Margolis: In the UTG, a one-property, one-vote referendum on Seneca Wind

Twenty-one 450-foot-tall wind turbines run along the Lowell Mountains ridgeline for 4 miles. Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger

Twenty-one 450-foot-tall wind turbines run along the Lowell Mountains ridgeline for 4 miles. Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger

Editor’s note: Jon Margolis is VTDigger’s political columnist.

There’s nothing on the official political calendar. It’s not an election year. Nobody’s term is up. The airways are not cluttered by candidates calling each other foul names.

But there’s a political contest going on in Vermont, and though it is both small and unofficial, it may not be trivial. The result could determine whether a wind power project known as Seneca Mountain Wind is built atop some of the wildest, most remote wildlife habitat in the state. If Seneca is constructed, it would be the third wind farm on a ridgeline in the Northeast Kingdom — after Sheffield and Lowell.

Whether the vote is trivial or significant may be debatable. What is not debatable about this political contest is that it is very, very, strange.

Right now, votes are being cast, though not in a school auditorium or a town hall. These ballots were sent out by mail and will be returned by mail, and all of them postmarked before Dec. 12 will be counted.

On Dec. 13 or thereabouts?

No, that would be an ordinary election. These ballots will be counted Jan. 13 in Ferdinand.

That’s Ferdinand, Vt., population 32, according to the 2010 Census, one of the Unified Towns and Gores (total population 50), not that long ago known as the Unorganized Towns and Gores, but “Unified” seems more respectable. Who wants to be considered “unorganized”?

In addition to Ferdinand, the UTG consists of Averill, Avery’s Gore, Lewis, Warner’s Grant, and Warren Gore. All of them are up in the northeastern corner of the state, in Essex County, and considering that those 50 people are spread out over about 160 square miles, the population density would have to be considered sparse.

Too sparse to warrant separate, organized, towns, hence the creation of the UTG.

Finally, this election is not really an election. It’s more like a survey, a poll asking the property owners whether they support or oppose a proposal by the Eolian Renewable Energy Co. to erect 20 wind towers along Ferdinand’s ridge lines.

 

In fact, were this an ordinary election – the kind in which only the registered voters of a municipality get to participate – a maximum of only 39 votes would be counted. That’s how many registered voters there are in the UTG, according to Barbara Nolan of Averill, the chair of the UTG’s Board of Governors.

But this is not a one person-one vote election. It’s a one property-one vote election. That means there could be as many as 457 votes, almost all of them cast by voters who live out of the area, and 122 of whom live out of state. (There are a total of 503 parcels on the combined UTG grand list, but some individuals and companies own more than one parcel).

In this case, one property-one vote does not mean one property owner-one vote. Many of the parcels, especially the hunting and fishing camps, are co-owned. But the three or four owners of a hunting camp get only one vote among them. The ballot went to whichever partner’s name is on the grand list. Nolan said the Board of Governors emailed these owners urging them to confer with their co-owners. But that’s up to them.

Finally, this election is not really an election. It’s more like a survey, a poll asking the property owners whether they support or oppose a proposal by the Eolian Renewable Energy Co. to erect 20 wind towers along Ferdinand’s ridge lines.

Because it is a survey and not an official election, Eolian’s Seneca Mountain Wind subsidiary seems to be committing no crime by offering what many in the area consider a bribe.

In a letter sent to everyone on the Grand List, Seneca Mountain project manager John Soininen said that if the project is built, the company “is proposing to create a UTG Landowner Fund which will distribute funds each year to all UTG property owners. We estimate this will amount to…$900.”

In an interview, Soininen confirmed that the annual payments would continue as long as the wind project continued operations.

Were this vote an official election, that offer might well be judged a violation of the state law criminalizing “any undue influence to dictate, control, or alter the vote of a freeman.” But William Senning, the director of Elections in the Secretary of State’s office, said he doubted the statute would apply in this case.

