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The uncertainties of wind

March 4, 2013
Sunday Rutland Herald Times Argus
COMMENTARY Feb. 17, 2013
Editor’s note: Ridgeline wind power has divided Vermont’s environmental community. Two organizations have issued plans on energy development and have issued statements about their differences. Here is a statement from Lukas B. Snelling of Energize Vermont about the response of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group to the Energize Vermont plan.

Recently, Energize Vermont presented our Clean Energy Plan at the Statehouse. Our plan moves Vermont toward in-state renewable energy sources and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

VPIRG also has an energy plan. We consulted it in developing our own. The VPIRG plan makes use of the same electricity generation technologies and resources as our plan. It makes use of the same transmission infrastructure. It makes assumptions that are more similar than dissimilar about energy demand, the adoption of electrical vehicles, anticipated advances in solar technology, and a variety of other factors.
We share a common goal and use nearly the same tools to achieve the goal. Yet you tried to discredit our plan in a statement whose substance and tone suggest disregard for the request for civil discourse that was recently made of you in a Senate committee.
You tried to discredit our plan because it differs from yours in one regard: the Energize Vermont plan does not rely on a substantial build-out of new industrial wind turbines.
There is one reason that the Energize Vermont plan does not rely on ridgeline wind: uncertainty.
We are uncertain about the impacts of industrial ridgeline wind on health, wildlife and wildlife habitat. We are uncertain about its impacts on the economy, tourism and property values. We are uncertain about the amount of electricity thatindustrial wind produces, its cost, and its effect on grid stability. Finally, we are uncertain that industrial wind turbines produce a meaningful reduction in Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions.
We know some of the impacts that industrial wind turbines have created in Sheffield and Lowell. We know that each new industrial wind proposal meets stronger opposition. Towns around the Pittsford Ridge project, as well Windham, and groups like Ridge Protectors and Newark Neighbors United are all opposed to hosting these projects in their communities.
We know that each new proposal will require a lengthy, costly battle. These battles are distracting us and preventing us from meeting our goal: affordable, sustainable, renewable energy for Vermonters.
Our plan does not seek a ban on wind development in Vermont. Quite the contrary, we suggest a timeout on wind development so that we can resolve ridgeline wind’s uncertainties and study the impacts. Only then can Vermont’s regional and municipal planners make informed energy and land-use decisions.
We didn’t include additional industrial-scale wind going forward because we can’t anticipate the results of these studies. We share your apprehensions about nuclear power generation. That’s why our plan only includes power purchases made under existing contracts; it doesn’t propose additional contracts at this time.
Very similar to our concerns for those that live too close to existing and proposed wind turbines, nuclear technology has impacts on people and the environment that shouldn’t be ignored. While debates over nuclear power will continue, the political reality is that Vermont utilities will likely continue to use this source for its price buffering and baseloadattributes.
Electric vehicles in Vermont are a wildcard; we don’t know how quickly Vermonters will move toward them. Our estimates are derived from industry sources and suggest a likely case of 110,000 PEVs in Vermont by 2030.
PEVs travel roughly 3.5 miles per KWh. Vermonters travel an average of 12,297 miles a year per vehicle. That would mean we’d need an additional 300 to 400 GWhs of electricity to power this portion of the vehicle fleet. Our plan includes this additional demand and we cited University of Vermont studies indicating we will not need additional capacity to serve this added load.
I appreciate the policy questions you’ve raised, and I am happy to answer them to help move the public policy dialogue forward. Neither of our plans is perfect. Each offers a possible path forward. We strove to find a path that was reasonable, possible, and pragmatic, while reflecting the political realities of our existing energy policy and contract commitments.
We also felt it was important to demonstrate that we have choices; that it is possible for us to achieve our goals without doing permanent damage to our landscape.
Join us in working collaboratively on our response to climate change. Admit that there is no perfect answer and that we are all learning together. Admit that inflammatory rhetoric only serves to slow us down and alienate the people we need on board. Admit that we know all technologies have issues and that it’s a tough call to figure out which are worth it and which aren’t. Let’s work collaboratively toward truly sustainable energy solutions.
We are, after all, in this together.
This is a sincere offer and I hope you take it as that. Please don’t let the good work you have done get blown away by the wind.
   Lukas B. Snelling is executive director of Energize Vermont.
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