Margolis: Will the wind issue blow voters to Brock?

Green Mountain Power's Searsburg wind turbines, EPA image

Jon Margolis is VTDigger.org’s political analyst.

Sen. Bernie Sanders has a campaign rally scheduled for West Rutland a week from Saturday, and he shouldn’t be surprised if he confronts some angry protesters.

Not, this time, from political conservatives who disagree with almost every position the decidedly left-of-center (though not really “socialist”) Sanders has taken for decades.

Instead, the folks thinking about showing up with signs and slogans are liberals who agree with their U.S. senator on most issues, but disagree with him bitterly on one: wind power on Vermont’s ridge lines.

Actually, they don’t just disagree with him. They’re downright furious with him for what they consider his refusal to enter into polite discussion with them.

Not that the foes of industrial wind are going to defeat Bernie Sanders this November.

Sanders is the most popular Vermont office-holder since George Aiken and his opponent will be a little-known, untested Republican. Wind opponents, according to a new survey by the Castleton Polling Institute, comprise all of 17 percent of Vermont’s voters, as opposed to 69 percent who support “building wind energy turbines along the state’s ridgelines.”

But as polling institute director Rich Clark noted, most of that pro-wind majority is “not worked up about it. It’s those opponents who are going to be out there with the signs and the slogans.”

Wind opponents are not much more of a threat to Gov. Peter Shumlin’s re-election than they are to Sanders’. But in the governor’s race they have an option, meaning they could become a factor, a complication if not a real danger, to Shumlin.

That’s because state Sen. Randy Brock of St. Albans, who will be Shumlin’s Republican opponent, came out recently in favor of a moratorium on the construction of new wind projects.

“I am not viscerally opposed to wind,” Brock said (via email). “But, I am concerned about … the effect of large scale industrial wind on our natural environment and on the people who live nearby … the cost-benefit of wind, especially given the significant tax preferences … benefiting a small group of alternative energy providers at the expense of ratepayers … and the true effect of job creation, balancing projections of green job growth against job loss caused by higher energy costs.”

That’s the kind of talk that’s been heard from few Vermont politicians in either party, and it struck a chord with the anti-wind forces. Small though their numbers may be, they occupy an interesting and potentially significant slot along the state’s political spectrum – lifelong Democrats who might vote for Republican Brock on this issue alone.

“I have heard many, many people say that they’ve never voted for a Republican in their lives, and they will now vote for anyone who expresses opposition to industrial wind towers on the ridge lines,” said Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, one of the few organizations to oppose further wind development.

Luke Snelling of Energize Vermont, another anti-wind group, agreed.

“From my travels around the state, I notice a huge number of single-issue voters for this issue,” Snelling said. “I’ve seen stuff cross my bow indicating that people who’ve never voted Republican are going to break for Brock.”

Neither Smith nor Snelling, to be sure, is an objective observer; the wish often being father to the thought, they could be reading too much into a few conversations. Furthermore, as officials of 501(c)3 organizations, neither of them is – or can be – directly involved in politics. Neither of them knew, for instance, whether any of these potential Democrats-for-Brock has any plans to try to put together an actual organization, or whether they are all content to speculate and gripe to each other via email.

Still, there does seem to be some potential for Brock to eat into part of Shumlin’s base. Most of Vermont’s anti-wind activists are environmentalists and reliable Democratic voters. So in a sense every one of them who votes for Brock hurts Shumlin twice – once by subtracting a vote from him, once by voting for the other guy.

Still, there does seem to be some potential for Brock to eat into part of Shumlin’s base. Most of Vermont’s anti-wind activists are environmentalists and reliable Democratic voters. So in a sense every one of them who votes for Brock hurts Shumlin twice – once by subtracting a vote from him, once by voting for the other guy.

Both Smith and Snelling insisted their ranks are growing. A few years ago, Smith said, polls indicated that roughly 90 percent of Vermonters supported wind power; now it’s down to 70 percent. Meanwhile, she said, a “huge” opposition has been inspired by a proposal for the Grandpa’s Knob wind project west of Rutland, and opposition to other projects has been “growing organically, from the grassroots.”