Soininen said he and his colleagues at Seneca Mountain Wind “ran it by a lawyer,” before sending his letter, and pointed out that “no law prevents a private company from compensating individuals.” He likened his proposal to the Alaska Permanent Fund which distributes oil revenue to all citizens of the state (coincidentally, just about $900 this year). The comparison is inexact; the Alaska Permanent Fund was authorized by constitutional amendment and is financed by royalties on oil production in the state. But it doesn’t seem to be entirely inappropriate, either.

According to Nolan, Soininen wanted the letter with his $900-a-year offer to be mailed with the ballots.

“We asked for that information not to be put into the proposal,” Nolan said. “They wanted us to send the proposal out (in the same envelope as the ballots). The ballots went out without the proposal.”

The Board of Governors, Nolan said, “are not supporting or against” the wind project. “We’re staying neutral,” she said, language she said was highlighted in the message that accompanied the ballots.

There is little doubt that most residents in the towns around the UTG are firmly opposed to the wind project. Voters in Brighton (Island Pond) and Newark – where Eolian wanted to build more towers in what was at first a larger Seneca Mountain proposal – overwhelmingly approved town plans that would ban them. But the opponents seem by no means confident that the property owners who live out of the area will share their outlook.

So even though this is not an official election, both sides are campaigning. The opponents are calling the far-flung property owners to make their case. So, Soininen said, are he and his allies.

“We are definitely communicating with people,” he said. “We have sent numerous postcards. I’ve sent a letter. We have been calling people.”

Pro-wind organizations such as VPIRG are also urging property owners to vote yes, though VPIRG executive director Paul Burns said his organization was “not taking position on whether or not the project should be built,” but thinks it “does deserve to be considered on its merits” and hopes UTG voters “would allow that process to move forward.”

Both sides seem energized by the widespread belief that if most UTG voters oppose the project, Eolian will abandon it. That was certainly Nolan’s impression. Company officials “have agreed in several meetings,” she said, that they would abide by local opinion.

But Soininen was not quite that definitive.

Though he said, “We’re not going to pursue a project in a host community that doesn’t support it,” he left the door open for the company to “do something,” such as revising the project or waiting for what might be a more opportune time “at some point in the future.”

In fact, he said, his company does not consider the votes in Newark and Brighton to be conclusive setbacks, either. Both towns adopted their plans before Seneca Mountain Wind had presented it final proposal, he said.

In the following video, the UTG Board of Governors explains how the vote on Seneca Wind is meant to work.

Comments

  1. Kim Fried :

    Boy this article really makes a couple of points that just aren’t what you expect from Vermont and it gets as Jon Margolis says “very, very, strange”. We in Newark have had nearly two years of torturous experience with Soininen and his Seneca Mountain Wind company and as this article shows the outcome of what Vermont citizens and Towns want he could care less about. If the UTG votes this proposal down he won’t leave town until he gets what he wants. We know Soininen for what he represents, or I should say misrepresents, and it’s to bad the UTG and Barb Nolan will also learn the hard way. Soininen will just “wait for what might be a more opportune time”. And what about the citizens on Newark and Brighton that will have to live everyday of there lives with these ridge line industrial developments? We also count for nothing.
    This is Vermont??? And how about VPRIG “they take no stand” but are”urging
    property owners to vote yes”. This is VPRIG??? How much is their pay off, probably more than the $900.

    • Kim,

      These folks agitating for their wind projects on pristine ridge lines to line the pockets of multi-millionaires with tax-shelters, are basically disturbing the peace and should be arrested, instead of being given ink in the media.

      And where would that energy be transmitted to? The NEK grid is already overloaded and over-disturbed by the PSB-approved Sheffield and Lowell ridge line fiascos, that are grossly underperforming their production promises to get PSB permits; capacity factors of less than 0.25, instead of 0.33 or better promised, based on flawed assumptions.

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

  2. Rob Pforzheimer :

    John Soininen is one of the wannabe Eolian wind developers desperate to get a project in Ferdinand, VT.

    Below is a link to a letter Soininen’s mother wrote to the Rutland Herald in 2005 when the Sheffield project was proposed near her home in Sutton. At the time she said, the turbines are a blight on the landscape.

