MONTPELIER – A group of large-scale solar projects proposed in Vermont should be rejected because they are simply too big for the state and for the communities that would host them, according to Gov. Peter Shumlin.
Shumlin has been a forceful proponent of renewable energy, and solar energy in particular, during his three terms in office. He touts his administration’s renewable energy record by boasting of boosting by tenfold the number of solar panels in Vermont since he took office in January 2011. And there are now about 16,000 jobs in the state associated with the renewable energy sector.
But a recent proposal by Ranger Solar LLC to construct 20 megawatt solar arrays in Ludlow, Brandon, Highgate, Randolph Center, Irasburg and Sheldon is going too far, he said.
“I personally think that a 20-megawatt solar project is too big. It’s just too big,” Shumlin told the Vermont Press Bureau. “As governor, I believe they should not proceed with those projects. They are wrong for Vermont.”
Currently, the largest single solar installation in the state is 2.2 megawatts and takes up about 11 acres of land. The six projects proposed by Ranger Solar would cover more than 100 acres each.
Officials with Ranger Solar did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
The governor rarely discusses proposed energy projects publicly because they must go through an approval process with the quasi-judicial Public Service Board. He said Ranger Solar’s proposed projects have yet to begin that process, however, and he hopes they will be scrapped.
“These projects have not begun the process … and my message to them is very simple – this governor supports homegrown, not corporate-grown. It should not be too big. They should not bring their project here,” Shumlin said. “It is not good, Vermont common sense to build projects that size.”
Solar energy has been important to Vermont’s economy, the governor said, and has allowed Vermont farms new opportunities to power their operations and provide revenue for farm activities.
“It’s part of culture, part of our heritage and part of our working landscape,” Shumlin said. “Let’s remember that we’re evolving and we have to be logical. We have to do this the Vermont way.”
The Vermont way includes wind power, but in select areas, Shumlin said. Wind power “has been good for Vermont” and is “one of the most efficient renewables that you can build,” he said. The wind projects in place in Sheffield, a 40-megawatt installation, and Lowell, a 63-megawatt installation, “make sense,” Shumlin said.
But additional large-scale projects, including solar and wind, would pose problems for the electrical grid, according to Shumlin.
“They build it before they think clearly and they can’t get it distributed to the folks who need it,” the governor said. “If you build projects of that size – the grid was not set up to be able to maximize the use of that power.”
Additional wind projects in the Northeast Kingdom would strain the grid and cost Vermonters money, he said.
“We’re now at the stage in terms of the grid where if you build big wind in the Northeast Kingdom, or if you build big wind in Franklin County, parts of Franklin County that are being proposed, again, you will have stranded renewables,” Shumlin said. “You will have difficulty getting those into the grid without making extraordinary investments to the grid that will cost Vermont ratepayers money. So, let’s continue to do wind, but let’s do it sensibly and let’s do it in the right places.”
The Northeast Kingdom “has made their contribution to Vermont by hosting two significant wind projects,” according to Shumlin.
The governor blasted Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lisman’s plan for a two-year moratorium on renewable energy projects, a policy he outlined Monday in his campaign launch.
“I think to myself, ‘Whose job are you eliminating? What Vermonter are you turning to and saying your job is gone?’” Shumlin said. “You’re saying to 1 in 20 Vermonters, ‘Your job, gone.’ I’m a job creator not a job destroyer. We don’t need job destroyers.”
Shumlin said he will call for additional renewable energy initiatives during his final year in office.
“What you’re going to see me do in the State of the State address is continue to recommend bold ideas that will continue this trend, not put a moratorium on this trend,” Shumlin said. “Anyone who puts a moratorium on renewable energy in Vermont is costing jobs, taking away jobs that would have otherwise grown, is taking money out of Vermonters’ pockets who currently are saving money on rates and is saying to our kids and grandkids, ‘Good luck, climate change doesn’t matter.’”
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