Vermont prides itself on having citizen legislators, as opposed to professional politicians, while the lobbying in Montpelier for special interests is done by well-funded professional lobbyists.
For the past eight years, our legislators and regulators have been bombarded by renewable-energy lobbyists. The message has been that Vermont must do “everything” and we must “do it now” to save the planet from climate change.
The urgency of the pitch has made it seem as if Vermont alone is responsible for the emissions that cause climate change.
This message has been delivered by the well-paid lobbyists at VPIRG (the Vermont Public Interest Group), REV (Renewable Energy Vermont), KSE Partners (the lobbyists who represent Green Mountain Power and Iberdrola Renewables), and a long list of people who view Vermont as a candy jar for collecting extravagant renewable-energy incentives.
The lobbyists’ circular strategy involves promoting an array of state energy goals that have no basis in our true energy and emissions profile. They then insist to the Legislature that there must be no barriers to erecting inappropriate projects because these same “state goals require it.”
The result is a state energy policy that has produced an avalanche of unintended consequences so appalling that the Selectboards of more than 160 towns signed the Rutland Resolution, which asks the Legislature to take another look at the lack of clear standards for siting renewable energy projects.
In recent days, the Senate and the House unanimously passed slightly different versions of S.230 – a bill “relating to improving the siting of energy projects” – in spite of furious lobbying by the renewable-energy industry.
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The story of S.230 is highly instructive, because the pros weren’t the only lobbyists in the capital. For weeks, the committee rooms of the Senate and House have been filled to overflowing with unofficial “citizen lobbyists,” identifying themselves by wearing neon green safety vests.
The legislators learned that the Vermonters most opposed to big wind and solar sprawl include those who know the most about the subjects because they deal with the unintended consequences every day and because they have studied the issues.
The legislators heard firsthand the bitter results of a regulatory policy of “any solar, anywhere, anytime.”
They learned about the tragedies in Lowell, Sheffield, and Georgia Mountain of nearby residents driven from their homes, or to distraction, by wind-turbine noise far exceeding what the developer promised.
To prevail on S.230, we, the people lobbied on our own behalf – tirelessly and effectively.
The result is that “we” have been heard.
“We” are the people who live near already existing large wind installations.
“We” include the folks threatened by similar projects in Swanton, Irasburg, Grafton, and Windham who want justification for issuing certificates of public good for utility generation on ridgelines and near settlements.
“We” are the people from towns where solar arrays have been placed in disregard of local policies, preferences, and Town Plans.
“We” are Vermonters who have donned our green vests in solidarity and went to Montpelier and walked the halls and haunted the cafeteria of the Statehouse, just as the big-money lobbyists do.
“We” talked to the legislators.
“We” testified before committees.
And “we” learned a lot.
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None of us citizen lobbyists opposes renewable energy. None of us denies the need for Vermonters to do our part in reducing emissions.
But we do oppose allowing those who profit most having total control of what gets built and where. And we oppose squandering our state’s natural resources and heritage on projects that will not help slow climate change.
The lesson is this: in a state with a citizen legislature where big money increasingly influences policy decisions, there is no substitute for well-informed, articulate, and persistent citizen lobbyists to represent our own interests.
If we don’t do it, who will?
Mary and Heath Boyer have served in municipal government in Windham, she for six years as chair of the Windham Selectboard and he as the town’s representative for nine years on the Windham Regional Commission.
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