    I guess she’s changed her mind again and now is all for her son’s poorly sited proposed project.

    Wind proponent changes her mind
    October 09,2005
    http://www.rutlandherald.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20051009/NEWS/510090336/1030

    • Alice Soininen :

      I did indeed change my mind. After considerable, careful, unbiased study, Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, and long before our son entered the wind energy development business, I became a proponent of wind. Subsequently, evidence of global warming given the increase in the intensity of storms here in the US and around the world further validates the urgent need for green energy (hydro, wind and solar) to replace the coal-fired electric plants here and aboard.

      • Alice,
        It would be much better for the environment, if you were a proponent of energy efficiency, instead of destructive wind energy projects on pristine ridge lines that disturb the nearby residents and produce high-cost energy; lightning struck a blade of a GMP lowell turbine and the cost to repair it was $250,000, of which about $150,000 was for the 600-ton crane.

        We could have much cheaper energy, if we bought more CO2-free, low-cost (about 6 c/kWh, adjusted for grid prices), steady, 24/7/365, politically-stable energy from Hydro-Quebec, instead of from Vermont RE sources at 3 -4 times grid prices, a la SPEED and Lowell Mountain.

        Just to show how important Vermont is as an “RE leader in the world”:

        World CO2 emissions; billion metric ton

        2011 34.50
        2012 35.26 +2.2%
        2013 36.00 +2.1% (estimate)

        Vermont: 0.0081 billion metric tons, or 8.1 million metric tons

        World CO2 emissions are 4,444 times Vermont’s.

        Vermont is a fly on an elephant’s butt.

        Increased energy efficiency is THE way to go in Vermont, instead of ridge-line destroying, society-dividing, health-damaging, property-value-lowering, quality-of-life-diminishing, noise-making, sleep-disturbing, 459-ft high industrial wind turbines on pristine ridge lines that are expensive, underperform and produce expensive energy.

        Energy efficiency in Vermont, and in other states, is a farce. Even the state of Vermont does not practice it; lots of high-sounding pronouncements, but no deeds worth mentioning.

        Vermont State Government buildings: average 107,000 Btu/sq ft/yr.

        http://www.publicassets.org/PAI-IB0806.pdf

        Just imagine how low our heating, cooling and electric bills would be, and how little our CO2 emissions would be, if all of us lived in Passivhaus-type buildings.

        Here are some data regarding the energy use of houses.

        Energy hog house………..300 kWh/m2/yr……95,158 Btu/sqft/yr, for space heating, domestic hot water and electricity

        Well-insulated house…….150 kWh/m2/yr……47,579 Btu/sqft/yr, for space heating, domestic hot water and electricity

        My house……………………..72 kWh/m2/yr……22,896 Btu/sqft/yr, for space heating, domestic hot water and electricity

        Passiv house………………..15 kWh/m2/yr……..4,758 Btu/sqft/yr, for space heating, domestic hot water

        Passiv house………………..27 kWh/m2/yr……..8,531 Btu/sqft/yr, for space heating, domestic hot water, electricity 

        Passiv house………………..42 kWh/m2/yr……13,289 Btu/sqft/yr, for space heating, space cooling, domestic hot water, electricity

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passive_house

        Adding PV solar and thermal solar systems to Passiv house buildings will easily make them “zero-energy” or “energy-surplus” buildings.

        As this is the direction we need to take anyway at some time in the future, why not start now and be a REAL leader for the rest of the nation and the world?

        Looks like a no-brainer to me!!

      • John Gilman :

        I guess threatened species of wildlife such as Bicknell’s thrush, the marten, lynx, etc., don’t count for much in your considerations.

  3. Don Peterson :

    What stop with the landowners? Lets contact the bears. They might outnumber the landowners!

  4. Doug Spaulding :

    $900 might as well be $1,000,000 as it will certainly prove sufficient enough an amount for those advocating the construction of the towers and their turbines. It will probably prove sufficient enough an amount even for those who, prior to receipt of their moneygram, were in opposition to them.

