Benning: A change in the wind

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Sen. Joe Benning, a Republican from Lyndonville.

Recently I hiked up to the top of Lowell Ridge to see where 21 400-foot wind towers will be placed. As I crested the mountain, I came face to face with an energy policy that is at war with itself. The environmental destruction taking place there pits those seeking to reverse climate change against those who wish to preserve Vermont’s pristine natural resources. While that battle rages, the economic cost to Vermont has been pushed aside as irrelevant.

Our new energy policy calls for a 90 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. Targeting our entire energy spectrum (including transportation), it relies on instate renewables to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. At the same time we’re eliminating Hydro-Quebec, nuclear power, fracked natural gas and less efficient biomass electricity as acceptable “renewables.” Industrial wind, currently the darling of the present administration, has become the power that now drives our legislative policy.

What price are we willing to pay for this new policy? Vermont currently does a better job than most states at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, so self-imposed mandates are not even necessary. And to those who believe Vermont will “lead the way” in reversing climate change, any hope that Vermont alone can cause a worldwide domino effect to achieve this lofty goal should be carefully balanced against the very real environmental destruction taking place right now in the cherished natural solitude of the Northeast Kingdom.

And more wind farms are coming as corporate investors, motivated by tax incentives and artificially inflated electric rates, seduce small towns with infusions of cash. Since wind is intermittent and has no storage capacity, our policy alone will require more wind farms and many miles of transmission lines to achieve our energy goal. If regulatory authorities fall short insisting on decommissioning plans, our ridge lines will end up littered with 30-story rusting hulks when this technology becomes obsolete. These new wind farms are encroaching on our wildlife corridors, destroying pristine mountain environments and radically changing the aesthetics of our state. They pit citizens of towns against each other, and towns against towns in a given region.

In the meantime, we in the Legislature have not been living up to the responsibility that comes with guarding Vermont’s Constitution. Article 18 urges us to be moderate and frugal when enacting only such legislation as is necessary for the good government of this state. At a time when Vermont already has more power than it can use, our new policy is not moderate, not frugal and certainly not necessary. We haven’t even taken the time to ask ourselves what these policy goals will mean to our economy in the absence of similar goals in surrounding states.

I cannot support the raping of a pristine environment in exchange for intermittent power that has to be subsidized by both the taxpayer and the ratepayer. At a time when Vermont already has an ample power supply, this is no energy plan, it is a blind obsession. It’s time for Vermonters of every political stripe to join together in defense of “These Green Hills and Silver Waters.”

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Steven Farnham
4 years 7 months ago
Of all the debates we have these days this one has got to be the craziest. Given what the nuclear, coal, oil, gas, and (oh so sustainable) Hydro Quebec have to offer, I just don’t see the quibble over wind turbines. It’s like condemning a fellow for beating his wife once a month, when every other man in town is beating his wife every hour. If you want to whine about something, why not whine about our insatiable appetite for energy, and our utter complacency about halting it’s complete and destructive waste? There is only one regretful thing about the… Read more »
Michael Reddy
4 years 7 months ago
Your comparison to domestic abuse is pretty scary. I don’t think beating spouses or children, whether it’s once a month or once an hour, is something that should be mentioned lightly or in any way condoned. The regretful thing about turbines is that they fly in the face of a “do no harm” approach. If we are going to protect the environment we should preserve the intact ecosystems, the carbon sinks, and wildlife corridors that we still have left, while dismantling those infrastructures which are actively destroying them. While claiming to reduce greenhouse gas production and slow climate change, industrial… Read more »
John Greenberg
4 years 7 months ago

If you’re serious, then disconnect from the grid and learn to live simply.

Otherwise, you’re missing the point: all electrical generation involves environmental degradation. If you’re going to use power, the question is which sources create the LEAST damage, which was, of course, Mr. Farnham’s point.

4 years 7 months ago

This is what is crazy. Destroying our mountain ecosystems
https://plus.google.com/photos/114098560210816181304/albums/5734671971969219137?authkey=CMOmpIrY1cjougE
and inflicting noise on neighbors
http://caledonianrecord.com/main.asp?SectionID=180&SubSectionID=778&ArticleID=77998
and dividing communities while co-opting town officials
http://grandpasknobwind.wordpress.com/2012/04/06/public-records-from-town-of-pittsford-april-5-2012/.
It is a sad story for our communities that goes far beyond the failure to empower Vermont communities with renewable energy that benefits Vermont rather than corporations.

Chuck Kletecka
4 years 7 months ago

We live in a world that denies climate change and avoids the uncomfortable choices to address it. Either way what we do, or don’t do, has consequences. I’d rather live in a Vermont that is responsible and forward looking and not in denial. That includes some limited use of our ridgelines for comercial scale wind. Anyone that denies that reality is drinking someone else’s coolaide.

