August 3, 2004

VPIRG: We need commercial development of public land

Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) sent out an "action alert" last month to urge its subscribers to tell the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) to allow commercial wind development on state lands. They say that is a hypocritical policy because the state allows other development.

They neglect to point out that "other" developments rarely target ridgelines and are subject to rigorous environmental review, whereas wind facilities are subject to only a "common good" review as a utility.

It is amusing that VPIRG opposes all "other" development except the installation of giant wind towers (with their huge foundations, roads, substations, and transmission lines) and then accuses ANR of being hypocritical.

It is also amusing that they accuse the opponents of such commercial development of being "a small group" "bankrolled by a handful of business interests," printing "misleading information illustrated by glossy doctored photos" to "systematically derail an open public process." I thought that was our charge!

At the forefront of wind development in Vermont is Enxco, a multinational consortium based in France. Local communities have been subjected to transparent sales pitches -- complete with "misleading information illustrated by glossy doctored photos" -- but everywhere a project is proposed, there are nonetheless widespread misgivings about the selling off of our ridgelines. Noticing this, ANR held a series of meetings around the state to gather people thoughts. This "open public process" showed that Vermonters were pretty much against large-scale wind on the ridge lines, which became ANR's proposed policy: "large-scale renewable energy development such as commercial wind farms would be incompatible with the uses and contrary to the purposes of ANR lands and therefore will not be allowed."

On Monday, VPIRG convened a gathering on the statehouse steps to publicly criticize the policy. Energy advocate Azur Moulaert said, "There's a difference between window dressing ... and having true engaging policies to show there is a commitment toward renewable energy in this state." ANR's draft policy supports the installation of small turbines to help power buildings on a site, but VPIRG thinks energy independence means turning public lands over to profit-making giants like Enxco.

Finally, VPIRG raises the specter of "71%" of Vermont's electricity supplies "shutting down" as the contract with Hydro-Quebec and the license of Vermont Yankee expire. Both, however, are likely to be renewed. Even if they were not, Vermont borders two very populous states and a large province that could very easily accommodate our small needs. There is no looming crisis of supply, and even the most ambitious and deluded wind advocates know that wind would be able to supply only a small fraction of our needs. On the issue of state lands, there is only one public parcel in the whole state that is feasible for wind generation, and only two or three towers would fit on it. [Click here for notes about industry claims in Vermont.]

"Window dressing" is precisely what large-scale wind is. Even its advocates try assuring the public that there are only a few possible sites in Vermont, so the environmental and visual impact won't be large (unless you happen to live there). One hundred giant 1.5-MW turbines would produce electricity equal to only 5% of Vermont's annual consumption. If the developers got all they wished for it might approach 200 such turbines, covering miles of prominent ridgelines to produce electricity equal to only 10% of what we use. Because the wind isn't always blowing just right, however, we would still need other sources running all the time, and when the wind is blowing right but not when demand is high (or more reliable sources are already covering for it) it needs to be dumped -- sent wandering the grid until it dissipates as heat. Some "vision"! In fact, it's worse than window dressing, it's a black-out curtain.