  5. Great piece Jon for a lot of reasons but the most important revelation is that SMW/Eolian really aren’t concernrd about losing the vote but will continue to pursue the project. All the speeches from SMW about honoring the vote, leaving if the citizens say no, is totally discounted, their words more empty rhetoric.
    As wind developers do the goal of dividing friends and families has not worked here in the NEK. Let’s hope a vote of disapproval will send a message to Montpelier that no matter how many lies wind developers tell the public we stand together to protect our mountains and wildlife. Maybe the Governor, PSB and ANR will stepup to send this bunch packing back to NH.

  6. Phyllis North :

    VPIRG being disingenuous. Their position on wind is why I did not give any money to the nice college kids who came to my house looking for a VPIRG donation last summer.

    • Kathy Leonard :

      I’d love to know how many others including you and I have a ‘moratorium’ on giving $ to VPIRG for this reason. I told them this year to contact me when Paul Burns has left the organization. He has alienated a lot of people not only with his closed-minded views on industrial wind, but his lack of basic civility in speaking with VPIRG’s own members.

  7. Dan Keenan :

    Minor correction: it’s the “Unified Towns & Gores,” not “United” ( http://www.utg-vt.org/ ).

    • Tom Brown :

      Thanks, Dan. You are correct.

  8. Townsend Peters :

    A property-based election held by a corporation does no credit to the pro-wind position.

  9. Paul Burns :

    Jon Margolis has accurately captured VPIRG’s position on this vote. We strongly favor more clean energy development in the state, as do most Vermonters. We believe that we have a responsibility to generate sustainable power since we all use it. And there is no doubt that wind, solar and other renewable energy sources are far more sustainable than fossil fuels or nuclear power. But a yes vote among UTG property owners will not mean that the project is built. It will only allow it to move forward in a rigorous permitting process designed to minimize harm to public health and the environment.

    It’s possible that the project will earn all the necessary permits based on its merits in the months ahead. It could also be changed in small or significant ways to address concerns raised by citizens or regulatory officials. And of course, it’s also possible that for one or more reasons, the project developers are denied permission to build. The serious questions about whether this project meets our state’s standards for a certificate of public good (and other necessary permits) can only be answered if it is allowed to move forward. And though VPIRG wants to see more renewable wind energy in the state, we have not taken a position on whether the Seneca Mountain project meets all necessary criteria.

    By contrast, a no vote suggests that the project should not be considered on its merits. That kind of extreme opposition to renewable energy is similar to what we’re seeing in Rutland Town and elsewhere where small groups of people are opposing solar power.

    It’s important to remember that by stopping the state from making progress on a clean energy agenda, opponents of wind and solar are essentially embracing far more dangerous, damaging and costly forms of energy — primarily fossil fuel based.

    Those who rigidly oppose sustainable energy development in Vermont are certainly within their rights to side with the gas, oil and coal industries in doing so. But among the many thousands of Vermonters we talk with each year, the question is no longer WHETHER we build clean energy projects in the state, it’s HOW and WHERE we build them.

    Those are the worthwhile questions on which reasonable people can both differ and make their best cases when projects like Seneca Mountain are considered on their merits.

    • Townsend Peters :

      But why should being pro-wind mean supporting property-based suffrage, with the vote conducted by a corporation?

      Democracy should mean one-person one-vote and the entity that runs elections should be democratically controlled.

    • Kathy Leonard :

      I am glad that you refrained from calling those who don’t agree with you 100% climate deniers” or “deniers of evolution” this time, Paul Burns. Maybe that tactic hasn’t worked well for you. You continue to put people in boxes, however. You state:

      “Those who rigidly oppose sustainable energy development in Vermont are certainly within their rights to side with the gas, oil and coal industries in doing so.”

      I find this verbal box to be a non-productive stereotype. A person can strongly disagree with certain types of renewable energy project without “siding with the gas, oil and coal industries” in doing so. That you are unable to accept this is your prerogative, but that approach continues to drive a wedge into a community of VPIRG’s natural constituents. Alienating Vermonters with your choice of words might feel good, but it bodes poorly for our prospects of finding solutions.

