Times Argus Opinion: Power to the people

May 24, 2012 No Comments by

Reposted from Times Argus.


For more than a decade, Vermont has had a program in place to reward homeowners who install small-scale renewable power generation on their property. The net-metering allows them to generate power for their own use, and send the excess back to the utility. The utility customer in effect gets paid for the power at a set rate.

The debate over the effectiveness and benefits of this program, which pays well above market rate for power but is subsidized by taxes and other sources, has revolved mostly around the overall environmental and economic benefit versus the cost.


Every homeowner who wants to join the program has to apply for a certificate of public good for their power generation unit, just like Vermont Yankee or Green Mountain Power — but never with the same potential consequences or public outcry. Whether or not it is cost-effective, this program has resulted in hundreds of small solar generation stations being installed at homes statewide.


In contrast to the recent industrial wind power projects either already built, being built or under consideration in Vermont, the size and impact of these installations seem to be more fitting with Vermont’s traditions and image. A smaller scale of renewable power generation puts more control and direct benefit into the hands of consumers, rather than large corporate investors. This is also evident in the progress of a small municipal solar power project in southern Vermont.


The Rutland facilty would have the capacity to produce 150 kilowatts of power, which means 42,900 of these solar arrays would equal the capacity of Vermont Yankee. The financial benefit to the city would also be small — about $2,000 per year.


The solar farm is the project of two companies, AllEarth Renewables and Green Lantern Development. Power generated by the project would go onto the power grid, and the city would gain a credit of 20 cents per kilowatt-hour. It would refund 19 cents of that credit to Green Lantern, keeping a penny. That is where the Rutland’s income of $2,000 would come from — not a really significant amount of cash.


But the point isn’t necessarily the income — it’s the scale, and the source of the energy generation. Several communities around central Vermont have explored renewable options, and have even come up with plans to work toward local power generation.


For a number of years Vermont utilities have reaped the intangible benefits of sustainable energy. Their projects have not necessarily been big money makers for the companies. But CVPS’s efforts to develop cow power — power generated from methane taken from cow manure — and GMP’s wind and solar projects are pointing the way to a new era that is struggling mightily to be born.


For economic and environmental reasons the nation and the world need to wean themselves from fossil fuels. The shift to sustainable energy can no longer be thought of as an option. The world’s climate is already taking its revenge for the carbon that mankind has pumped into the atmosphere.


What is needed is a paradigm shift, not a gradual evolution. Societies need to recognize now the imperative to develop sustainable power. Public awareness needs to undergo a transformation the way that awareness of the poisonous effects of tobacco was transformed. Once the transformation had happened, the question was no longer a matter of debate.


A network of small-scale municipal projects — and expansion of the residential programs — will literally put power in the hands of locals.


While Vermont is not going to revolutionize the world power paradigm alone, this state can set the example, by decentralizing and transforming.

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