Townsend Peters
4 years 7 months ago
Evidently Sen. Benning missed a lot of stuff in the renewable energy bill his committee voted out. Maybe that helps explain why he voted against it. Either that, or he is deliberately misleading readers of this website. For example, in the bill: 1. Both in-state and out-of-state resources count toward an overall renewable energy target for the electric portfolio of 75 percent by 2032 and, within that target, a requirement for 35 percent “new renewable energy.” So, Sen. Benning misleads when he says “it relies on instate renewables to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.” 2. Hydro-Quebec counts toward the… Read more »
Sen. Joe Benning`
4 years 7 months ago
Townsend: this op-ed piece never mentioned the Energy bill (aka H.468), which remains a work in progress. This piece was directed at the Governor’s stated energy policy. While I appreciate your passion in arguing against my thoughts, we aren’t on the same page. It is clear you are angry with me for voting against the Energy bill, as each of your points addresses parts of that document. Those parts have changed several times over the past three weeks as our committee chair does an admirable (and thankless) job at trying to accommodate competing interests. My piece wasn’t attempting to criticize… Read more »
Townsend Peters
4 years 7 months ago
Sen. Benning – sorry, but I am not buying that your piece has nothing to do with pending renewable energy legislation. It is legislation that ultimately decides what our “new energy policy” is – a policy the Governor must execute. If you are attempting to exclude the renewable energy bill from the debate, you are again misleading the readers of this site. I don’t know where in the world you get the notion that Act 250 would treat wind development differently from PSB review. Both apply nearly the same criteria. Act 250 approves about 98 percent of all applications submitted.… Read more »
Rob Macgregor
4 years 7 months ago

We’ve been through this before with the Governor’s (Douglas)
Blue Ribbon Commission on Wind Energy Regulatory Policy. The findings found no basis for subjecting wind development to Act 250 review in addition to the Sec. 248 review.

The legislature rejected a moratorium in the past, and the Senate was smart to reject the proposal again.

4 years 7 months ago
Thank You Senator Benning for having this discussion. And my sincere thanks to those who voted in favor of a wind moratorium the other night in Montpelier. As you know, one very well known advocate for industrial wind claims it will require 200 miles of ridgeline development to reach the goals we have set. Unacceptable. There has to be another way and we are going to have to find it. Transforming our Green Mountains with these useless, innefficient statues is something that Vermonters are realizing they do not want to do. I too was in favor at one time. That… Read more »
Townsend Peters
4 years 7 months ago

Could pls identify who this person is, and how the conclusion was reached:

“As you know, one very well known advocate for industrial wind claims it will require 200 miles of ridgeline development to reach the goals we have set.”

Michael Reddy
4 years 7 months ago
While Senator, Shumlin named entrepreneur David Blittersdorf to the board of the Clean Energy Development Fund. He was eventually asked to step down because of a conflict of interest, which he did. His wind development enterprises were subsequently awarded $4.3 million in tax credits from the CEDF. The following is the transcript of an exchange he had when questioned about ridgeline development. Question: How many miles of ridgeline is it gonna take to reach your 40% capacity? David Blittersdorf: I don’t think you want to hear my answer. Question: Yes, I’d like everybody to hear your answer. David Blittersdorf: I’ll… Read more »
4 years 7 months ago
Mike, I am pleased you found this quote. Here is a calculation to show how silly the Blittersdorf idea is. The Blittersdorf idea of putting wind turbines on 200 miles of Vermont’s ridge lines, equivalent to 200/3.5 = 57 Lowell Mountain’s, at a cost of 57 x $160 million = $9.12 billion is a good idea? Note: Lowell uses 3.5 miles of ridge line. How much energy? 57 Lowell Mountains x 63 MW x 1 GW/1,000 MW x 8,760 hr/yr x capacity factor 0.32 = 10,066 GWh/yr; this compares with Vermont’s annual consumption of 5,700 GWh/yr If one puts numbers… Read more »
Townsend Peters
4 years 7 months ago

Thank you for providing the source of the quote. However, it is clear from the quote that it does not actually support your assertion “it will require 200 miles of ridgeline development to reach the goals we have set.”

State law does not set a goal of 40 percent wind. Current state law has a goal of 20 percent of the electric portfolio being _renewable_ energy. There is no requirement that it all be one technology, and it is a myth that the only way Vermont can meet its renewable energy goals is through wind.

