Facing climate change: Foresters see a future without elms, ash and maples

Birch tree. Photo by Audrey Clark

Birch tree. Photo by Audrey Clark

Editor’s note: “Facing climate change” is series about the impact of global warming on Vermont’s people and environment.

Robert Turner isn’t panicking. He sees more foreign species invading our forests, more dying and downed trees and a shorter winter logging season. These are all things that could be attributed to climate change. But he’s not panicking.

“It’s hard to talk about these things without feeling like the sky is falling,” Turner said. “I think that there are reasons that we as a society and culture ought to be talking about these things. But we’re not in a panic situation by any means.”

That’s because Turner’s profession, forestry, tends to take a long view. When you won’t live to see the crop you planted this year harvested, perspective is a necessity. Turner, an independent natural resources consultant, says foresters have a lot to learn in a changing climate, but because they’re used to changing forests, they’re uniquely prepared.

“We like to think of our learning as adaptive kinds of learning. We try something, and we learn from it, and we change because of what we witness. And that’s certainly going to continue because the changes are going to come faster.”

Sandy Wilmot, a forester with the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, has been spending a lot of time lately thinking about forests and climate change, a result of what she calls a “flurry of activity” in state government to prepare for climate change.

Wilmot says there are three main manifestations of a changing climate in Vermont: climbing temperatures (especially in the winter), intensifying winter rain and summer drought, and more frequent big storms.

“Each type of forest in Vermont is going to respond a bit differently to those impacts,” Wilmot said. “The species that are growing here in Vermont but are at the southern end of their range — in other words a lot fewer of those trees can be observed if you go south from here — those are the species that will be most affected.”

The cold hardy species that will be most negatively affected include balsam fir, red spruce and mountain ash.

“We expect in the next 40 years we will see a decrease in the abundance of those in Vermont,” Wilmot said. “We’re not sure how those changes will occur. It’s probably going to be a combination of current trees, full-grown trees dying back, some additional mortality and then the new regeneration of those species would also be affected as temperatures and climate on the forest floor change. So we expect to see changes in the amount of regeneration as well as the amount of these trees in the current forest declining.”

Even trees that are common and widespread in the Northeast, such as sugar maples, are predicted to die off in 100 years in Vermont if society doesn’t curb emissions.

Scientists also say indirect factors will also lead to dieoffs. Hemlock trees, common in Vermont forests, can handle warmer temperatures. What they can’t survive is the hemlock woolly adelgid, an insect that sucks a hemlock’s sap till the tree dies. The hemlock woolly adelgid has been moving north into Vermont as rising temperatures enable the pest to survive the winter and reproduce more frequently.

A number of Vermont’s most common trees are threatened by invasive insects. The emerald ash borer, which destroys ash tree species, is on the way. The Asian longhorned beetle, which kills sugar maples, is also closing in on Vermont from the south. This beetle, combined with a too-warm world, could ring the death knell for the state’s signature tree and the maple industry.

Invasive plant species are becoming more common as well. Common buckthorn, garlic mustard and honeysuckle colonize sunny areas in the forest and crowd out young trees seeking light.

Forests SLIDER

“Invasives are not something that you can pin to climate change,” said Turner, “but you’re certainly seeing invasives in a lot of places that they haven’t been. They’re moving along quite rapidly.”

With more frequent, intense storms, more trees are blown down. These sunny gaps in forests support a diversity of wildlife, which is usually considered a good thing.

But, Turner said, “Certainly if we have larger openings as a result of blowdowns, birds come in, and they’re often bringing in the seeds of invasives.”

That’s why Turner is seeing more invasive plants in the interior of forests, far away from roads.

It’s not just tree species that are changing. It’s also the industry that relies on them. Turner said that in the forestry community, “There is a growing consensus that our winter logging season has been shortened by about three weeks.”

Foresters prefer to move heavy equipment onto frozen ground; in the warm rainy seasons the machines damage the fragile, local environment. But Vermont’s winters are getting shorter and warmer. Three weeks is a quarter of the three-month winter logging season.

Turner is worried about the long-term survival of forests in Vermont and the forestry economy that goes along with it. “I think that our society doesn’t realize how much industry is connected to forestry and as forests change the biggest impact is likely to be economic,” he said.

Turner says as the climate changes, people need to be pragmatic. He believes it is essential to plan for the impacts of invasive species by planting certain species in preparation for future climate conditions. “As managers and communities we have to think about what kinds of mitigation we can do, not just reducing our carbon dioxide emissions,” he said.

Oaks and hickories, for example, will likely replace maples and birches over the next few hundred years.

“Trees take a long time to grow,” Turner said. “If we started planting oaks because we thought oaks will do better than maples, we wouldn’t be able to do anything with those oaks for 40 or 50 or even 70 or 80 years,” Turner said. “As foresters we’re used to thinking like that, it’s not foreign to us to be thinking like that, but in the past we’ve mostly been dealing with the ecology of the trees in the forest. Now we’re dealing with outside factors that we have to consider.”

