Editor’s note: Jon Margolis is VTDigger’s political columnist.
Surprised that the Public Service Board approved the first stage of the planned wind energy project in Brighton, Newark and Ferdinand even though Gov. Peter Shumlin said such projects should not be forced on “any community that doesn’t vote for them,” and two of those communities have voted against them?
First of all, Shumlin did not pledge to block wind energy in towns that do not welcome them, only that he did “not believe” the projects should be sited over local objections. He does not have the power to block wind projects. Only the Public Service Board – an independent, three-member, quasi-judicial body – can grant or withhold the certificate of public good a developer needs before erecting those big towers.
OK, the most fervent anti-winders doubt the PSB’s independence. But only one of the three board members – Chairman James Volz – is a Shumlin appointee. David Coen and John Burke were appointed by former Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican who was much more skeptical of “industrial” wind than is his successor.
But all three members signed the certificate of public good allowing Seneca Mountain Wind to install four 190-foot-high temporary meteorological stations, two in Brighton and one each in Ferdinand and Newark. These stations are designed to figure out whether there’s enough wind on those ridge tops to make it worthwhile to build the projected 35-tower project.
A fix is in when a boxer agrees to throw a fight or when a judge accepts a bribe to acquit a defendant. Despite some Capitol-corridor mutterings from those fervent anti-winders, none of that is going on here. Vermont officials are not for sale. They are not being bribed. These are policy decisions.
Don’t be surprised if the answer to that question is yes; it almost always is. And don’t be surprised if the application to build the whole enchilada gets its certificate of public good, too; they almost always do. Indeed, a cynic might be tempted to say that when it comes to approving wind projects in Vermont, the fix is in.
A nasty phrase, implying corruption and thievery. The fix was in for the 1919 World Series. A fix is in when a boxer agrees to throw a fight or when a judge accepts a bribe to acquit a defendant. Despite some capitol-corridor mutterings from those fervent anti-winders, none of that is going on here. Vermont officials are not for sale. They are not being bribed. These are policy decisions.
With that reality firmly in mind, it is possible to understand what is really going on in the CPG-approval process for wind projects in Vermont: the fix is in.
The difference is that in this case the “fixers” are not gamblers or gangsters. They are you, the “you,” in this case, meaning not the individual you reading this, but the collective you, the people of Vermont, speaking through their (your) representatives in the Legislature.
In deciding that wind power is good policy and should be approved almost whenever and wherever proposed, the PSB is doing its job. It is following the law, specifically the SPEED (Sustainably Priced Energy Enterprise Development) Act of 2005. That law told the state’s utility companies that they should (which for all practical purposes means that they must) get 20 percent of their power from “renewable” sources such as wind or solar.
The policy directive to the PSB seems clear. Absent some extraordinary reason to deny a wind power proposal, it should be approved. Approval is what the computer nerds would call the default position.
Or to put it another way, the fix is in. That’s Vermont’s chosen policy, established by the Legislature and approved by the public according to every poll taken on the subject. A credible new survey indicates that the approval rate is falling, at least up north, but even that poll showed a pro-wind majority.
But shouldn’t opposition by most of the folks in town constitute one of those extraordinary reasons that would convince officials to turn down an application? Newark’s voters overwhelmingly rejected the wind proposal in March. A month later, Brighton adopted a town plan calling for a moratorium on new wind projects. In both towns, the local sentiment is not debatable. Is Vermont not dedicated to “local control”?
No. Nobody is devoted to local control, not unless they agree with the locals and disagree with the non-locals on a specific issue. “Local control” is part of the process fraud. Whoever says, “this is the best process,” really means, “this is the process I think will yield the substantive result I prefer.”
“Local control” is the Vermont version of the national “states’ rights” debate. Nobody cares about states’ rights either. Jefferson Davis said he did, but he just wanted to protect slavery. George Wallace said he did, but he just wanted to preserve segregation. Had the feds been pro-slavery and pro-segregation, both men would have welcomed federal interference.
(In fairness to Wallace’s memory, he regretted his segregationist ways in 1979, a repentance certified as sincere by, among others, the Rev. Jesse Jackson).
Vermonters tend to be pro-wind because Vermonters tend to be liberals. Liberals favor wind power because they think more wind power will mean less fossil fuel burning, and therefore less global warming.
They could be right. Or they could be wrong, but that makes no difference because liberals – exactly like conservatives – tend to embrace those accounts and narratives that appeal to them, and to reject evidence to the contrary.
In the recent Florida trial of George Zimmerman for the tragic death of young Trayvon Martin, for instance, liberal columnists, bloggers and TV talking heads regularly stated that Zimmerman had refused an order not to get out of his car and follow Martin, had no reason other than race to suspect that Martin’s intentions deserved scrutiny, and (in the words of a journalist-lawyer on PBS’s “News Hour”) “had called the police 46 times in previous six years, only for African-Americans, only for African-American men.”
None of this was true. Almost none of it was ever retracted or corrected. But it fit the preferred narrative of the target audience, much as hysteria over the possible horrendous consequences of the Affordable Care Act fits the preferred narrative of conservative audiences.
So most Vermonters, being liberals, are disinclined to question the assumption that wind power will help fight global warming. The officials they vote for assure them that it will. So do the commentators they choose to read. To repeat, they may be right. But the actual evidence does not conclusively confirm their assumption.
No matter. Vermonters are pro-wind. Lawmakers, accurately reflecting the views of their constituents, have made support for wind power the policy of the state. The Public Service Board is following that policy. When it comes to approving wind projects in Vermont, very legally and very democratically, the fix is in.