SOUTH BURLINGTON – Gov. Phil Scott delivered a plea for unity at a renewable energy conference Tuesday, and touted Vermonters’ independent spirit while making a pitch for a Canadian energy company.
Scott said the conference was an opportune time to speak on other important issues.
“I believe the greatest threat we face to the country isn’t from outside our borders,” Scott said. “It’s right here from within: it’s the growing political polarization across the country.”
That polarization “is undermining our ability to address our greatest challenges, like underemployment, slow wage growth and climate change,” he said.
The issue isn’t a problem for just one political party or one political leader, Scott said.
“I think we all know, to some extent, that we’re being divided by both the right and the left,” he said.
Even Vermont isn’t free of this, he said. Long considered a bastion of tolerance, a recent study shows that the state has some of the meanest internet commenters in the country, he said.
“I don’t think we’re being the role models we should be,” Scott said. “I don’t think we’re teaching our kids the lessons about basic decency, and understanding all points of view, or treating others like we want to be treated, from the president on down.”
Later, at his weekly press conference, he decried the shootings in Las Vegas and said the climate of violence has been building for more than a decade. He said he saw no reasons to change state gun laws and said gun control measures nationally were worth looking at, but gave no firm opinion. He said it would be simplistic and inaccurate to blame the recent violence on the amped up rhetoric of President Donald Trump.
Scott also said renewable energy promised independence for the state.
“I want to thank you all for coming today and doing all you have done over the last few years to further our goal of becoming energy independent,” Scott said to a crowd of hundreds, most of them working in solar energy, wind power and hydroelectric generation. “I think it’s a worthwhile goal, and one I believe that we will be able to solve, but it’s going to take all of us working together and pulling in the same direction in order to do so.”
Vermonters’ independence was a theme Scott repeatedly returned to.
For instance, Scott said that while many Vermonters believe the Earth is being warmed by human activity, many others don’t – but the ones who don’t “might believe that being energy independent is real, for them that that’s something they want to attain.
“So it’s a common goal for both,” he said. “Maybe getting there a different way, maybe their beliefs are different, but if you focus on what the end goal is, I think you can achieve something, and we’ll become energy independent, and we’ll become self-reliant.
“In Vermont, I believe, we’re independent by nature – it’s ingrained in us, it’s part of Yankee independence, I believe,” Scott said.
The state of Vermont has set a goal of 90 percent renewable energy by 2050.
Scott framed the state’s renewable-energy goals in the context of self-reliance and independence, but framed his opposition to wind energy – which is expected to be one of the cheapest domestic energy sources within five years – in the context of tourists and Quebec.
“Wind in certain locations is okay, I just don’t like, from my standpoint, I think it interferes with some of our tourism and so forth,” Scott said. “Some people think they’re beautiful, others don’t agree, and I think there are other options at this point.
“If it was our last option, our only option, then it was something we’d probably have to do,” Scott said. “But I think we have other options, particularly with our friends to the north, energy-rich Quebec, and it’s something that we’ve been – we have a great relationship, and I think it’s part of our economy in the future, both in terms of energy and in other areas as well.”
Vermont has a long history of working with Hydro Quebec, Scott said, and it’s an important example of what he described as “more traditional renewable resources.” Departing from that tradition could be risky and expensive, not to mention unreliable, he said.
“When we talk about changes to how people use power, we need to be certain we are not hurting the most vulnerable,” he said. “We can’t have progressive policies that add cost to people who can’t afford to pay, or hurt folks who are working third shift and can’t change the timing of their electrical usage. We also need to ensure that we’re encouraging economic expansion across all sectors.
“So while we’re looking to modernize the grid and how we use electricity, we shouldn’t ignore the more traditional renewable resources,” Scott said. “Take baseload hydro, for example. Vermont has a long history of working with Hydro Quebec.”