MONTPELIER – Both major candidates for Vermont governor have places they don’t want to go for energy. For Republican Phil Scott, it’s putting more wind power turbines on the state’s mountaintops. For Democrat Sue Minter, it’s additional natural gas pipelines.
The two candidates share the state’s goal of getting Vermont to meet 90 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2050. But recent debates, other public statements and interviews this past week show they differ sharply on how to get there.
Scott wants nothing to happen on energy – or anything else – that imposes new costs on Vermonters. The three-term lieutenant governor was given one minute during a debate on television station WCAX on what he would do if presented with a bill calling for a tax on carbon-based fuels.
“I don’t need a minute,” Scott said. “I’d veto it.”
Minter offered a more nuanced response. She would not support Vermont going it alone on a carbon tax, but would not rule out such a mechanism to promote reductions in carbon emissions if other northeastern states joined in.
If she’s governor and a carbon tax bill comes from the Legislature, “I will see what it is that they’re talking about,” Minter said. Currently, “I do not support it because I don’t believe Vermont is an island. We’re part of a region. “
Minter’s insistence that the gas pipeline being built from Chittenden County south to Middlebury be Vermont’s last also was not ironclad. She wants no more fossil fuel pipelines, she said. But technology could change the picture. A California utility is working on “decarbonized natural gas,” and Minter said if the technology proves out, it could figure in Vermont’s future.
On wind energy, Scott reiterated his call for a halt to construction of wind towers on mountaintops. He said the small amount of power it contributes to the regional grid is outweighed by the damage it does to sensitive high-elevation environments, and by the controversy it generates among the public.
“I think my No. 1 concern is that it’s dividing Vermont. I’m looking for opportunities for us to come together, rather than dividing us any further,” he said.
Minter said she would not take “well-sited wind” off the list of energy options for Vermont, because every possible solution should be brought to bear on a climate crisis that is “here now.”
“Let’s just talk about why we’re having an 80-degree day in the middle of October,” Minter said on a warm morning this past week. Skiing, maple sugar-making and other iconic Vermont industries already are being hurt by climate change, she said. Snowmobile trails were closed due to a lack of snow last winter.
“Look at the folks in the Northeast Kingdom with general stores and the snow machines didn’t come there,” a tough hit in a rural part of the state, she said.
Minter said she is encouraged by energy-siting legislation passed this year, and hopes it will both encourage communities and regions to do more energy planning and to have a greater say in where projects go.
Scott said the bill did not go far enough to alleviate the concerns of critics who maintain Montpelier still has too much power over siting decisions.
Scott said he would not be inalterably opposed if another new gas pipeline were proposed from northwestern Vermont – the only part of the state that has piped gas now – down the Interstate 89 corridor to Montpelier and Barre.
“I would be open-minded to an approach that would save money” for consumers, he said.
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