Ben Luce Comments at Nov 17th VCE Press Conference

Dec 06, 2010 No Comments by

Below is Ben Luce’s comments at the November 17th Vermonters for a Clean Environment press conference. You may also download his comments in PDF here. Click on images below to enlarge.

Remarks by Ben Luce, Ph.D.,

Assistant Professor of Physics and Sustainability Studies,

Vermonters for a Clean Environment Press Conference, November 17, 2010

Email: Ben.Luce@Lyndonstate.edu,    Phone: 802-279-7838

Good Morning, I would like to first stress that I have been a long-time advocate of utility-scale wind development. I served as the Chair and Director of the New Mexico Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy for a decade, in which capacity I successfully advocated for a wide range of renewable energy policies and incentives, included wind power tax credits and rules that require utilities to develop wind power and other forms of renewable energy generation.  I still maintain that wind power can make a meaningful contribution to US clean energy generation, when appropriately sited. On the other hand, I have also always been mindful of the potential impacts of inappropriate renewable energy development, and today I would like to make five quick points today about utility-scale wind development in Vermont.

First, unlike offshore and Midwest wind resources, Vermont’s commercial wind power resource, and the ridge line wind resources of the Eastern US in general, are not actually major league renewable energy resources, as renewable energy resources go. This largely unappreciated fact has major consequences for whether it is or is not sensible to develop these resources. In short, developing them to any meaningful extent will unavoidably incur enormous and adverse impacts to Vermont’s fragile wilderness, to the overall character of this state, and to the local economy, but will have little impact on reducing US greenhouse gas emissions.

Here are the facts: Even assuming that 100% of wind generated electricity will effectively offset (replace) fossil fuel generation, developing ALL of the commercial wind resources in Vermont would only reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by less than 0.1%. Even developing the entire onshore wind resource of the Eastern US would only reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by only 1-2%. The source of data for this is: http://www.windpoweringamerica.gov/wind_maps.asp. The calculation is summarized at right.

Secondly, because these ridgeline wind resources are relatively minor, it is wholly inconsistent and misleading for pro-wind advocacy groups to maintain, as some have, that it is essential to develop them while simultaneously maintaining that the development can and will be carried out with “careful siting, scale, and design of wind facilities”[1]. If such a small resource is essential, then it follows that there must be a serious dearth of alternatives. But this in turn implies that utilizing most or all of the resource will be necessary, which would basically negate any possibility of “careful siting” or control over scale. Fortunately, there is not a dearth of alternatives to utility-scale wind power in Vermont or elsewhere to begin with, so while wind generation might indeed contribute, and while one may or may not feel its associated impacts are acceptable, it cannot be claimed to be essential. So the stance of the pro-wind advocacy groups is neither consistent nor well founded.

Thirdly, regarding alternatives, Vermont’s solar energy resource is several hundred times larger than her wind resource.  This resource, like offshore and Midwest wind power, really does have the capacity to contribute meaningfully to greenhouse gas reductions in Vermont elsewhere. Just as importantly, solar’s ubiquitous nature, and the scalability of photovoltaic generation, gives solar the flexibility to be developed with virtually no impact to wilderness, and with minimal impact to views. Less than 6000 acres of photovoltaic collector area could in fact power the entire state of Vermont, with weather fully factored in, and much of this could simply be sited on roofs, small pole-mounted systems in yards, etc. There is really is no comparison between the impacts of wind development to mountaintops and well-sited solar generation. Justifications by some proponents of wind, on the simplistic basis that all sources have impacts, or on the basis that wind’s impacts are less than conventional sources, gloss over the actual differences.

Finally, I would like to stress that the cost trend of solar is extremely promising. Photovoltaics are projected to become directly competitive with retail electricity costs by 2015 (see graph). On the other hand, ridge line wind power will likely not decrease substantially in cost, and ridgeline wind is coming in at prices in the Northeast well above the wholesale prices for hydropower. And future transmission build outs in support of massive wind development will raise the cost much more. So ridge line wind cannot even really claim to have a long-term or even mid-term cost advantage over solar.  The main difference between solar and wind financing is that it’s simply easier for corporations and public utility commissions to force consumers to pay for wind power, while obtaining low-interest, long-term financing for photovoltaics is difficult.

In summary, it is my long considered conclusion, as an advocate of renewable energy and a researcher of renewable energy, that Vermont should absolutely pass on utility-scale wind development. This is a wholly inappropriate technology for Vermont.


[1] Joint Statement in Support of Wind Power Development in Vermont, by

Conservation Law Foundation, Vermont League of Conservation Voters Education Fund,

Vermont Natural Resources Council, Vermont Public Interest Research Group, Thursday, October 21, 2010.

Solar, Wind

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