There is a syndrome behind what is happening to Vermont’s farmlands and ridge lines vis a vis the approval of industrial scale wind and solar development that is ravaging the state. It’s known as Regulatory Capture.
“Regulatory Capture is a form of government failure that occurs when a regulatory agency, created to act in the public interest, instead advances the commercial or political concerns of special interest groups that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating. When regulatory capture occurs the interests of firms or political groups are prioritized over the interests of the public, leading to a net loss to society as a whole. Government agencies suffering regulatory capture are called “captured agencies”.
Vermont’s Public Service Board is clearly a captured agency. Our soon-to-be-former Governor Shumlin is the “capturer-in-chief”. He is using his office to push for out-of-scale, unwanted and destructive siting of industrial wind turbines regardless of the environmental damage they cause. The Public Service Board has rolled over time and again by approving the installation of massive wind towers and sprawling solar panels “farms”. In the case of wind much of the development has been pushed and profited from by wind developer David Blittersdorf, the CEO of AllEarth Renewables. Blittersdorf is a large and consistent donor to Shumlin’s political ambitions. Projects have been approved regardless to the outcry of citizens and with complete disregard for regional and local zoning rules. Big Wind, Big Solar and more importantly, Big Money, trump the pesky citizens and the stunning landscape with which we’ve been blessed in Vermont.
On Monday, Governor Shumlin “broke ground” on the construction of the Deerfield Wind Project, located in the Green Mountain National Forest, a pristine area rich in wildlife, and home to a large population of black bears*. The ceremony celebrated the upcoming installation of 11 turbines, each over 400 feet tall. It was attended by the media and invited guests only, so as not to taint the self-congratulatory event with the complaints of the citizens who will actually be affected by this project. They were forced to express their concerns behind a police barricade, well away from the proceedings.
Shumlin likes to brag that since he took office, Vermont has 11 times the number of solar panels and 22 times the wind-generated power it had before he took office. HIs goal of getting nearly all of Vermont’s energy from “renewable” sources is well underway, regardless of the destruction left in the wake of this reckless endeavor.
The ugly truth is – and Shumlin and the PSB members know this – these big developers, in this case Avangrid Renewables, formerly known as Iberdola, are receiving huge subsidies to build their monstrosities. A 30 percent federal subsidy, accompanied by an 8 percent state subsidy is an appealing incentive for a Spanish company to invade our state and destroy our wilderness. And when the subsidies end? Who is going to repair or remove the rusting hulks that remain, when the subsidies end, and the companies have bled out their profits and declared bankruptcy?
Another thing Shumlin knows is that his plan for a Vermont energy portfolio standard of 90 percent renewables by 2050 is unrealistic – in fact, impossible. A White Paper released by Vermont Watchdog’s Vermont’s Environmental Movement made the case in two short paragraphs:
“Catherine Dimitruk, executive director of the Northwest Regional Planning Commission, pointed to models showing the state “would need 42 new megawatts of wind, 10 new megawatts of hydro and 174 megawatts of solar” to meet its 90 by 50 goal. “It took our breath away, quite literally,” she said, “because the numbers seem so huge.” In her view, the state simply doesn’t have enough property for that many projects.
An analysis by the Ethan Allen Institute estimated that Vermont will need 100,000 acres of new solar installations alone to meet the 90 percent goal. This level of development was never imagined by Section 248, which provides the process for how the PSB handles energy siting applications.
Regulatory capture is rampant in the Green Mountain State to the detriment of us all. We can only hope a new administration will usher in a new era of ethics and end this terrible rape-for-profit of our beautiful state.
* The Bennington Banner reports that a multi-year black bear study is underway at the Deerfield development site. “The study will proceed throughout construction and for a period of five years post-construction to better understand the impacts, if any, were (sic) to black bear in the project area.”
Is the good news that if the bear study demonstrates a negative impact, the developer will immediately remove the towers from the site and restore the forest to its original pristine condition? Nope. Nothing will happen because, really, they’re just bears. They don’t line greedy developers and corrupt public servants pockets with cold hard cash.
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