Big wind, take two

Wednesday January 30, 2013

Last spring I had the opportunity to hike up to the top of Lowell Mountain to look at the construction going on for a new industrial wind plant. As I crested the top, it became immediately apparent that the "construction" was far less impressive than the "destruction" it was causing. Horrified, I went right back to the Legislature to move for a moratorium on such development. As I said at the time, "We should never rape a pristine environment in exchange for intermittent power that has to be subsidized by both the taxpayer and the ratepayer, especially at a time when we have ample power available on the grid."

That effort failed in the Senate, 18 to 11. As a freshman senator in the minority party, that didn't come as a surprise. What I did find encouraging, however, was the coalition of senators who voted in the minority. Most fell into the category of those who'd been directly affected by these industrial wind projects. My speech on the Senate floor ended with the prediction that "these projects are coming to a mountain top near you."

Since then, wind projects have been proposed or built in Rutland County, Windham County and Chittenden County. Sure enough, senators close to those projects who voted against the moratorium last spring, having now seen the destruction and experienced the social upheaval they bring, are rethinking their positions.

Big wind proponents claim these projects are the magical silver bullet that will solve our electric needs and cure man's contribution to global pollution. Interestingly, George Aiken once used the very same argument advancing the cause of nuclear power. Over time we learned nuclear power had certain drawbacks. We now know big wind also has drawbacks. If we consider big wind as one tool in a toolbox full of alternative energy tools, rather than a means unto itself, it is easier to redefine the conversation. A substantive conversation, without all the ideological rhetoric, would be most helpful for Vermont.

We need a plan for evaluating whether use of this particular tool is appropriate in Vermont's unique and historically-cherished mountain environment. We need to analyze the data now being collected by big wind projects now in existence to determine whether they are actually living up to their promised expectations. We need to develop a comprehensive state energy plan that defines the proper tools for achieving our energy and carbon-reduction goals. These things take time. A three-year moratorium would immediately cease further environmental destruction while we get that time.

If our studies conclude that this high-priced, intermittent power is worth the environmental destruction and social upheaval it is causing, then a three-year timeout will not mean the end of the world. If, on the other hand, our studies show this particular tool is the wrong one for Vermont, then our time will have been well spent.

Joe Benning is the Vermont State Senator from the Caledonia-Orange District.


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