The uncertainty of future climactic conditions scares Wilmot. “Forests grow really slowly and you’re talking about a crop, if you want to call it that, that takes 80 or 100 years to grow,” she said. “I don’t know how we can anticipate how our future forests will look and I am just hoping that we feel our way in the right direction so that we don’t make mistakes along the way.”

Feeling out a path is exactly what the state is doing, Wilmot said. “Right now, we have really a flurry of activities going on having to do with climate change. At the Agency of Natural Resources there are planning efforts right now to increase the resiliency of a lot of different natural resources, and that would include forestry. I’ve been working on several projects with other foresters to develop some methods that we can use to slowly adapt forests to these changes that we’re expecting.”

These include figuring out how to keep current woodlands healthy by considering the requirements of each species and how they might respond to changes in the climate of the forest floor and interactions with other species.

Wilmot is working on recommendations for how to maintain a healthy forest for foresters at all scales, from the woodlot to the state level.

“It’s not going to solve all the problems. It is taking our current understanding and trying to use the best science possible to feel our way forward,” she said.

Wilmot looks to natural resilience for hope. “We are very fortunate that in the past our forests have regenerated themselves. They’ve adapted to a lot of different problems that have been thrown at them and have recovered in one way or the other. We’ve seen other species fill in those gaps left by species we’ve lost, and these new species provide all the wonderful services that we need of the forests. For example, the elimination of chestnuts in the forest. We rarely think of that anymore because other species have been able to replace them. So that’s my optimism.”

Turner has faith in people. “I think that the fact that we’re beginning to address some of these concerns openly gives me hope, that we’re talking about them not in a reactive way. I think it’s also important for professionals in natural resources to be talking about what we can expect and then engaging in that community conversation so that it’s not scary, and I think that’s happening.”

Audrey Clark

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  • Charles Hohn

    So I’ve heard several times that maples may decline… but why? Sugar maple extends nearly to Georgia and red maple into Florida! It’s not going to get too hot for these species. i actually think the red oaks may take a harder hit. They tolerate warmth, sure, but they are a dry-loving species for the most part and precipitation is expected to increase. It’s already increasing in a more dramatic manner than precipitation. If it warms say, 4 degrees and precipitation doubles, we may lose more oaks than maples.
    Elm already seems functionally absent from our forests due to Dutch Elm Disease and as for ash, the ash borer will unfortunately probably get to it before the climate change does. Perhaps the spread of the borer is in part due to tree stress associated with climate change, but still…

    I also think it is important not to write off our cold-affinity species (not that anyone here is saying to do so). There are several possibilities that could lead to it actually getting colder in Vermont, or at least snowier, having to do with the jet stream acting differently without Arctic ice… changes in the gulf stream… or perhaps scariest, people panicking and doing stupid geoengineering that ‘works’ too well. Maybe these are less likely than a warmer future, but we need to be prepared for anything by preserving our forest species diversity. But I think the good foresters are already doing that.

    • We have Acer saccharum(sugar maple) in north east florida. However, it is not treated with spigots and a bucket to collect sap! We also have Acer rubrum and acer saccharinum in North East Florida/ North East Florida is quite a bit warmer than any part of Vermontat any time of the year and those trees are doing well down here in high temperastures and plenty of rain.

  • Kathy Nelson

    I’m curious. When did the VT ANR start taking an interest in trees and forests? Or in wildlife either? I thought their mission was to encourage corporations to plant giant steel wind turbines anywhere they could do the most damage.
    On the side, I have been planting oaks on my NEK property for several years. I have been told that oaks don’t do well here but I have planted four red oaks, one english oak and one burr oak and they are all doing just fine. The red oak on my neighbor’s property is about 20ft high now. I believe the wildlife will eventually benefit from having good nut trees available. I think I’ll also plant a few chestnut trees, I hear they do well wherever oaks grow.

  • Bruce Post

    Thank you for this continuing series. It is excellent.

    A non-forester, I have been drawn to research on our Vermont and regional forests in connection with writing and presentations I have been doing on Vermont history. I believe our Vermont forests are still recovering from the destruction wreaked on them by the white settlement and land use patterns of the 19th century. While trees are back, the composition of our forests is different than it was in the pre-settlement forests. And, that has its own consequences.

    Reading Charles Johnson and others, I learn that Vermont is also faced with on-going environmental fragmentation of our forest and mountain regions. And, that too has it own consequences.

    Watching the lineup of Vermont politicians supporting even more development in our mountain environments is rather discouraging. That development, too, has its own negative consequences.