That’s no doubt true. As more projects are proposed, more opposition is aroused from neighbors. And the anti-wind movement has learned political lessons from its defeats in Sheffield and Lowell. Opposition organizes more quickly now, and is more sophisticated.

But it is nowhere close to a majority, and unlikely to endanger Shumlin’s re-election. According to that Castleton poll – which appears to be an accurate snapshot of Vermont political opinion – 65 percent of the state’s voters approve of how the governor is doing his job. A few thousand – even, say, 5,000 – devoted Democrats voting for Brock is not going to overcome Shumlin’s lead.

Besides, they probably won’t all vote for Brock. As the campaign unfolds, they will learn more about his proposals on health care, taxes, and other environmental issues. Some of them will come back to their Democratic fold. Others might stay home.

Even the possibility of substantial defection to Brock over this one issue, though, illustrates the power of passion in politics. Nationally, opponents of abortion rights and gun control are minorities, but often convince lawmakers and executives to side with them. In Vermont, the new poll indicates a huge 72-to-20 percent majority in favor of “legislation allowing someone who is terminally ill to take prescribed medicine to end his or her life.”

But that legislation failed again this year. The opposition was fewer in number, but better organized, more focused, and far more committed.

Comments

  1. Anyone interested in learning more about the issues surrounding utility-scale wind on our ridgelines is encouraged to watch the short film at http://www.vermontenergyoptions.org.

  2. Bud Haas :

    I didn’t expect Jon to be the one to say, “Most of Vermont’s anti-wind activists are environmentalists and reliable Democratic voters.”
    Hmm.
    I’d love to see some facts behind that statement.
    I’d say most are Republican opportunists and/or just plain NIMBYs.

    • Eric Rosenbloom :

      Like those reactionaries at Sterling College and Bread & Puppet Theater (who are at the forefront of protest against the Lowell Mountain electrical facility)!

  3. Annette Smith :

    Wind opponents cover the spectrum, rich, poor, deep roots, newcomer, liberals, conservatives, pilots, lawyers, doctors, foresters, loggers, wildlife biologists, aquatic biologists, educators, researchers, and lots more. I wouldn’t generalize as Jon or Bud have (you’re both wrong), though it could be true that most of the people often quoted in the press are environmentalists and/or reliable Democratic voters. But as far as the “type” of people who make up opponents of wind, they are made up of thoughtful and intelligent Vermonters who have really grappled with the information available. The more they learn, the more opposed they become. This is what some “wind opponents” look like http://grandpasknobwind.wordpress.com/2012/05/01/protesting-reunion-power-rutland-vermont-april-30-2012/.

    What is happening to the Lowell Mountains is illustrating just some of the reasons why Vermonters from so many different walks of life and political persuasions are becoming involved: http://lowellmountainsnews.wordpress.com/

  4. Terje Anderson :

    Jon is just plain wrong when he says that “Furthermore, as officials of 501(c)3 organizations, neither of them is – or can be – directly involved in politics.”

    While 501(c)3 organizations cannot endorse candidates or be directly involved in politics, people who work for those organizations face no restrictions on such involvement. Plenty of non-profit organization officials run for office, endorse candidates, hold party office or otherwise participate in politics.

    The IRS code only affects organizational activities … individuals do not give up their first amendment rights simply because they work for or with a 501(c)3 organization.

  5. Wind turbines, 459-ft tall, 367.5-ft diameter rotors on 2,500-ft high ridge lines

    - cost about $2,5000,000/MW,

    - produce energy at about 15 c/kWh (unsubsidized; 10 c/kWh subsidized) about 3 times NE annual average grid prices

    - emit noise and health-damaging, low frequency noise and infrasound

    - do not reduce CO2 emissions anywhere near the 1:1 ratio claimed by promoters

    - causes a NET JOB LOSS as follows:

    Job gain = Subsidized RE, 3 + Government, 1 = 4
    Job loss = Private due to RE, 6-15 + Private due to government, 2 = 8 – 17
    NET JOB LOSS due to subsidizing RE = 4 – 13

    http://publicservice.vermont.gov/planning/DPS%20White%20Paper%20Feed%20in%20Tariff.pdf

