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Senator Joe Benning: Destroy it to save it

Destroy It To Save It

A very long time ago I was watching a television interview of an American soldier in a foreign war. His platoon was burning a village. Asked why they were burning the village, the soldier said it was believed some residents were enemy sympathizers. He then said: “We’ve got to destroy the village so we can save it.” The Vermont we consider home may be facing a similar fate.

Act 56 is Vermont’s new renewable energy law. It raises renewable energy targets on utilities from 55 percent of a utility’s sales in 2017 to 75 percent in 2032, an important objective that most Vermonters support. Unfortunately, one prominent individual has sparked the idea that Vermont must meet those percentage goals by using only in-state renewable energy production. We certainly should pursue in-state renewable generation, but how much and how we produce it is a flammable topic. If the “in-state only” spark catches fire, the things Vermonters cherish most will be consumed in a conflagration of our own doing.

Think I’m needlessly pulling a false alarm? Meet David Blittersdorf, president of All Earth Renewables, developer of industrial-sized wind towers and solar arrays. He is also a major player in Vermont politics, as many Vermont politicians receive his campaign contributions. He recently gave a presentation to Addison County Democrats entitled: “Vermont’s Renewable Energy Future,” a link to which appears at the end of this essay. He makes it quite clear the only proper way for Vermont to reach 75% renewable generation is with in-state produced power. There were at least a couple of well-meaning people in the room who agreed with him.

Getting to 75% renewables is a noble endeavor, but getting there by limiting ourselves solely to in-state production threatens to destroy our way of life. Mr. Blittersdorf’s own numbers, taken from his vision of Vermont’s “future,” demonstrate why. He says our current in-state renewable production of 100 megawatts will need to rise to 9,000 megawatts to meet our goal. To get there, he proposes 3,000 megawatts of industrial wind facilities and 6,000 megawatts of industrial solar arrays.

Okay, so what exactly does that mean? In the case of wind he says: “(To reach) 3,000 megawatts, you can put about 15 megawatts per mile – so that’s 200 miles of ridges.” He did not say how much land would be needed for the additional 6,000 megawatts of solar, but he dismissed an audience member’s suggestion to use rooftops with a sobering statistic. Installing solar on every usable rooftop in Vermont would only generate “one to two percent” of the state’s energy needs. One can therefore surmise that Vermont would need to convert tens of thousands of acres worth of viable agricultural and forest land into solar fields to get the other ninety-eight to ninety-nine percent. He also says it’s time to relax some of Act 250’s strict land protections.

So imagine this new Vermont. Two hundred miles of ridgelines adorned with almost five hundred foot tall whirligigs that blink at night, each one atop a concrete pad that has obliterated a pristine environment and disrupted wildlife habitat corridors. Untold thousands of acres of clear-cut forestlands and despoiled agricultural land covered with solar arrays.

And radical landscape transformation is not all. He continues: “In Vermont, people like to live ten, twenty, thirty miles from work. That’s going to disappear. The 10-acre lot way out in the middle of nowhere on a dirt road is not going to be working anymore. So we have to … abandon the car … get people to live where they work … [t]hey can’t be living everywhere.” He goes on to call for a moratorium on new roads, airports, gas stations, car dealers and natural gas pipelines. He wants a $100-per-ton carbon tax on distributors of fossil fuels, a tax that would hit the poorest Vermonters the hardest. In short, rural Vermont is no more.

It goes without saying that Mr. Blittersdorf stands to profit handsomely if we burn our village. The only remaining question is: how many state policy makers are picking up his torch? It is no sin to accept renewable power from out of state as we strive to meet our goals. But it would be a travesty to allow a vain sense of ideological righteousness to drive policy that is myopic in nature. We’ve long fought against acid rain to protect our ridgelines and supported regulations that thwart destruction of prime agricultural and forest lands. Destroying what we have heretofore protected needlessly divides a people who have traditionally stood together protecting their environment.


Joe Benning is a Vermont State Senator and Minority Leader. He represents the Caledonia-Orange District and hails from Lyndonville.