500 feet was considered sacred until the legislature allowed this land to be developed for uses like industrial wind.

“There will be legislation, after the summer hearings…that we could create a really much better process even before the public service board,” he said . “And that would include empowering the regional planning commissions to add serious, piece in all the regional plans about energy sighting…and to have a serious energy section in the regional plan which would be given very great weight in the public service boards.”

One question that was brought up during the discussion was local energy, instead of a centralized grid system that provides power to a larger geographic area. Smith said solar was the best renewable resource, especially since the price has gone down so much. She said other ways of harnessing the winds power, something small enough to put on a house, could be an option as the technology changes. Local energy, she said, could consist of solar panels on homes and businesses, small solar orchards placed in appropriate sites chosen by the town.

“(A) new model is this community comes together and you look at what you have for a built landscape, are there appropriate large roofs to put it on, are there really poor quality fields that solar would be appropriate for,” she said. “And site them in a way that is not an aesthetic distraction, that enhances our community, doesn’t detract from it.”

Hartwell brought up the point that the 90 percent renewable energy in Vermont by the year 2050 is not state law, but is instead an energy plan of the current administration in Montpelier. He said he does not think this goal will be reached, and that there is not a lot of science behind the number, rather it was a number “pulled out of thin air.”

The meeting was mostly a discussion of anti-wind sentiment, with only one person speaking up in defense of wind energy. Roger Squire said he has the suspicion that the wind issue is more about people not wanting wind turbines in their backyard. He said he believes the wind opponents of wind use words, like industrial, to make these developments seem like the worst thing in the world – which Smith pointed out is a word the developers use as well.

“I’m sure I’ll be tarred and feathered for saying this, but I was sort of hoping in this get together there would be more of a debate,” Squire said. “But I sense it is a 100 percent opposition to wind in the room. My feeling is every time we can cut a kilowatt that’s produced by fossil fuels, society…the country and the planet wins.”

Smith said she too is interested in the idea of reducing kilowatts of fossil fuels by the use of renewables. On a visit to the Londonderry natural gas plant, she said she wanted to ask about the idea of when one megawatt of power is put into the grid from renewables, like wind, one megawatt of fossil fuels is not used. The plant operator, she said, told her that is not the case.

“He said, when my plant which is a 70 percent efficient plant is called on to ramp down [wind energy is being used instead], I’m running inefficiently,” she said. “I said are you saving fossil fuels? [He said] Not really.”

Peaking generators, Smith said, can be used to help save some natural gas in the New England system, however, they are not cost effective for use in Londonderry. They are more efficient in newer grids, she said.

“What I look at is why are you willing to believe that we are addressing fossil fuel consumption without any evidence that it’s happening,” she said. “I’ve been looking for that evidence for four or so years. I don’t just want to go on faith.”