August 6, 2008

Symington Says

Vermont Democratic Party press release, Aug. 6, 2008:
Symington proposes dramatic shift in energy policy

Speaker of the House Gaye Symington proposed a dramatic shift in Vermont's energy policy today by calling for an aggressive ramp-up of wind power. ...

"Deriving twenty percent of our power from wind generation in ten years is an ambitious, but achievable goal that will jump-start our economy and provide a critically needed new source of power," said Symington. ...

Symington unveiled the second half of her energy plan today on the factory floor of NRG Systems, Inc. in Hinesburg, a major supplier of equipment to the wind power industry that does very little business in Vermont because of the state's lack of wind projects.

"It is simply inexcusable that Vermont derives only 0.2 percent of its electricity from wind. While our neighboring states, oil states and nearly all developed countries are embracing the wisdom of wind power, our Governor stubbornly resists and claims erroneously that Vermonters don't want it. It is time for Jim Douglas to stop tilting at windmills and let me build them instead," Symington said.
Symington for Governor web site:
20% from Wind in Ten Years

Wind power is the fastest growing energy source in the world, but Vermont gets only 0.2% of its power from wind sources. 500 megawatts of wind power would provide approximately 20% of Vermont’s energy needs. ...

To achieve this vision, we must standardize and fast-track the process by which we study, test, plan, obtain public input and issue permits. ...

First, the figures, being careful to avoid using the word "energy" when we mean only electricity, which represents only about a fifth of Vermont's total energy consumption. (So Symington is talking about 20% of 20%, or 4%, a savings we could easily achieve through conservation and efficiency at a fraction of the cost and without having to industrialize our rural and wild landscapes.)

In 2006, Vermont used almost 5,800 gigawatt-hours of electricity. Growing at a very modest 1% annually (2% is the usual national rate used for planning), consumption will be 6,500 GWh in 2018 (ten years from now, Symington's target). Twenty percent of that is 1,300 GWh, representing an average rate (or load) of 150 megawatts (1,300,000 megawatt-hours divided by 8,760, which is the number of hours in a year). The average output of the existing turbines at Searsburg is 21% of their capacity (because the wind doesn't always blow within the range of ideal speeds for the turbines or exactly perpendicular to the ridgelines on which they are erected), so, being generous to the claims of newer technology, let's plan for an average 25% output. That would require 600 MW of wind energy capacity, not the 500 Symington claims.

At today's prices, that would require an investment of $1.2 billion, not counting new and upgraded power lines and substations. Imagine how many homes could be insulated with that money, or rural bus routes established, or trains.

At about six turbines per mile, 600 MW (of 1.5- to 2-MW turbines) would use 50-65 miles of ridgelines. Each turbine needs about 5 acres of clearance around it (for a total of up to 2,000 acres of lost habitat and an impact extending much farther), and the site requires not only massive cut-and-fill but often blasting to create a level area for the huge concrete base and construction/maintenance equipment. The turbines would be accessed by heavy-duty all-season roads, with their own extensive impacts on fragile ecosystems.

"Our governor stubbornly resists and claims erroneously that Vermonters don't want it."

In fact, true to form, Governor Douglas deftly manages to have it both ways. He pays lip service to opposition by the people actually affected by the industrial construction of giant wind turbines, while his Department of Public Service casually supports development applications. It was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that had to halt the UPC/First Wind (who are currently under investigation by the New York Attorney General) project in Sheffield to properly determine the impact on wetlands (until they were forced by Senator Bernie Sanders, pressured by Douglas's Agency of Natural Resources and the developer, UPC, to back off; in keeping with the politicization of public agencies, Vernon Lang, the official from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who took seriously his mandate to protect wetlands and wildlife in the northeast, has been removed from working on wind projects).

Symington is accurate that Vermonters as a whole want wind energy. The vast majority of Vermonters won't ever have to live with the consequences of its visual and auditory intrusion. But in every community that has been threatened by industrial wind energy development, opposition has been clear and well grounded on evidence of big wind's low benefits and substantial adverse impacts.

That is why Symington says "we must standardize and fast-track the process by which we study, test, plan, obtain public input and issue permits." It is to avoid due oversight to protect our ridgelines and wildlife. It is to avoid effective citizen input from the people who would have to live in the shadow of the towering machines, their turning blades day and night, their flashing lights. Vermont, famous for its billboard ban and strict protection of its ridgelines, would throw it all away for a symbolic "feel-good" and ultimately meaningless gesture to "alternative" energy.

Because wind energy is intermittent, highly variable, and generally unpredictable, large amounts of it on the grid would make us more dependent on other sources, not less. And it would force those other sources to be used less efficiently, i.e., with more fuel consumption and more emissions, thus largely defeating the entire purpose of erecting giant wind turbines.

It is not an example of environmental concern to call for discarding a hard-fought rigor in siting industrial structures and infrastructure on prominent and sensitive ridgelines -- especially in the name of supporting an industry that, since the days of Enron, has banked on exaggerated claims and denial of negative impacts. It is politically convenient idiocy.

The fact that it has been difficult to site large-scale wind turbines in Vermont means the regulations are working and the people affected have had a decent chance to weigh in during the decision making.

Symington would fundamentally rewrite Vermont's environmental laws on the dubious and self-serving advice of one industry. That would effectively end any principle with which our natural heritage might be protected from any industry or development. That is why giant energy companies and predators like T. Boone Pickens are so interested in it.

Industrial wind, besides being fraudulent and destructive on its own merits, opens the door to further depredations on the rural character and wilderness of Vermont. And for nothing.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, Vermont