On Thursday it is expected that four Vermont environmental non-profit groups will publicly express their support for utility scale wind development in the State. Energize Vermont, a pro-renewable energy non-profit, says that utility scale wind is inappropriate for Vermont’s mountains. We maintain that utility scale wind will impose unacceptable impacts on the State’s environment, economy, and its residents’ health. We suggest that there exists a better path to renewable energy adoption utilizing weatherization, efficiency, and more appropriate renewable energy technology to preserve the State’s most important and meaningful assets.
Almost the entirety of the State’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the combustion of heating and transportation fuels. Aggressive reduction of heating and transportation fuel use in the immediate future via weatherization and more efficient transportation offers a greater and much more cost effective way to cut greenhouse gas emissions with substantially less overall adverse effects than the development of utility scale wind.
Other renewable energy generation sources, such as solar, are viable alternatives to utility scale wind and carry a much smaller overall burden. Recent solar industry data suggests that solar energy is on track to become cost-equal to existing energy sources in approximately five years. Energize Vermont member and professor of Sustainability Studies at Lyndon State College, Ben Luce, Ph.D. says, “The cost trend of solar power suggests that it will be possible to cost effectively undertake a massive expansion of solar power after about 2015. Besides not incurring substantial impacts to mountaintops, solar does not require new power lines, is better correlated with demand, is quieter, and has little or no impact on wildlife.”
A report published by one of the pro-wind non-profits in Vermont suggested that an “aggressive” scenario for power supplied by solar energy in the year 2032 would result in it providing only 15% of the state’s total usage. Professor Luce states this figure is drastically understated, “The year 2032 is a full 17 years after 2015, the year photovoltaics are widely projected to be directly cost competitive with retail rates. In other words, this report appears to have distorted its solar projections to imply that wind is essential, when in fact it is not.”
Utility scale wind in Vermont requires dramatic and permanent impacts to mountaintop environments that will gravely degrade the aesthetic beauty of our mountains and fragment important habitat. Energize Vermont wants residents to know that the industrial grade roads and clearings required to build these developments will permanently scar the ancient mountain topography of the State. While some of the environmental groups supporting wind have stressed that only a few tens of miles of ridgeline will be needed to supply 20% of Vermont’s electricity, these figures ignore the necessary construction of access roads and transmission lines. Moreover, it is now clear that even this 20% target will require roughly ten major projects for the State, each involving the devastation of a complete mountain ridge. With larger targets, it is conceivable that over 100 miles of ridgelines, mountaintops and viewsheds will be affected.
In a recent study by the Vermont Department of Tourism focusing on the “Vermont Brand,” vacationers identified the three words most used to describe Vermont as “unspoiled”, “beautiful”, and “mountains”. With tourists looking to Vermont for unspoiled, beautiful mountains, developing utility scale wind in Vermont poses a major threat to Vermont’s most precious and valuable asset. The most recent numbers from the Vermont Chamber of Commerce show Vermont’s tourist economy represents $1.61 billion in spending and almost 60,000 jobs in the state. Beyond harming our mountains, utility scale wind may also lead to substantial economic repercussions including job loss.
Recent peer-reviewed research from Washington University School of Medicine, other scientists and medical researchers, supports Energize Vermont’s concerns about health impacts from turbine noise. The new research has shown a connection between infrasound, or ultra-low frequency sounds produced by turbines, to alterations of the human cochlea (inner ear) and with sleep disturbance. Sleep disturbance in turn has been linked to headaches, depression and hypertension. These are precisely the symptoms reported by dozens of people around the world who have been forced to live near operating utility-scale turbines. Energize Vermont member and doctor Stanley M. Shapiro MD F.A.C.C. says, “The potential health effects from turbine noise need to be investigated further and what we now know should definitely give us pause.”
Energize Vermont spokesperson Lukas B. Snelling concluded, “Energize Vermont is working to bring renewable energy solutions to the State. However, some of the current proposals are simply not a good fit for Vermont. All signs suggest we must cease the current ill-conceived and premature drive towards utility-scale wind and embrace more appropriate and effective means to solve the energy and environmental challenges that we agree exist.”
Energize Vermont was created to educate and advocate for establishing renewable energy solutions that are in harmony with the irreplaceable character of Vermont, and that contribute to the well-being of all her people. This mission is achieved by researching, collecting, and analyzing information from all sources; and disseminating it to the public, community leaders, legislators, media, and regulators for the purpose of ensuring informed decisions for long term stewardship of our communities.
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