Avram Patt
4 years 7 months ago
In order to assess the environmental impact of a ridgeline wind project, it is more accurate and honest to look at an operating project, rather than one under construction. A very large construction project will look like: a very large construction project. Not far away, First Wind’s project in Sheffield has been operating since October. The towers are of course huge and very visible. The project is a bit smaller than the Lowell Mountain project, but but concerning the impact: A total of 63 acres were cleared for both the towers and road construction. About 39 acres of that have… Read more »
4 years 7 months ago

I’ve flown over the Shefield project and the impact looks more like 1000 acres to me. The top of that ridge is covered with roads….and ummm…wind turbines. The impact to the environment includes the little chunks of land that haven’t been clearcut but which fall within the huge perimeter / industrial umbrella of a project like this. Direct impact to wildlife extends beyond the pads and roads themselves.

Just because you see animals doesn’t mean habitat quality has returned to pre construction conditions which the wildlife that once thrived there had.

Avram Patt
4 years 7 months ago
The number of acres I stated are verifiable fact. Of course there is environmental impact from a large construction project. There is also environmental benefit from a wind project. What is the environmental impact of the “invisible” sources of electricity we rely on now? It is far greater. What is the environmental impact of trying to produce the same amount of power solely from small scale generation? It is greater and more visible. There is no one solution. We have to do large and small projects in order to make more than symbolic change. Every choice has tradeoffs. After construction,… Read more »
4 years 7 months ago
I don’t doubt that 63 acres were cut. My point is if you look at that mountain from the air it is clear that the quality of about 1000 acres of habitat has been irreversibly altered. Maybe someday we’ll become a society that puts wilderness back together…but I haven’t seen it happen yet. As far as “invisible” impact from the power sources we presently use..I acknowledge the sacrifice that must be made. I too will bear the brunt of necessary sacrifice in my backyard. BUT it needs to be worth it. What’s worth it? I’ve listed what I feel is… Read more »
4 years 7 months ago
Avram, Lowell may have good winds and the land was available, but some ridge lines are topographically unsuited for industrial wind turbines that are 459 feet high (about a 40-story building) and have 367.5 feet diameter rotors (a larger swept area than a football field). http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/61309/lowell-mountain-wind-turbine-facility-vermont Here are some photos of the destruction which have been sent to ALL legislators and their staffs to make sure everyone has “the picture” and no one can be “not knowing”. http://www.windturbinesyndrome.com/2012/the-arithmetic-of-wind-energy-vermont/?var=cna Click on…. Here ….. at the bottom of the URL to see some photos of the destruction of Lowell Mountain due to… Read more »
Sally Shaw
4 years 7 months ago
It strikes me as odd that back when Entergy threatened politicians with early closure if they didn’t get their planned trifecta, the Uprate, Dry Casks, and Relicensing, it was all “oh dear me, we’ll freeze in the dark if we don’t have VT-generated electric power.” Now that VY is on its death bed and we have the opportunity to develop CLEAN Vermont-generated electric power without the thermal, radioactive, water polluting, and gene-mutating byproducts of nuclear, fracked natural gas, and all other anachronistic combustion or fission-based generation sources, it’s “save the view, we don’t need the energy”. If we’re truly concerned… Read more »
Steve Wright
4 years 7 months ago
Sally, Just look at the pictures. Does the Lowell project seem to be “clean” energy? This debate should be about creating a healthy, long-term energy policy developed for Vermonters by Vermonters. We have yet to have that conversation about our future and until we do the yelling at each other will continue, to no good end. The first rule in developing such a long-term policy is to protect the health and function of our existing landscape. These mountains–undeveloped–are a bulwark against existing climate change. Blowing them up in order to provide electricity is the antithesis of careful, fact-based, long-term planning.… Read more »
Karl Riemer
4 years 7 months ago
There’s crazy in abundance in this debate. Disheartening to me is the eagerness of people I’ve respected and allied with to accept and repeat any nonsense, any patent falsehood or wild exaggeration, in support of their current conviction. I’m reminded of someone earnestly condemning the atmospheric carbon contribution of nuclear power plants, while another counters that wind turbines in Lowell will ruin the serenity of Green River Reservoir. That level of absurdity, if not deliberate prevarication, is irresponsible ignorance. Where are the voices of moderation and sober reflection? Forget moderation; where are the voices of verity? Why do we only… Read more »
Kathy Leonard
4 years 7 months ago

Mr. Riemer likes to read his opinions in print, I believe!
I wish he could express himself without being so disrespectful of others’ opinions. Rath-ER.