    • Paul,

      The world population was 1 billion in 1800. At the end 2012 it was 7 billion.

      All that time people were suffering and in danger from using fossil fuels, and yet they managed to multiply like flies!!

      It is much more dangerous to cross the street in Montpelier, or smoke a cigarette than to use fossil fuels.

      Why would you be advocating for more ridge line destruction with wind turbines that underperform, disturb people, and have capacity factors of 0.25 instead of the 0.33 or better promised to get permits, producing energy at 15 – 20 c/kWh instead of the 10 c/kWh promised.

      You should advocate for more energy efficiency, instead of for SPEED projects that produce energy at 15 -20 c/kWh.

      Here is an article you may want to read.
      http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/191326/deaths-nuclear-energy-compared-other-causes

    • Paul: I struggle to understand why you continue to assume that anyone voting against industrial wind on Vermont’s ridgelines is also against renewable energy. It is troubling to see you refuse to accept the possibility that many of us want to champion renewable energy WITHOUT using this particular form, since it destroys what we have fought so long to protect. That is your prerogative, I guess, but it is obviously alienating many who previously counted themselves as VPIRG contributors.

      But there is a more important question here. The vast majority of the UTG votes are being cast by people who do not live there, many of whom don’t even live in Vermont. If the vote concerned “billboards” as opposed to “wind towers,” wouldn’t VPIRG find such a method of voting deplorable?

    • John Gilman :

      These ugly bat and bird-killing turbines have no place in the wildest, most significant wildlife habitat in the NEK. If people in Montpelier or Chittenden County want wind power, put them in their backyards.

    • Kevin Jones :

      Paul

      You are ignoring the fact that all the wind projects in Vermont that participate in the SPEED program sell the renewable energy credits out of state. As a result, these projects raise Vermont’s carbon footprint since the renewable energy is exported to other states. It is an environmental travesty that organizations such as yours continue to support this industrial development on our ridgelines when the state program driving this policy is a sham. Since senior members of your energy staff have sat in my office and strongly agreed that the SPEED program is a sham I am at a loss to understand why you continue to promote these failed policies rather than publicly acknowledging the serious flaws. Why should Vermonters support development on our ridgelines when as a result of the well publicized REC sales by Vermont utilities it is all a renewable energy shell game that raises Vermont greenhouse gas emissions?

  10. Rosemary Kean :

    The patronizing tone of Mr. Burns requires a response. His suggestion that anyone who votes NO on the Seneca Mountain industrial wind project is demonstrating “extreme opposition to renewable energy” is absurd and distorts the nature of the opposition to this project. A NO vote on the Seneca Mountain project would certainly not stop Vermont from continuing to develop wind power in a way that meets with the approval of Vermonters.

    There is a difference between industrial wind projects which destroy habitat and ridge lines and harm the health of humans and other animals, and actual, sustainable, non-injury- producing wind power. Vermonters are known for standing up to protect the environment and a NO vote on the Seneca Mountain industrial wind project would continue that tradition.

  11. Don Peterson :

    Mr. Burns has lost his way. Opposition to ridgeline development is not a vote in favor of fossil fuel: in fact in this state its easy to make the case that selling renewable energy credits out of state encourages fossil fuel consumption elsewhere.

    He prefers to ignore this blatant loophole in the state’s energy policy.

    An interesting development in the Cape Wind project in Massachusetts is that 25 days from the finish line (and with permits in place) the developers are having trouble finding last mile financing. Wind energy is a bad investment, it makes bad energy policy, and in Vermont no carbon is being saved.

