LYNDONVILLE, Vt. — At the first public hearing for Vermont’s updated energy plan, audience members criticized the siting of wind and solar projects, and the plan’s policy expert told Vermont Watchdog going completely green will have no impact on global warming.
The Vermont Public Service Department on Wednesday held the first of five public hearings on the state’s 2015 Comprehensive Energy Plan. The 380-page draft lays out a path to reaching Vermont’s goal of operating on 90 percent renewable energy by 2050.
The plan’s targets include reaching 25 percent renewable power by 2025, up from 16 percent in 2015. Targets also include a 15 percent reduction in Vermonters’ energy use by 2025, and a one-third reduction by mid-century.
Also by 2025, planners expect to attain 10 percent renewable transportation and 30 percent renewable buildings. A full 67 percent of electric power will be generated by renewable sources.
“We’re after energy security and after bringing energy sources local and under our own control. We want to meet the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals,” Asa Hopkins, the department’s energy policy director, told the audience at Lyndon State College.
“We want to keep more of our energy dollars local and be buying energy from each other rather than sending billions of dollars out of state every year to buy energy that’s imported.”
While the objectives look good on paper, prominent environmentalists around the state say the goals could require siting wind turbines on one-third of Vermont’s mountain ridgelines, or solar panels across 90,000 acres. One well-known developer, David Blittersdorf, predicts Vermonters may have to abandon cars in favor of electric mass transit.
Noticeably absent from the plan are state targets for alleviating global warming.
Hopkins told Vermont Watchdog global warming targets aren’t in the plan because Vermont’s efforts won’t affect climate change.
“Climate change is a classic tragedy-of-the-commons problem where no one person’s actions, no one state, or even one country’s actions is attributable to even more than maybe a few percent of the global challenge. So, I haven’t calculated out what Vermont’s impacts would be,” Hopkins said.
Some environmentalists argue Vermont’s role is not to affect climate change, but to offer green-energy leadership that other states will follow. Asked if the draft had targets for states or nations following Vermont’s lead, Hopkins replied, “No.”
“We are focused on trying to take a path forward that works for Vermont. We’re not taking action … in hopes of inspiring action elsewhere.”
Hopkins said the goals are consistent with 2030 goals set forth by the regional New England governors and Eastern Canadian premieres and also Under 2 MOU, which Vermont and other sub-national jurisdictions have signed on to. Those agreements call for an 80 percent reduction of CO2 by 2050.
The hearing’s public comment period drew stern warnings about coercive siting of solar and wind projects, which has caused a backlash in towns across the state.
“Anybody who has ever been involved in an energy proceeding before the Vermont Public Service Board knows that communities have no authority to influence the siting of electrical power plants. The Public Service Department has opposed every attempt to grant a more meaningful role to our cities and towns in electricity siting,” Mark Whitworth, a resident of Newark, said.
He added the Board’s rubber-stamping of renewable projects has produced a sort of Wild West in which developers are set loose to cut down Vermont’s forests, compromise wetlands, ignore zoning regulations, encroach on neighboring properties and “bully neighbors.”
Along with his comments, Whitworth submitted an “energy rebellion” map in which 67 Vermont towns are shown mounting resistance to coercive siting, whether by resolutions or town votes against projects. Last week in Irasburg, voters delivered a stunning 274-9 rejection of developer David Blittersdorf’s 500-foot wind turbines on Kidder Hill.
Other commenters also expressed frustration.
“I have found my experience, which was nearly two years with the Public Service Board, to be an embarrassment. I felt insulted, and I felt the Public Service Board is incompetent in this modern age of renewable energy siting,” Kim Fried, of East Burke, said.
Fried counted up recent votes on industrial ridgeline wind projects in Irasburg, Brighton, Newark, and Unified Towns and Gores. The tally was 1,219 against and 396 in favor, he said.
Noreen Hession, a resident of Newark, blasted Vermont’s sale of renewable energy credits, a controversial practice in which utilities and developers sell renewable power certificates to non-green states to help offset the higher cost of wind and solar. Neighboring CO2-generating states buy Vermont’s RECs as a way to meet their renewable energy mandates.
“By selling RECs, Vermont allows other states to meet their requirements while still burning fossil fuels. Vermont wind projects are not creating renewable energy for Vermont.” Hession said. “Claiming that the industrial wind turbines on top of Lowell Mountain are generating renewable energy for Vermont while simultaneously selling those RECs out of state, that’s double counting.”
Closing out the evening was state Sen. Joseph Benning, R-Caledonia, who offered his comments for the plan.
“Whether we get to these goals or not, nobody knows. We want to reach for them — that is important. But we shouldn’t become so blind to what is happening at the industrial level, with profiteers who are coming here to take advantage for their own purposes at the expense of what we have worked so hard to protect,” he said.
Additional hearings are scheduled for Oct. 13 in Essex; Oct. 21 in Montpelier; Oct. 26 in Bellows Falls; and Oct. 29 in Rutland. The plan must be completed and adopted by Jan. 1.
Contact Bruce Parker at [email protected]