Michael Reddy
4 years 7 months ago
Seems a little disingenuous to cite someone saying “wind turbines in Lowell will ruin the serenity of Green River Resevoir” as evidence that there needs to be more “verity” in the discussion when I can find no reference to the Green River Resevoir other than yours in these comments. Indeed, “Where are the voices of moderation and sober reflection?” Not in your comment (calling people crazy?) and certainly not coming from the lips of GazMetro, Dorothy Schnure, Mary Powell, or Gov. Shumlin. Unfortunately, those parties’ positions of power all them to take very real actions that are imposing the “answer”… Read more »
Michael Reddy
4 years 7 months ago

those parties’ positions of power all them to take very real actions that are imposing the “answer” they insist is “right” upon all of us

should read

those parties’ positions of power *allow* them to take very real actions that are imposing the “answer” they insist is “right” upon all of us

4 years 7 months ago
Have you been to Lowell and seen for yourself what is happening to the ecosystem? Have you talked to the neighbors who are being affected by it? There is nothing absurd or ignorant or hysterical about what is occurring on the site and how people are conveying it. People familiar with construction sites have been there and been shocked. The Lowell project is the most environmentally destructive development the state has seen. That is not exaggeration. Unfortunately, there is no middle ground. We have asked four wind developers to work collaboratively in our communities and they have all continued to… Read more »
Steve Wright
4 years 7 months ago

Wow, Karl, that was quite an exhortation. You decry hyperbole then become hyperbolic.

Can you help us Lowell Wind opponents understand how we might craft a better message? Can you provide specific references where we have been less than candid or have lied or have misrepresented any situation or statement of fact?

Without those references your comment just becomes so much more, well, hyperbole.

Look at the pictures. They don’t lie. I took them myself, last week.

https://plus.google.com/photos/114098560210816181304/albums/5734671971969219137?authkey=CMOmpIrY1cjougE
—————–

Daniel Barlow
4 years 7 months ago

Here’s our choice: Vermont Yankee and nuclear waste that will outlive us all or limited development of our mountains for wind power. Seems pretty simple to me.

Michael Reddy
4 years 7 months ago

If only it were so simple. Limited development on ridgelines will not replace VY. We have no such choice.. It’s not one or the other, it’s both, and you and I have no say in the matter.
GazMetro/Enbridge and Entergy are clearly the one’s with the money to talk–the one’s with the strong arms to control the fate of our energy future.

4 years 7 months ago

Here is the GMP/Gaz-Metro-Canada plan for wind energy on 200 miles of
ridge line of Vermont.

Where are the real environmentalists when we need them?

http://www.windturbinesyndrome.com/2012/the-arithmetic-of-wind-energy-vermont/?var=cna

Click on Here at the bottom of the URL to see some photos of the
destruction of Lowell Mountain due to GMPs 63 MW industrial wind energy
facility.

Karl Riemer
4 years 7 months ago
“Let’s hear the basis of your accusations that claims made by opponents to Kingdom Community Wind are absurdities and patent falsehoods” Start with: “looks more like 1000 acres to me.” (it’s 63) Ponder: “These mountains–undeveloped–are a bulwark against existing climate change. Blowing them up in order to provide electricity is the antithesis of careful, fact-based, long-term planning.” (mountains are not a bulwark against climate change, they are not being blown up, and careful planning is an endeavor, not a prescription, so its antithesis would be whim without consideration of the consequences. The author disagrees with a plan, or calculates the… Read more »
4 years 7 months ago
Glad you’re paying attention, Karl. If you haven’t noticed, the trees grew back after the clear-cutting for sheep. The interstates are not on ridgelines. The asbestos mine is a good example of environmental damage, so it’s kind of ironic that, too, is in Lowell and the townspeople who voted for the wind project accepted yet another environmentally destructive project. The difference with the Lowell project is that it’s in the headwaters, in the dense, rich mountaintop habitat required by furbearers who called that mountain home. In the PSB hearings, it was amazing to hear the testimony about restoring the mountain.… Read more »
Karl Riemer
4 years 7 months ago
Well, I did forget ski areas. I think they aren’t quite in the same category because, as you say, they don’t reshape much, and the clearcuts are more up and down than across the slope, leaving intact corridors. They do screw around with water quite a bit, but I think (it’s just a think) that they’re more ugly than ruinous. When they finally shrivel up and disappear the mountains will recover fairly quickly. It isn’t true that roads aren’t being built on top of streams. That happens all the time, not only up high but everywhere roads are built. It… Read more »
Townsend Peters
4 years 7 months ago

“The interstates are not on ridge lines.”

Environmental impacts don’t only occur on at high elevations.

It seems you have just admitted that your real concern is aesthetics, and that you raise claims about noise, wildlife, and storm water problems only as ammunition to throw against something you don’t want to see.