  12. Don,
    Here are some data for OFFSHORE wind energy. It is even a bigger boondoggle than ONSHORE.
    Here is an excerpt from this article:

    http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/47519/base-power-alternatives-replace-base-loaded-coal-plants

    Cape Wind and Other Offshore Wind Facilities

    Cape Wind Associates, LLC, plans to build and operate a wind facility on the Outer Continental Shelf offshore of Massachusetts. The wind facility would have a rated capacity of 468 MW consisting of 130 Siemens AG turbines each 3.6 MW, maximum blade height 440 feet, to be arranged in a grid pattern in 25 square miles of Nantucket Sound in federal waters off Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket Island; the lease is for 46 square miles which includes a buffer zone.

    The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities approved a 15-yr power purchase agreement, PPA, between the utility National Grid and Cape Wind Associates, LLC. National Grid agreed to buy 50% of Cape Wind’s power starting at $0.187/kWh in 2013 (base year), escalating at 3.5%/yr which means the 2028 price to the utility will be $0.313/kWh. NSTAR has a PPA with Cape Wind, approved by the state, for 50% of Cape Wind’s power at a similar rate.  

    A household using 618 kWh/month will see an average wind power surcharge of about $1.50 on its monthly electric bill over the 15 year life of the contract; if the other 50% of power is sold on the same basis, it may add another $1.50 to that monthly bill.
    Power production is estimated at 468 MW x 8,760 hr/yr x CF 0.39 = 1.6 GWh/yr.
    The capital cost is estimated at $2.0 billion, or $4,274/kW. Federal subsidies would be 30% as a grant.

    The 28.4 MW Block Island Offshore Wind Project has a 20-yr PPA starting at $0.235/kWh in 2007 (base year), escalating at 3.5%/yr which means the 2027 price to the utility will be $0.468/kWh. A State of Rhode Island suit is pending to overturn the contract; the aim is to negotiate to obtain a lower price.
    Power production is estimated at 28.4 MW x 8,760 hr/yr x CF 0.39 = 0.097 GWh/yr.
    Capital cost is estimated at $121 million, or $4,274/kW. Federal subsidies would be 30% as a grant.

    The 200 MW Delaware Offshore Wind Project has a 25-year PPA starting at $0.0999/kWh in 2007 (base year), escalating at 2.5%/yr which means the 2032 price to the utility will be $0.185/kWh.
    Power production is estimated at 200 MW x 8,760 hr/yr x CF 0.39 = 0.68 GWh/yr.
    Capital cost is estimated at $855 million, or $4,274/kW. Federal subsidies would be 30% as a grant.

    http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/310631/more-realistic-cost-wind-energy

  13. Don Peterson :

    For an unbiased, non polarizing account of the current state of wind energy development, go to this article in the current National Geographic:

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2013/12/131205-cape-wind-offshore-energy/

    Perhaps NGeo is a rightist wingnut scandal sheet, Mr Burns, or maybe you should reorganize your political pigeonhole system…

    • David Zuckerman :

      I think the National Geographic article does a very good job of explaining the many challenges we face as far as the power we use, the pro’s and con’s of the wind development etc. But I think this paragraph was particularly on point:

      “Massachusetts Audubon spent more than a decade researching and reviewing research on Cape Wind’s potential impact on birds and other wildlife. The organization was active in commenting on state and federal environmental impact review, gaining additional study and avian monitoring. Finally, in August, Mass Audubon said it concluded the project would not pose an ecologically significant threat to birds and other wildlife. The organization said it originally had “deep skepticism” about the project. Ultimately, it supported Cape Wind because of the contribution it could make on climate change, which the group said it viewed as “the gravest threat to humans and to the nature of Massachusetts and the planet.”

      Later on in the article it is discussed that visual impacts are some of the largest reasons people are opposed. It also spoke of power pricing. And it certainly appears that the price is very high. However, for those that are arguing that we should put more into reducing our energy consumption (and I agree with that argument by the way), so long as we rely on “cheap” oil, nat gas, coal etc., people will not be persuaded to retrofit their houses to be more energy efficient.

      I feel that there are good arguments on all sides, and there is good take-away from all of the discussion about wind in Vermont.

      We need both more renewables, and we need far more energy efficiency. I know that many who are opposed to the wind turbines are also very concerned about climate change. I do not think that people need to be stereotyped on any side of this discussion.

