Monday October 22, 2012

Wind power plays a key role in addressing climate change. Developing wind power and other clean sources reduces the use of fossil fuels, reduces carbon dioxide emissions, and helps to stabilize our climate.

Climate change, with record-breaking droughts, catastrophic floods, and unprecedented heat waves, is upon us. The only way to keep the crisis from getting much worse is to sharply reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

We can do a lot with efficiency. We can insulate and air-seal our homes, businesses, and public buildings. We, as a nation, can choose to build and drive more fuel-efficient cars. We can drive our cars less, choosing to carpool, bicycle, or take public transportation whenever possible.

But efficiency is not enough. As long as we use electricity, it must come from somewhere. That’s why Vermont has a goal of getting 90 percent of its energy from renewables by 2050.

Every wind turbine, solar panel, or hydro turbine reduces the use of fossil or nuclear power. Eighty eight percent of the electricity used in New England is generated from either fossil fuels or nuclear power. Nuclear power leaves behind radioactive waste that remains poisonous, essentially, forever. We urgently need to generate more clean, low-carbon, renewable power. We need to use all clean sources, use them together, and use them now.

All energy production takes its toll on the environment. In addition to the climate impacts of fossil fuels, all energy has local impacts where it is mined or produced. Because of this, our first priority must be to be to use less energy through efficiency and conservation.

But we also need to decide where the energy we do use comes from. When we in Vermont get our energy from fossil fuels and large hydro, we export our environmental impacts. By making our own energy in Vermont, we take responsibility for ourselves.

Wind power is one of the cheapest and most abundant sources of renewable energy. According to the federal Energy Information Agency, electricity from new, large-scale wind projects cost one-third less than comparable large solar projects. A solar project large enough to replace the wind power from Sheffield or Lowell would also take up a lot of land -- about one square mile, or the entire size of downtown Montpelier.

Home-scale power generation, such as rooftop solar, provides an essential piece of the puzzle; but it alone, or even coupled with efficiency, is not enough to meet our power needs. We still need other sources of power.

Every day, people and businesses in Vermont and New England use electricity. We turn on lights, TVs, air conditioners and computers. Every time we hit that switch, the electricity comes from somewhere. Wind power generated in Vermont is part of a responsible choice to meet our power needs and tackle climate change.

Diana Chace works on energy and climate issues with Conservation Law Foundation in Montpelier.