Gary Murphy
4 years 7 months ago

Annette, you mention solar as our best source of renewable energy. I am not in any way suggesting that solar energy should not be part of the mix but, in designing a program for the calculation of home energy costs for a computer course I was taking a few years ago, using data from the national weather service I discovered that direct sunlight was only available for approximately 20% of the total hours during the winter months.

Gary Murphy
4 years 7 months ago

I should add that the availability of sunlight is for various locations in VT.

Rob Macgregor
4 years 7 months ago

It has been said that while wind may not be sufficient to replace coal, we will not replace coal without it.

These pictures seem to me to be more representative of the type of energy / environmental impacts we need to be concerned about:

http://www.ohvec.org/galleries/mountaintop_removal/007/

Jeff Farber
4 years 7 months ago
In 1970 Deane Davis put spent much political capital to initate and then succeed in the process of making Act 250 the law in Vermont. Why? Because he was made aware of the impacts that corporate America, in the guise of land development companies, were targeting in Vermont. Massive subdivisions of lots, 1 acre or less surrounding many of Vermont’s growing southern ski slopes were not just imagined but already planned and mapped out. Why did he do that? Because, according to his autobiography, that was not how he believed Vermont should be developing its economic future. He felt deeply… Read more »
Bruce Post
4 years 7 months ago
Yes, Deane Davis played a prophetic role in the creation of Act 250 as did another visionary Republican, the late Arthur Gibb. I would like to add two more names to the list of remarkable people who protected Vermont’s natural communities and mountains: UVM’s Hub Vogelman and Craftsbury’s Shirley Strong, the first woman president of the Green Mountain Club. Hub and Shirley were instrumental in the creation of the Green Mountain Profile Committee, which advocated the protection of our high altitude ecosystems and contributed to the 2,500-foot rule in Act 250. Their work was motivated by assaults on our high… Read more »
4 years 7 months ago

The 1932 Report by the Country Life Commission in one of its recommendations stated that the State of Vermont should purchase all the ridge lines!

Bruce Post
4 years 7 months ago
Hey, Roger! Good to hear from you. Here is what the VCCL’s Committee on Summer Residents wrote: “The Committee would recommend that the state take over, as rapidly as possible, the summits of the principal mountains for park and forestry purposes. Our higher education institutions already have some important holdings on the summits of mountains. The National Government is establishing a Forest Reservation in southern Vermont which will probably be enlarged from time to time. If the towns, the state, the Federal Government and our educational institutions can secure control of the mountain summits, and manage them in a coordinated… Read more »
Jim Candon
4 years 7 months ago

In the end we will be using natural gas.

Joelen Mulvaney
4 years 7 months ago
REDUCE USE! People are so afraid they will not be able to power their toys and gizmos…that they are willing to destroy the very ecological systems they profess to want to preserve! How about passing laws that require ALL NEW building construction to generate electricity (by solar or wind)? small scale generation will not only take our energy future out of the hands of capitalist pig corporations but also use an already destroyed site for energy generation. As long as energy generation is proffered by for profit mega corporations we will not have projects that “save” the environment, only ones… Read more »
4 years 7 months ago
Joelen, There is a massive energy source right at our fingertips — but, so far, this resource remains largely untapped. This energy resource is available in every state, every city and every town, does not require mining and drilling and costly power plants, makes no noise, is invisible, does not harm the environment and fauna and flora and creates more jobs than renewables per invested dollar. The majority of our existing building stock is old and most are inefficient buildings that are destined to be in service at least 25 years or longer. Reducing the energy that is normally wasted… Read more »
Rob Macgregor
4 years 7 months ago

Conservation and efficiency are not sources of energy.

John Greenberg
4 years 7 months ago

“Conservation and efficiency are not sources of energy.” Physically, of course, that’s true.

But economically, they meet demand, like other energy sources, except that they do so by reducing or displacing demand rather than by increasing supply.

Conservative studies show Vermonters waste about 20% of the electricity consumed at a cost of about $1 billion wasted. Why would anyone NOT want to reduce that waste?

4 years 7 months ago
Rob, The production of a kWh (= 3,413 Btu) requires about 4 times the SOURCE energy, such as coal or gas. A kWh not used avoids the associated pollution and global warming gases. Energy not used now because of energy efficiency will be available later. As Efficiency Vermont confirms, a kWh can be avoided by means of energy efficiency at a cost of about 2.5c. Unsubsidized, 2,500 ft high, ridge line wind energy costs about 15c/kWh, about 3 times annual average grid prices; the real cost to is much higher because of environmental damage (flora and fauna), health damage, real… Read more »
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