  14. Stan Shapiro :

    I challenge anyone affiliated with the Seneca Wind to detail the amount of revenue that is generated per turbine per year. It is likely well into millions per turbine. 900.00 $ per person per year is laughable chump change for the company even if it wer e for a few thousand people. This is really why the financing of these projects needs full transparency.If the public knew what the politicians and environmental quislings like Burns do there would be an outrage. These projects are rapacious of the environment and cynically take advantage of the concept of working to prevent climate change.

  15. Steve Wright :

    VPIRG fiddles, Paul Burns dances and the countryside warms. What a sad scene this has all become.

    Mischaracterizations, sweeping conclusions based on myth and the folly of assumed beliefs, gets us nowhere in the struggle with climate change.

    Can’t we just get along? Apparently not.

    Here’s what’s wrong with VPIRG’s energy policy.

    It doesn’t work. It denies the principles of physics. It ignores the predictable behavior of humans. It enriches a few wind energy developers at uncalculated expense to natural systems.

    Building additional renewable capacity does not reduce Vermont’s emissions. Nearly three-fourths of the state’s carbon emissions come from burning gasoline and heating fuel. That is where our carbon reduction efforts must focus.

    To repeat; building additional electrical capacity does not, of itself, reduce the state’s carbon emissions.

    In fact, if the Vermont electric generator sells the Renewable Energy Credits–RECs–to out of state fossil fuel generators, as many do, then the result is an increase of carbon emissions in Vermont. That is precisely what is happening with the Lowell Mountain wind project.

    GMP sells its Renewable Energy Credit—“to keep down the price of electricity for its ratepayers”—and the effect is an increase in Vermont’s carbon emissions.

    Intermittent, grid-connected, renewable sources such as wind and solar–especially
    wind–also have an unsettling effect on regional grid performance. Grid managers never know when the wind will blow–or stop blowing. That fact tends to destabilize grid function, a system demanding predictability.

    This is complicated stuff that requires an understanding of physics, the behavior of electrons, and sociology, the behavior of humans.

    Those of us who believe in aggressive emissions reduction invest our advocacy in a more careful, science-based approach while acknowledging the reality of climate change and related systemic disruption.

    Tearing apart ridgelines, some of our most critical habitats statewide, is a fool’s errand, not unlike driving at night without headlights.

    A careful, studied approach demands that one be informed and being informed requires hard work and study. Decision-makers should adopt the Precautionary Principle in all their deliberations. In its simplest form as applied to climate change action it means protect the natural systems that provide us life.

    See below for a full definition of the principle.

    “Precautionary action is appropriate when there is credible evidence that a particular technology or activity might be harmful, even if the nature of that harm is not fully understood. This means that decision makers must consider potential hazards that have been identified or that are plausible, based on experience, what is known, and/or predicted. Threats of serious, irreversible, cumulative, or widespread harm ……. demand precautionary action commensurate with their nature.” http://www.healthandenvironment.org/articles/doc/540

  16. Noreen Hession :

    As someone who has both worked for and supported PIRGs for over 40 years, I am once again disappointed with the brand of PIRG that is VPIRG. Vermont deserves better than the dishonest “leadership” exhibited by Paul Burns. When it comes to industrial wind a “no vote” does not suggest “extreme opposition to renewable energy.” Either Mr. Burns completely misunderstands the industrial wind debate in which he’s engaged, or he’s lying. Either way, for the leader of a state wide public interest organization, it’s unacceptable.

    The opposition to the SMW project comes from the fact that 96 percent of Vermont’s carbon emissions are produced by heating, transportation and our industrial processes. When a developer proposes an electric “alternative energy project” and say they can reduce carbon emissions, they’re talking about some percentage of 4%: it’s miniscule.

