Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., just jumped into the middle of one of the Vermont Legislature’s hottest debates.
On Monday, Sanders vehemently opposed a three-year moratorium on wind generation projects more than 500 kilowatts in capacity. The Senate proposal has bipartisan support and was ushered in by loud and frequent protests to Vermont’s ridgeline wind development this past year.
Sanders told reporters at a press conference that he was sticking his neck out on this issue because he is concerned about the national implications of a short-term ban in Vermont. He plans to introduce national legislation next month that would tax carbon dioxide emissions, and he said that Vermont must continue to lead the country in measures to curb climate change — including the expansion of Vermont wind generation.
“I am deeply concerned that currently there is an effort in the Legislature to put a moratorium on the construction of new wind projects,” Sanders said. “I strongly disagree with that effort; not only in what it will mean for our state in terms of transforming our energy system, but what it will mean nationally.”
On Thursday, in his Church Street office, Sanders sat flanked by leading advocates of utility-scale wind development in Vermont. Sitting at the table with Sanders were: Paul Burns, director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group; Chris Kilian, Vermont director of the Conservation Law Foundation; Gabrielle Stebbins, director of the trade association Renewable Energy Vermont; and Don Hooper, northeast regional representative for the National Wildlife Federation.
Sanders said that if the proposed moratorium were approved it would fan the flames of the fossil fuel industry.
“I have no doubt that if Vermont ceases new wind development the message will go out all across the country, spread by well-funded coal and oil companies, that even in Vermont, even in progressive Vermont, even in environmentally conscious Vermont, there is not a serious commitment to combating global warming,” Sanders said. “It is my hope that Vermont will hold its head high and lead this country in terms of transforming our energy system and in combating this horrendous danger of global warming.”
Both Sanders and Kilian defended the state’s energy permitting processes, which frequently came under fire this past year by protestors of large-scale wind development. Their chief complaint was that the public did not have a loud enough voice over such permits. Partly as a result of these complaints, Gov. Peter Shumlin created a siting commission to assess these processes.
“It would be totally inappropriate for some wind energy company to bulldoze their way through a project,” Sanders said. “There is a thoughtful process that must take place, involving community input … I applaud and respect the processes we have in the state of Vermont.”
Kilian — who said his organization was involved in the permitting of currently operating wind power projects in Vermont — rejected the notion that the public doesn’t have a say over permitting as it now stands.
“I feel that the Public Service Board in particular … (has) done an excellent job of including public input through public hearings and through broad public participation,” he said. “I can understand people not being happy with the results, but I don’t think it’s fair to call for this moratorium based on a lack of public participation.”
Ridgeprotectors, an anti-wind group, says renewable electric generation projects have a limited impact on climate change.
“Atmospheric scientists tell us that the phenomenon variously referred to as climate change or global warming is likely caused and certainly exacerbated by elevated concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” Ridgeprotectors said in a statement. “If we trust that conclusion then the solution is reduction of those emissions at their sources. In Vermont, 92.6 percent of emissions come from transportation, structural heating, agriculture and commercial/industrial operations.”
Republican Sen. Joe Benning, who was a principal architect of the moratorium bill, panned Sanders just after his announcement.
“Bernie Sanders rose to power fighting for the little guy against big-moneyed corporate interests,” Benning said. “Now he ignores the cries of Vermonters caught in the crosshairs of huge corporations, whose powerful lobbyists and high-priced lawyers use a frustrating maze of regulatory bureaucracy to threaten their cherished mountain homes. … How sad.”