    Note: This is not the case with increased energy efficiency subsidies. They create jobs in the EE sector, but also create a net increase of jobs in the other sectors, because the reduction of energy costs enables more spending on other goods and services.

    http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/61309/lowell-mountain-wind-turbine-facility-vermont
    http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/71771/energy-efficiency-first-renewables-later

  6. walter moses :

    i see a double threat. a vote against shumlin is a vote to end the wind power frenzy and also a payback for the cvps-gmp merger that cut ratepayers out of the possibility of ever getting their money back for rescuing cvps from it’s own stupidity. vote for brock. opt out of smart meters. let’s get rid of the shumlin cosy relationship with big corporate power. maybe we will get rid of the present pub and elizabeth miller. what an opportunity!!!!

  7. Jon,

    Brock said: I am not viscerally opposed to wind, but, I am concerned about … the effect of large scale industrial wind on our natural environment and on the people who live nearby … the cost-benefit of wind, especially given the significant tax preferences … benefiting a small group of alternative energy providers at the expense of ratepayers … and the true effect of job creation, balancing projections of green job growth against job loss caused by higher energy costs.

    The governor of Maine is publicly questioning the economics of wind energy and NET job creation in Maine.

    Since his election in 2010, LePage has questioned the economics behind wind energy as part of his administration’s focus on lowering energy costs for Maine ratepayers. But the Republican governor’s rhetoric has intensified in recent months, suggesting that the technology is increasing energy costs and padding the pockets of “special interests.”

    http://bangordailynews.com/2012/05/27/news/state/lepages-critical-wind-power-stance-creating-uncertainty/

    Maine has much more experience with wind turbines on ridge lines than Vermont. Maine is New England’s largest producer of wind energy, with 205 industrial wind turbines at seven wind farms built since 2006 and more coming.

    Why is Shulman, et al, coddling Vermont’s wind energy oligarchy, belonging to the top 1%, at the expense of rate payers and tax payers belonging to the other 99%?

    Why is Shulmam, GMP, et al, in denial about the lack of benefits of RE and refusing to learn from Maine’s negative experience?

    Shulman must/should know expensively subsidized RE at 3-5 times NE annual average grid prices rolled into the utility rate base will further:

    - harm the long-term viability of the Vermont economy,

    - raise the prices of goods and services,

    - lower household incomes,

    - lower living standards,

    - lower business profits,

    - lower tax collections.

    - harm tourism

    - harm pristine habitats of flora and fauna

    It is all detailed in these articles:

    http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/61309/lowell-mountain-wind-turbine-facility-vermont

    http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/71771/energy-efficiency-first-renewables-later

    http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/61774/wind-energy-expensive

  8. NICOLE LEBLANC :

    Everyone in 2012 needs to Vote Dem/progressive. We cant afford another GOP governor or President!! Send the GOP home

  9. Dave Bellini :

    I’m in favor of whatever form of power saves me money.

    Right now there is a protest group for every form of energy:

    There’s the no-nuke crowd. The bumper stickers used to say: “split wood not atoms” Wood fell out of favor, now it’s called biomass by the anti-wood folks.

    Along comes wind and we have people yelling about windmills destroying the mountain tops.

    I thought no one could be against solar but I was wrong because solar farms are protested by folks who claim it damages the desert flora. So, solar is out.

    Coal? Oil? Nope, too dirty.

    Natural gas? No fracking way.

    Oil pipelines? No, damages the enviroment.

    Drilling for oil? Too risky to the ocean.

  10. Margolis Jon :

    Terje Anderson is right. I should have said that Smith and Snelling were reluctant to get politically involved because of their positions in 501 (c) 3 organizations, not that they, as individuals, are banned from political activity.

  11. it seems to me that the real answer is smaller turbines, family and community run wind power collectives in rural areas. Smaller turbines will not be as efficient, but they are used widely in Europe where they have had to make the choice. Let’s get together to create community based decisions at Town meetings around the State, so we do not have to be beholden to nuclear, oil or even natural gas options. How about some rebates for small projects that don’t destroy our mountaintops or natural areas. A corn field would be a great place to put them!

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