BURLINGTON -- U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders on Monday urged Vermont lawmakers not to impose a three-year moratorium on the construction of new wind power projects in the state because he believes it would hurt efforts across the country to combat global warming.
Sanders, an independent, was joined at a Burlington news conference by a number of environmentalists who support wind power. He said Vermonters should be proud the state is a national leader in environmental protection and that it has made strides in producing electricity from wind, geo-thermal and bio-mass.
"I have no doubt, but that if Vermont ceases new wind development the message will go out all across the country, spread by well-funded coal and oil companies, that even in Vermont, even in progressive Vermont, even in environmentally conscious Vermont, there is not a serious commitment to combatting global warming," Sanders said.
He acknowledged that many Vermont opponents of wind energy are committed to finding solutions to global warming and he insisted wind projects should have the support of residents where they would be built. Vermont has a robust process that allows ample local input into where wind projects are built, he said.
"It would be totally inappropriate for some wind energy company to come in and bulldoze their way to a project," Sanders said. "There is a thoughtful process that must take place involving community input, to see what parts of the state wind energy could work. That's a local issue, and I applaud and respect the processes we have in Vermont."
Vermont has four industrial scale wind power projects, from near the Massachusetts line to the Northeast Kingdom. The three projects that went online in the last 18 months were opposed by neighbors and others who feared the turbines would hurt the environment more than they helped and permanently scar the state's ridgelines.
It was that opposition that prompted the proposal by two state senators, Republican Joe Benning of Caledonia County and Democrat Bob Hartwell of Bennington County, to impose the three-year moratorium and change the regulatory process for wind projects. They say the state may be sacrificing too much of its mountain ridges in exchange for too little clean energy.
Benning said Monday he was surprised Sanders got involved in the discussion because Benning felt Sanders has traditionally championed the "little guy against big money corporate interests."
"Now he is siding with multimillion-dollar corporations and their high priced lawyers and lobbyists who are using a frustratingly thick quagmire of bureaucratic regulations that have a tremendous impact on individual Vermonters' homes and health," Benning said.
Shortly after Sanders' news conference, a group of industrial scale wind-power opponents issued a statement saying they also sought a solution to global warming and a reduction of greenhouse gases, but they believe industrial scale wind energy does not in the end reduce greenhouse gases.
"Reducing emissions at the source - that is, using less of the fuels that produce these emissions - is, with present technology, the most effective response in terms of the amount of emissions we can reduce per dollar spent," said the statement issued by the group Ridgeprotectors. Many of its members unsuccessfully fought a plan to build a 21-turbine wind-power project in Lowell that began generating electricity late last year.
"The moratorium on new utility scale wind energy is intended as a thoughtful, bi-partisan period of inquiry and planning. It is a time to design a strategy for reducing emissions at their sources in ways that provide the best return on investment for all Vermonters, not just investors with deep pockets," said the group's statement. "The atmosphere belongs to all of us. Our climate and landscape deserve a thoughtful approach that includes both social and arithmetic consensus."
The bill is being considered by the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee.