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Our flawed energy, climate policy

January 21, 2013
Sunday Rutland Herald Times Argus
COMMENTARY Commentary
January 20, 2013
J. Peter COSGROVE

The recent commentary in Sunday’s Rutland Herald and Times Argus (Jan. 6) by Rep. Margaret Cheney, vice chairwoman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, provides the best evidence of precisely why we need the Legislature to adopt the proposed moratorium on large-scale wind development.

Rep. Cheney boasts about all that the Natural Resources Committee has accomplished. Fair enough. If, however, one broadens their scope of inquiry, the question becomes: “Are all these efforts accomplishing what is intended and are they a genuine benefit to the taxpayer or ratepayer?”

Rep. Cheney cites the “feed-in tariff” with “transforming the European energy landscape” and that Germany, since 2000, “has increased its percentage of renewable electricity from 3 to 25 percent in just 12 years.”

However, the Rhine-Westphalia Institute report “Economic Impacts From the Promotion of Renewable Energies: The German Experience” (2009) points out: “Germany’s promotion of renewable energies is commonly portrayed … as a ‘shining example in providing a harvest for the world’ [but that] we would instead regard the country’s experience as a cautionary tale of massively expensive environmental and energy policy that is devoid of economic or environmental benefits.”

With regards to Rep. Cheney specifically highlighting the feed-in tariff, the report states: “Germany’s principal mechanism of supporting renewable technologies through feed-in tariffs impose high costs without any of the alleged positive impacts on emissions reductions, employment, energy security, or technological innovation. Policymakers should thus scrutinize Germany’s experience, including in the U.S. where there are currently nearly 400 federal and state programs in place that provide financial incentives for renewable energy.”

Kevin Jones, a professor at the Vermont Law School, recently stated why he and other serious energy policy analysts label SPEED and other standard offer programs a sham.

He asks why “Vermonters that are concerned about the degradation of our ridgelines should accept these sacrifices when the Vermont policy behind these projects ensures that they will not result in a net increase in renewable energy in the region and also increase Vermont’s greenhouse emissions? Vermont today has the most fundamentally flawed renewable policy in this country….” He concludes with his statement of support for the moratorium.

Both the Rhine-Westphalia report and Kevin Jones’ comment exemplify the magical thinking that has captured the politics of climate change in Vermont.

Recently, Vermont Electric Cooperative CEO Dave Hallquist announced his support of the proposed moratorium of industrial wind by commenting, “As the boots on the ground utility that has to carry it out (finding balance between rising electric rates and the adoption of a greener power portfolio), we don’t know how it can work from a physics standpoint.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Tony Klein, chairman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee and the one who controls what is and is not permitted as part of the discussion of renewable energy in the House, calls the proposed moratorium “the most anti-business statement the Legislature could make.”

If, on the one hand, we have a Vermont businessman citing an issue of physics germane to his very responsibilities and, on the other, a politician who is opposed to any intrusion of his political turf, “Houston, we’ve got a problem.” We even have Gov. Shumlin stating “that he is still vehemently opposed to the idea of a moratorium on utility-scale wind development.”

The question one must ask is what is the motivation behind such strong opposition from two of the most powerful politicians and proponents of industrial wind in Vermont? Why do the surrounding towns of Sheffield and Lowell feel their dissent debased? Why did the residents of Ira, of which I was a part, and the five surrounding towns feel their arguments were too easily dismissed by industry responses that had little merit? Why are the towns surrounding the proposed Grandpa’s Knob development feeling helpless assuming and trying to grasp the state’s underlying support to what they feel is the obvious desecration of their surroundings for little or no benefit? Why are the residents of Windham County having to address the same litany of frustration?

Two recent books go to great lengths in explaining these questions. Both authors, from different perspectives, show how scientists, policymakers, politicians, nongovernmental organizations and environmental writers hijacked the global warming/climate debate.

“The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won’t Tell You About Global Warming” by Roger Pielke, a political scientist and professor in the environmental studies program at the University of Colorado, provides a detailed accounting of how these groups, for their own personal interests and agendas, distorted the science and controlled the debate of global warming at the expense of facts.

Dieter Helm’s book, (a professor of energy policy at the University of Oxford and fellow in economics at New College, Oxford) “The Carbon Crunch: How We’re Getting Climate Change Wrong — and How to Fix It,” explains from the point of view of an economist why current renewable technologies, such as wind power, are wreaking environmental havoc with costs and promises that have shown negligible benefit. He also explains the issue of “physics” as a question raised by CEO Dave Hallquist noted above.

And what is it about Vermont’s NGOs opposing the moratorium? Why are VPIRG, the Conservation Law Foundation, the Citizens Awareness Network, the local chapter of the Sierra Club, and others, fighting to prevent the moratorium. Paul Burns, director of VPIRG, states that “Vermont should be part of the climate change solution and not the problem.” That is a truly fatuous response that represents what both authors acknowledge as a tactic to control the debate of renewable energy. The fact is, having a discussion, which a moratorium would provide, might result in wider support and might lead the climate debate within the aura that Vermonters were once well known for: common sense and frugality.

What is common about the anti-moratorium position of our leading politicians and NGOs is, as Dieter Helm points out, they “are pretty sure they ‘know’ the answers. They develop road maps, scenarios and forecasts and use these to justify the answers towards which they feel well disposed. Analysis becomes a tool to support predetermined technology choices, and the task of policy design is to effect the rapid deployment of these preferred solutions.” A moratorium and discussion simply aren’t part of their plans.

While I may be critical of the governor, Chairman Klein and Rep. Cheney, I do not dismiss that the act of governing is difficult. However, when government acts to deny a reasonable hearing of a subject that has been very acrimonious among neighbors and communities, when it acts to deny the discussion of probably the most important issue facing us today, it only serves to undermine its legitimacy.

A moratorium on industrial wind development would go a long way toward providing the facts Vermonters need in determining what is the best way forward, not, as has become quite apparent, the imposition of an agenda that lacks wide support or understanding.

J. Peter Cosgrove is a resident of Ira.

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