Editor’s note: Kevin B. Jones is the smart-grid project leader for the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School. These comments are solely those of the author. He lives in Chittenden.
Recently Sen. Bernie Sanders dove headfirst into the controversy surrounding ridgeline wind development in Vermont by vehemently opposing the three-year ridgeline wind moratorium proposed by state Sens. Joe Benning and Bob Hartwell. While some have attacked Sen. Sanders for taking sides on a controversial state policy issue as a U.S. senator, that criticism seems unfair since Bernie is a Vermont citizen like the rest of us and has the right to weigh in on issues being debated in the Statehouse. The development of ridgeline wind has divided Vermont environmentalists like no issue before and while Sen. Sanders must have known his position would create controversy it is certainly an issue on which people can disagree.
Unfortunately both Sen. Sanders and climate activist Bill McKibben have greatly exaggerated the national policy and global environmental harm that a three-year Vermont ridgeline wind moratorium could have. Additionally, in attacking the moratorium they have unwittingly embraced a decade of failed Vermont renewable energy policy. Both Sanders’ and McKibben’s attacks on the moratorium, if accepted at face value, would leave Vermonters with the impression that if the Legislature rejects the moratorium all will be well in regards to Vermont renewable energy policy. Nothing could be further from the truth.
First, Vermont’s SPEED (Sustainably Priced Energy Development) program, which all of the instate wind resources participate in, is the most fundamentally flawed renewable energy policy in the nation today. As a result of this policy, Vermont’s utilities are largely selling the renewable energy credits from these projects into out-of-state programs rather than retiring them for Vermont customers.
Moratorium opponents, including Sanders and McKibben, have offered two largely hollow arguments. First they have argued that the moratorium will send the wrong signal regarding Vermont’s commitment to renewable energy. Additionally, they argue that it will be a step backward on climate change action which we cannot afford. Unfortunately they are overlooking the effect of current state policy. First, Vermont’s SPEED (Sustainably Priced Energy Development) program, which all of the instate wind resources participate in, is the most fundamentally flawed renewable energy policy in the nation today. As a result of this policy, Vermont’s utilities are largely selling the renewable energy credits from these projects into out-of-state programs rather than retiring them for Vermont customers. While this program raises Vermonters electric rates it does not result in a net increase in renewable energy in the region.
How can a moratorium that would slow rate increases but not change the regional procurement of renewable energy send a worse message nationally than the fundamentally flawed policy in place today? Second, because Vermont’s utilities are largely selling the renewable energy credits from the Vermont wind projects into out-of-state programs, Vermont’s utilities are actually exporting the low carbon energy and in its place importing energy that is largely sourced from fossil fuels and nuclear power. Any credible analysis, including that from the Vermont Department of Public Service, demonstrates that the more Vermont increases the SPEED resources, the greater Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions. Contrary to Sen. Sanders and Bill McKibben’s claims, a moratorium on the primary SPEED resources should actually slow the growth of Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions given the shell game that is being played with the renewable energy credits and it would also temporarily halt development on our sensitive mountain ecosystems.
Sens. Benning and Hartwell’s proposed ridgeline wind moratorium may not be the optimal fix for Vermont renewable energy policy but compared to the flawed Vermont policy in place today, it at least sends an appropriate message that Vermonters should not sacrifice their mountains for sham renewable policies that offer no benefit to the climate. Maybe then our Democratic legislative majority will actually implement a Renewable Portfolio Standard based on the successful state policies of all of our Northeastern neighbors and that would be state policy worthy of the support of Sen. Sanders and Bill McKibben.