Rutland Herald Editorial: An energy future

Jun 22, 2011 No Comments by

Reposted here from the Rutland Herald.

Published: June 22, 2011

 

The idea of a self-sufficiently, locally based economy has wide appeal among Vermonters, some of whom came to a forum on energy in Rutland last week to urge greater reliance on locally produced energy.

 

Public Service Commissioner Elizabeth Miller told the gathering that she had heard similar comments at other forums around the state. She urged people interested in the variety of energy options available to the state to check out the Public Service Department’s new website (www.vtenergyplan.vermont.gov), which allows people to contribute their thinking to the creation of the state’s new energy plan.

 

The thinking of Vermonters on energy is often conflicted. At a time when the call for locally produced energy is being heard, others are vehemently opposed to a wind project proposed for the mountains of Lowell that would place 21 large turbines on a scenic ridgeline. Wind projects have been rejected because of their visual impact in other parts of Vermont, too, including Londonderry and Ira.

 

Vermont’s utilities have for some time entertained the idea of building a new power plant, possibly in the northwestern part of the state, using natural gas. For those promoting locally produced power, is that what they had in mind? Vermont Yankee produces power locally, but opposition to the extension of the plant’s license for another 20 years is widespread.

 

So what does locally produced energy mean? For one thing it means conservation. As advocates of conservation say, the cheapest kilowatt of energy is the kilowatt that is not used.

 

Sen. Bernard Sanders was in West Rutland recently touting a program championed by NeighborWorks of Western Vermont to promote energy conservation in homes all across Rutland County. Federal money has made the program possible. Homeowners can cut their consumption of fuel oil in half through energy-efficiency improvements, saving money and effecting important reductions in the emission of greenhouse gases.

 

As for the production of electricity, the utilities are in the business of providing power at scale, and they do not foresee a time when a plethora of small hydroelectric plants, wind mills or solar installations will replace the need for base-load power, which is produced in bulk by utilities such as Hydro-Quebec. Hydro-Quebec is a source of green power that is relatively cheap and which does not worsen climate change. The environmental harm caused by massive hydro projects is real, but it is a trade-off that Canadians have decided they can live with. Vermonters can, too.

 

The department’s new website is a reminder that Vermont’s energy challenges are many and are intertwined. One of the greatest contributors to climate change in Vermont is the reliance of Vermonters on the automobile. The rural character of the state means that Vermonters often have to drive long distances to work and public transportation is often not available. This is a problem that Vermont cannot solve on its own, but it can take steps to curb fuel consumption.

 

Whenever possible, the state ought to encourage the use of fuel-efficient cars and trucks. It ought to continue to enhance public transportation, including the bus networks and railroads. Amtrak use has continued to grow, as has the use of buses among the major towns and cities, showing that the need is there.

 

There is no single answer to the complex interwoven technological and cultural issues related to energy usage in Vermont. That’s why we should not insist on cramming projects down the throats of communities not willing to accept them. Lowell said yes to wind — to the dismay of neighbors. Fair Haven has said yes to a promised wood-burning power plant. Other towns have said no to similar projects for of their own.

 

The answer is to pursue all options, keeping an open mind and a willingness to try new things. The Shumlin administration has taken an aggressive attitude toward energy and climate change. The result will be a state energy plan ready in October, which is quick action for the new administration. It will be up to Vermonters themselves to make good on the potential outlined in the new plan.

 

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