    Mr. Burns suggests we approve the SMW project and let the process go forward. The problem with going forward is that there’s a very good chance that even if this is a BAD project (and the SMW project is a doozie) it will get built. Today a wind prospector can propose a project that will result in expensive and unneeded energy, that can cause irreparable harm to large wilderness areas while threatening endangered species, that causes harm to the human neighbors both economically and in terms of physical health and it will get approved. Why? Because it’s “renewable energy.” The PSB has to make decisions based on laws written by the legislature which says “Skip ACT 250 and ignore the community outcry Put them up as fast as possible to meet the state energy goals”. We don’t have a process in place which stops these projects when they’re costly, environmentally and socially harmful, and unnecessary.

    Yet instead of having a sensible balanced discussion about how we should address these real concerns Paul Burns claims that those of us who oppose the destruction of the Senecas are advocating fossil fuel energy. This is a dishonest argument. Each of us who love the Senecas are staunch environmentalist who, instead of advocating the quick and dirty illusion of a fix are instead doing the heavy lifting one home at a time. Neighbors in the Kingdom have invested heavily in non-utility scale solutions: rooftops and back yards full of solar panels; wood heat; home re-insulation; thermal efficiency audits; replacing storm windows; driving fuel efficient cars. The thing that’s disappointing is that Mr. Burns has been to the Kingdom and has been told this repeatedly. Those of us who voted against the Seneca Mountain Wind project are not “embracing fossil fuel.” Claiming that those of us who are against the destruction of Seneca are “siding with gas, oil and coal” is an outright lie. It’s a lie that stops the environmental community from having a sensible conversation about renewable energy alternatives. We expect people in leadership positions to facilitate honest discussions, rather than creating false arguments to make a point. You’re hurting the hard won reputation of the PIRGs, MR Burns, and you’re hurting Vermont’s environmental community. It’s time we called for your resignation.

  17. Valerie Desmarais :

    There are a couple of factual errors in this piece: the payments figures were part of the proposal that eolian energy was presenting to the BoG and the taxpayers. The majority of The Board wanted the dollar amount taken out of the proposal before it was mailed to taxpayers. The would be developer very reluctantly agreed to remove the figures, but then went ahead and mailed the speculative compensation info in a separate mailing. He was more adamant that the only way eolian would “abide by the vote” was if the ballot for the vote went in the same envelope as his ( amended) proposal. This is a key component and a clear example of the coercive and bullying tactics that eolian has perpetuated since they targeted this area 20 months ago.

  18. frank ford :

    i voted yes for this and cant wait to reap the benefits both environmentally and economically!

    • Valerie Desmarais :

      No one should get too excited about any economic or environmental benefits. Even if a misguided and uninformed vote to approve the project comes back in January, it will never receive a CPG due to the high natural resource values of the area. Furthermore, there is no transmission capability and ISO can’t manage the intermittent power that they get now from current wind facilities. That is part of the criminality of the efforts by the developer; chewing up taxpayers dollars and continuing the charade that wastes so much time and effort.

    • Don Peterson :

      Awesome right? Four lane highways! Crushed stone! Dynamite! Storm water runoff plans! FLashing red lights at night!

      You wont have to summer in New Jersey anymore! And all paid for by your income taxes!

      • Don Peterson :

        And did I mention out of state landowners vs resident voter class warfare?

    • Valerie Desmarais :

      Frank Ford – I don’t see your name on the grand list?

      • Noreen Hession :

        1) I’m with Val: There’s isn’t a “Frank Ford” on the UTG taxpayer list. So, Frank Ford, who are you and why are you voting on this project?
        2) The $900 is a proposal from SMW that no one has approved. Most of the voters know a bribe when they see one. Most people don’t want to sell out their neighbors and destroy the wilderness for 900 pieces of silver.
        3) Most UTG tax payers won’t see the $900 bribe. The discussion about splitting up the UTG – with a Ferdinand succession – has already started because of this project.

    • Rob Pforzheimer :

      It will be a long time, if ever, to reap any of the non existent benefits from this poorly sited boondoggle.

  19. Don Peterson :

    Annette Smith: Is “project has local support” one of the check boxes on some federal loan guarantee or subsidy application? Would that be why the contortions to find a friendly body of consumers every time these projects are floated?

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