He’s hardly a natural born rabble-rouser, and those who’ve encountered the mild-mannered, preternaturally calm emergency room doctor have most likely been surprised by his passion when it comes to protecting Northeast Kingdom mountains from industrial wind developers.
But Dr. Ron Holland has found himself at the forefront of the battle against big wind as Irasburg’s representative to the Public Service Board (PSB) proceedings.
When the doctor first started looking into the wind debate himself, he was neutral on the topic. But then he heard Robert Dostis of Green Mountain Power (GMP) describe the Lowell wind project as cost-effective.
Holland, who has long been interested in the economics of health care, took a graduate program at Harvard University to be able to conduct cost-benefit analyses. And what he found when he looked at wind power in Vermont, as compared against other methods of reducing the environmental impact of carbon emissions, was troubling.
“Oh man, these people are lying to us,” Holland said during a recent interview at a small building next to the Irasburg United Church of Christ on the common.
Holland started looking into the political dynamics of renewable energy as well as the money trail. He found that developers’ interest in wind projects was motivated by the high-profit sale of renewable energy credits (RECs).
Holland had been involved politically before. He was instrumental in getting a dialysis unit at North Country Hospital – a facility that was subsequently named after him – and upset by the bigotry he saw, he ran for the Legislature during the heated civil unions debate.
But he never had the occasion to be arrested on either of those fronts.
Holland started by testifying before the PSB about the true costs of wind energy, “and found out that they didn’t want to know about it.”
Dostis was chair of the House committee that allowed the sale of RECs for these kinds of projects, and then he was at GMP, showing them how to make money off this, Holland said.
The Legislature was deceived for 10 years, Holland said, until the state of Connecticut refused to buy Vermont RECs because they were being double counted by both Vermont and Connecticut. By then, four companies – GMP, Vermont Electric Co-op, Burlington Electric, and Washington Electric Co-op – were making $50 million a year in REC sales, he said.
Holland then learned that Hydro Quebec has large amounts of power for which the company has no customers – enough, in fact, to power the entire state of Vermont for six years.
That led Holland to this question: “So why are we blowing up Lowell Mountains when real renewable energy is available at a far less price?”
Holland also started to question Vermont’s insistence upon being independent when it comes to energy production. It doesn’t happen in any other sphere, so why in this sphere, especially given the global economy in which it takes place, with Quebec company Gaz Metro, owner of GMP, acting as the biggest utility in the state, he asked.
“Obviously, it benefits utilities,” Holland said.
But the fact is that the sale of RECs actually increased Vermont’s carbon footprint, Holland said. When Vermont sells its RECs for renewable energy sources to states that use coal, for instance, that coal plant is then on Vermont’s ledgers, he said.
“I think the people of Vermont are due an apology for the deception that went on,” Holland said. “That’s not what the people of Vermont bought.”
This was suspiciously similar to the dialysis battle, where decisions were made to maximize revenue rather than provide equitable access to necessary treatment, he said.
After Sheffield, Holland started trying to spread the word, attempting to win the minds of the people who served on the Irasburg Select Board at the time. “I was trying to display the lie and wasn’t able to convince enough people.”
But after Lowell, after the Northeast Kingdom saw some of its most respected citizens treated like criminals for protesting against big wind, “I didn’t have to rouse the troops. The troops were already roused. You don’t sit and wait. You take the initiative,” Holland said.
The fight to save Kidder Hill from a wind developer is in its infancy, but at least the opponents are aware that the deck is stacked against them. “If you don’t have a lot of money, it’s hard to participate,” Holland said. “It’s hard to compete against well-endowed corporations.”
Developers, through their lobbyists, proposed the legislation that governs wind developments, and the laws that resulted, unsurprisingly, benefit the corporations, Holland said.
It is also hard to get past the wind developers’ tactics of calling those who oppose wind energy siting on Northeast Kingdom mountaintops “anti-renewable energy.”
“If you oppose it, it’s totally a NIMBY thing,” Holland said.
But it’s not all bad news, Holland said. Changes in the next election cycle could bring more like-minded folks to the Legislature and the citizens are prepared to fight for their mountaintops.
“There is an energy rebellion under way,” Holland said.
He’ll be at the Jan. 20 State House Energy Rebellion, where he hopes to start an honest conversation about renewable energy with legislators.
“It’s amazing to me to have these globally important issues right here in this little town,” Holland said. “It would really be nice if this was the high-water mark, if there were no more of these pushed on little towns.”
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