Reposted from Rutland Herald.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for more investment in renewable energy, including wind energy that is emerging as a relatively new component of Vermont’s electricity sector. Expanding renewable energy is the right thing to do, both for the immediate benefit of cleaner air and jobs, and to reduce carbon emissions that cause climate change.
However, the proposed Deerfield wind energy project in the Green Mountain National Forest near Readsboro is an example of a good idea — clean green energy — in the wrong place.
In our state, public lands harbor some of the last remaining pockets of wild forest. One such place, the Lamb Brook area where the eastern half of the project is proposed, drew the public’s attention in the mid-1990s when the Forest Service proposed to log the area. Easily accessible, the roadless area attracts hunters, anglers, snowmobiles, the occasional hiker, bobcat and black bear. Concerned about impacts from road building and logging to black bear habitat and the loss of wild forest statewide, conservation interests secured a court order to stop the project. Building the project as it is currently proposed again threatens the area that people have come to value for solitude and escape, and which is important habitat for wildlife.
Since this project was originally proposed in 2004, energy policy in Vermont has evolved considerably. The state government recently adopted a comprehensive energy plan that recognizes the impacts from utility-scale wind projects (like the proposed Deerfield project). The plan specifically states that the Agency of Natural Resources is conducting a resource inventory to identify sensitive habitats where wind development is inappropriate and places where wind development can proceed without undue environmental harm. These studies are essential to making sure we aren’t faced with a false choice between our rich natural heritage and a clean energy future.
The Wilderness Society has worked to have the federal government adopt a similar approach to renewables development on federal land. If we take the time to study the landscape and determine in advance of project proposals where we can expect high and low impacts — both environmental and commercial — development can be steered to appropriate places and away from areas of conflict. This is already happening out west with big solar projects on federal lands. But if this approach is not extended to onshore wind in our eastern national forests, developers will continue to choose project sites based only on energy potential alone. The administration can do more to make sure the Forest Service has the staff, the resources, and the direction to make clear ahead of time, which areas are too wild to develop, and which are not.
So Vermont is setting an example that the Forest Service needs to follow — complete the analysis of Vermont’s renewable energy potential and natural values to inform land use policies that guide tomorrow’s energy investments to the right places.
Leanne Klyza Linck is assistant vice president for eastern conservation with The Wilderness Society, based in Hinesburg.