ST. JOHNSBURY – Four members of the newly-appointed Vermont Climate Action Commission heard from many people who packed the Kingdom Taproom on Wednesday evening.
Peter Walke, chair of the commission appointed by Gov. Phil Scott in June, and also the Deputy Secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources, welcomed more than 100 people and introduced three other members of the panel.
Also attending the event were Michele Boomhower, designee of the Secretary of the Agency of Transportation; Harrison Bushnell, U-32 High School Senior, representing Vermont’s students; and Peter Bourne, Bourne Energy, representing the fuels sector.
“The goal of this evening and the other three sessions we’ll be having around the state is for this to be a very open process for all Vermonters to be able to tell us what you want us to consider,” said Walke. “We all know we have a great challenge in front of us, but we want to be able to bring all Vermonters along with us.”
Several speakers expressed disappointment that only four (out of 20) members of the commission were at the visit in the Northeast Kingdom, while others thanked them for coming to St. Johnsbury.
Many of those in attendance were NEK residents, a fair number of whom have personal stories about industrial-scale wind projects near their homes, having impacted their neighbors’ lives, or about out-of-state corporations trying to bring more wind development to the Northeast Kingdom, which is home to two major projects, the Lowell Mountain site and the Sheffield wind project.
Paul Brouha of Sutton lives very close to the wind project in Sheffield and has for years been battling, first to prevent it from being constructed.
Brouha said, “[It’s] no secret I am not a fan of it … I have to live with it all the time.”
The room saw dozens of residents from across the region and beyond discussing renewable energy expansion, ideas for how to reduce reliance on fossil fuels to reduce carbon emissions, and ways to improve conservation from electric and hybrid vehicles being made more affordable for the masses to Vermont having among the highest rates of old and energy inefficient housing stock in the nation.
Brouha suggested a wind generation project in Chittenden County would be a good development, with turbines to be placed in Lake Champlain, a project called the Champlain Wind Park, for which there is a website, but which is not actually a real wind project proposal.
The fictitious project was the subject of two newspaper articles in 2012 when the site was posted.
The tongue-in-cheek site was posted five years ago by Annette Smith, executive director of the Vermonters for a Clean Environment, which has worked with communities and people impacted by living near industrial wind projects, including in the NEK.
Brouha said he was going to start a petition drive “to muster support for this project in Chittenden County.”
Liston Tatum, an Orleans resident who said he works for VPIRG, said when the wind towers first went up on Sheffield Heights, he thought they were ugly, but he’s come to view them instead as “symbols of hope.” He said anything that is done to slow the progress of renewable energy development would be judged harshly by history.” He said he is worried for his children’s futures with climate change becoming such a constant threat.
He asked Brouha if he had children, and offered to swap out houses with him, saying he would be fine with wind turbines as his neighbors.
Mark Whitworth, president of Energize Vermont and a member of the Town of Newark’s planning commission, also addressed the group, saying, in part, “In Vermont, too many discussions of climate action begin and end with energy development. This obsession with energy development has served the energy industry very well, but it has resulted in counterproductive policies that are causing unacceptable damage to Vermonters and Vermont’s environment. No region of the state understands this better than the Kingdom. And no project in the state exemplifies this better than Green Mountain Power’s Lowell wind energy plant.”
“GMP says that its Lowell plant saves the emission of 74,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year,” said Whitworth. “That’s the amount of carbon emitted by Metro New York City traffic in less than half a day. If the Lowell turbines operate throughout their promised 20-year lifespan, they will have saved less than two weeks’ worth emissions from New York traffic.”
Whitworth said “In exchange, Kingdom Community Wind has created deep divisions in our community – those divisions persist to this day.”
“Energy development can and should be part of our climate action plan,” Whitworth said. ” … These projects should be designed and developed by Vermonters to meet the needs of their own communities. These projects should be sources of pride that bring communities together, not tear them apart.”
The commission also heard from several members of VPIRG, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit consumer and environmental advocacy organization, which had a number of staff there, representing the organization.
Christina Fornaciari of VPIRG said she’s not sure she will have children, she’s so concerned about the effects of climate change.
Fornaciari said, “I absolutely believe that carbon pricing needs to be on the top of your list.”
Barry Lawson of Peacham told the commission, “Time is running out.”
Keith Ballek of Sheffield, who serves on his town’s planning commission, urged projects that are proposed “prove they will reduce carbon emissions.”
Ballek said he would advocate for more small wind and solar installations on residential property which would help to “prevent the industrialization of our countryside.”
The commission also heard a new health care professionals’ advocacy group, the Vermont Climate Health Alliance, about the connection between human health and climate change. A member of the group who spoke said, “Just look at the Sunday papers. Climate change is here.”
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