When Mr. Renewables says large solar and wind projects proposed for Vermont are too big and should not proceed, you know the political landscape has changed.
Mr. Renewables is Gov. Peter Shumlin, and the state’s goal of having its energy portfolio be made up of 90 percent renewables by 2050 is his baby. He’s the one touting the fact that his administration’s renewable energy record has meant 16,000 jobs.
Thus, when he comes out in opposition to any renewable energy project it’s news because it’s unexpected.
In a Rutland Herald story on Saturday, that’s exactly what he did. “I personally think that a 20-megawatt solar project is too big. It’s just too big. As governor, I believe they should not proceed with these projects. They are wrong for Vermont,” he said.
He’s taking direct aim at Ranger Solar LLC to build 20-megawatt solar farms across the state, two of them are slated for Highgate and Sheldon. Each would occupy more than 100 acres.
It’s rare that a governor would decide to weigh in on renewable energy projects since they are not subject to legislative or local approval. Approval rests with a quasi-judicial process guided by the Public Service Board. The projects in question have yet to be formally proposed, which apparently gave the governor the opportunity to speak out.
And he did. “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. It’s not good, Vermont common sense to build projects that size.
“It’s part of culture, part of our heritage and part of our working landscape. Let’s remember that we’re evolving and we have to be logical. We have to do this the Vermont way,” he said.
He didn’t stop with solar. Large wind projects are also in his gun sights.
“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. 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,” he said.
If these projects were being done in the right places, at the correct scale, with the buy-in from their host communities, Mr. Renewables would not be lecturing these developers, recommending that their projects not be approved.
But that’s not the case, and, as has been related by Green Mountain Power and Vermont Electric Cooperative, the “stranded renewables” the governor referred to would make the economics of the two solar projects slated for Highgate and Sheldon questionable.
It doesn’t make sense to embrace projects that would raise the cost of transmission, and, ultimately, force the ratepayers to pay more. Green Mountain Power is pushing the same concern. The utility is concerned about the large size of some of the projects being proposed and is pushing instead toward projects that are smaller and closer to user.
The projects that have prompted the governor’s attention, including Swanton Wind, are the ones that have also engendered significant local opposition; they are of unprecedented size and their locations questionable.
If this were not the case, the governor would not be raising the issue. He’s not running for reelection. His push toward renewables is one of his sacred causes. What his opposition acknowledges is that if some sort of control isn’t brought to the siting process, his cause could be threatened.
It’s not difficult to gin up opposition to a renewable energy project. In fact, it’s pretty easy. It will become even easier if the public perceives that the game is rigged, that it’s all about the money and that, in the case of Ranger Solar, it’s being driven by out-of-state interests with little regard to the host communities.
As we’ve said prior, if Vermont wants to keep its march toward renewables alive it will need to address these concerns.
Mr. Renewables made that clear when he came out in opposition to these large solar and wind projects. He would not have weighed into this quasi-judicial process if he didn’t believe things were going astray.
The governor doesn’t have a say in this process, and his warnings could go unheeded. But there isn’t anyone in the state more committed to renewables than the governor, and it’s a safe bet his opposition will make a difference.
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