By Bruce Parker | Vermont Watchdog
Energize Vermont’s executive director is all in favor of renewable energy — just not Vermont’s version of it.
Mark Whitworth, whose Energize Vermont promotes small-scale renewable energy projects and opposes industrial-sized development, says Vermont’s renewable energy policy does nothing to save the planet and does everything to destroy the state’s ecosystems.
As environmentalists and lawmakers weigh a bill that would require large-scale utility companies to sell more high-cost renewable energy to Vermonters, Whitworth is among those who were selected to speak before the House Committee on Natural Resources and Energy.
In a gathering of environmentalists, onlookers might expect sunny talk about Vermont’s plans to achieve 90-percent renewable energy consumption by 2050.
Whitworth’s outlook on Big Renewables was as sunny as a snow-covered solar panel in the dead of a Vermont winter.
“We support reducing Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions. We don’t support renewable energy targets,” Whitworth told Vermont Watchdog regarding his testimony on H.40.
Sponsored by state Reps. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, and Rebecca Ellis, D-Waterbury, H.40 seeks to repeal the Sustainably Priced Energy Enterprise Development (SPEED) program and replace it with a Renewable Energy Standard and Energy Transformation (RESET) program for electric utilities.
As introduced, the bill would require 55 percent of an electricity provider’s annual sales to come from renewable sources beginning in 2017. That number gets ratcheted up 1.33 percent each year until 2032, when the total amount of renewable energy in each electric company’s energy portfolio must reach 75 percent.
To help explain why Energize Vermont does not support government-mandated targets, Whitworth points to Big Wind’s impact on Lowell Mountain.
“The claims Green Mountain Power makes for Lowell’s carbon avoidance are inflated. They claim that the wind turbine complex avoids 74,000 tons of carbon a year. That may sound like a lot, but it’s equivalent to the amount of carbon emitted by New York City traffic in less than half a day,” Whitworth said.
“The turbines are projected to last 20 years. … The amount of carbon (Lowell would avoid) is less than two weeks of carbon produced by New York City traffic. We traded an intact ecosystem, a vital wildlife habitat, for less than two weeks of New York City carbon emissions. It’s not a good trade.”
While some oppose renewable energy development due to its high cost to ratepayers, Whitworth’s bone of contention is that Big Wind is decimating Vermont’s forests and ridgelines, as shown in this before-and-after shot of Lowell Mountain.
According to Whitworth, the renewable industry’s destruction of ecosystems is the true threat to the environment.
“The intact ecosystem, the wildlife habitat that we destroyed, is required to enable plant and animal species to adapt and survive climate change. So, we claim to be concerned about climate change, but we’re destroying the habitat that plants and animals are going to require in order to adapt to climate change. Climate change is here. It can’t be reversed, even if were to stop emitting carbon altogether right now,” he said.
During a recent hearing on H.40, Ellis, vice chair of the committee, explained why she supports mandated renewable energy targets despite common siting objections.
“I grew up in Vermont, in Burlington, close to Lake Champlain. I don’t think I had any idea growing up where my electricity came from. I had no idea that mountains in West Virginia were being destroyed for me to be able to turn on my lights or have electric heat. I see for my children that it’s much more educational for them to see solar panels in the field or wind turbines and to know that this is the price of energy, and that energy is not free — it’s not free in terms of money, and it’s not free in terms of environmental impact,” Ellis said.
Whitworth said large-scale wind and solar projects produce the precise mountaintop destruction and environmental impact Ellis says she opposes.
In addition, he said environmentalists were silent when Big Wind looked to install massive wind farms atop Seneca Mountain in the Northeast Kingdom, the second largest block of unfragmented wildlife habitat in Vermont.
“Some developer wanted to put a line of turbines down the center of it. Where were the environmental groups when that was being proposed? Not one of them came out in opposition to that project because they believe renewables are intrinsically good,” he said.
Energize Vermont argues the state must preserve its pristine ecosystems and find a better way to reduce carbon emissions.
“Electricity consumption represents only 5 percent of our carbon footprint, but that’s the carbon footprint we acknowledge. … Our consumption of meat has a carbon footprint associated with it that’s three times the size of our electricity carbon footprint. But it doesn’t show up in any of the accounting that the Agency of Natural Resources does because, largely, we bring in meat from out of state. If we were to institute a tradition of one meatless day a week in Vermont, we would avoid emitting an amount of carbon equivalent to two-and-a-half times what the Lowell turbine complex claims to avoid,” Whitworth said.
Whitworth is calling for the immediate preservation of wildlife habitats that are disappearing due to development by Big Renewables.
“It’s our position that climate change is real, it’s here and it’s irreversible, and our primary imperative is to preserve intact ecosystems to ensure the survival of species,” he said. “We also have an obligation to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. There are a thousand ways to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, but there’s just one way to preserve habitat: don’t develop it.”
Contact Bruce Parker at [email protected]