    Bottom line: While we beat our chests and boast of our environmental cred up here in Vermont, our human-initiated destruction of our forests continues nonetheless. Yes, the emerald ash borer and the Asian longhorned beetle are invasive threats, but so is homo sapiens Americanus.

  • Example of Deforestation and “Reforestation”:

    In New England, after 80% of it was stripped of its old-growth trees by about 1865, much of the top soil, a thin layer on top of rocks in most places built up over about 9,000 years, eroded.

    As a result, the new-growth trees that “reforested” less than 50% of New England can be only a pale copy of the old-growth trees. Acid-laden precipitation from Midwest coal plants has damaged the soil, sickened the trees, reduced their longevity and their CO2 absorbing capability.

    New England’s forest biomass quantity prior to 1865 likely was about 5 times greater than at present and its CO2 absorbing capability likely was about 10 times greater than at present. New England has seen vastly greater additional manmade environmental destruction since 1865; highways and sprawling urban areas come to mind.

    Proposals to burn biomass (wood) for New England’s thermal and electrical energy requirements is akin to scorced-earth warfare, given the present forest and soil conditions.

    To remedy the situation would require a significant reduction of acid-laden precipitation AND the forests to be left undisturbed for several hundred years to restore top soil health and thickness.

    If dead trees and branches were cut into woodchips that were spread evenly throughout the forest floor, the top soil restoration would be quickened. The thinking all this can be remediated by reducing CO2 emissions with RE build-outs is well beyond rational.


  • Steve Wright

    And thanks Bruce, for that cogent point, as I read it; keep the physical system intact and the biological processes can continue to function.

    Altering this physical system–especially the uplands–as an excuse for contending with climate change is precisely the inverse of an intelligent response.

    The author helpfully demonstrates the capacity of–in our case–the “forest” to resist surface perturbations if the physical systems are kept intact.

    Our European ancestors treated this forest as an obstacle. They went at overcoming that obstacle with great zest–and a lot of sheep, cows and crosscut saws. They imposed their culture on the landscape, in stark contrast to the human culture already occupying portions of this landscape.

    The mountains, however, were mostly left intact and now the forest–major portions of it–has returned along with many of its components.

    Of course there are always examples of the inverse; Vermonters have ruthlessly eviscerated their mainstream–and secondary–tributaries. But that is another story–a timely one, given our new weather patterns. Simply said here, riparian protection begins in the uplands not the lowlands. Politicians and bureaucrats must pause in their ‘culvert rush’ and look up to the ridgelines where real lowland protection originates.

    Vermont’s model for effective climate change response should feature ecosystem protection along with efficiency and weatherization (emissions reduction). Keep the landscape intact and humans can find life, along with its variety of expressions, in that landscape.

  • Willem, do you notice the deafening silence among the usual suspects who advocate RE build-outs, when it comes denuding our forests for bio-mass fuel? Also, lets not forget the CO2 and other noxious gases that will be emitted by the proposed Springfield plant. It looks like the usual suspects also have no problem with this reality based on their silence.

    The developers of the proposed Springfield bio-mass plant would cut about 420,000 tons of trees each year to fire the plant. Can you imagine how long it would have taken the 19th century settlers to accomplish this amazing feat?

    • John Greenberg

      What energy source DON’T you hate Peter?

    • Peter,
      The world’s annual CO2 emissions are about 34,000 million metric ton. Vermont’s about 8 million.

      Assuming Vermont’s CO2 emissions instantly disappear, then there would be about a ((1- (34000 – 8)/34000)) x 100% = 0.024% reduction.

      If the CO2 emissions of all of the US were to instantly disappear, there would be about a ((1-(34000 – 6000)/34000)) x 100% = 17.6% reduction.

      But China ADDS about 500 million metric ton EACH year and others add as well, for a total of 830 million metric ton ADDED from 2010 to 2011, i.e., equivalent to about 104 Vermonts.

      It is irrational for developed nations (and Vermont) to engage in expensive RE build-outs that produce expensive, variable, intermittent energy, i.e., junk energy, and make themselves less competitive on world markets, unless developing nations are on the same page, which is not happening anytime soon, as show by the results of the 2012 Dohu conference which effectively added up to a regression, instead of a further advance, i.e., kicking the can down the road.


  • Grant Reynolds

    Mr. Post uses 1865 as a turning point for the forests,and Mr. Wright suggests that the mountains were left intact. It was a much less abrupt process, and probably regrowth began in the 1840’s or 1850’s. The sheep boom ended around 1840. Sheep flocks reduced quite dramatically at first, then more slowly as dairy cattle began to take their places. But Sheep can graze on much steeper, thinner slopes than cows,so the upper slopes began to regrow when sheep herds were reduced. On the other hand, the mountains were hardly left intact. It depends on the meaning of mountain. Most of our “mountains” are more like hills, and except for rocky, ungrazable tops were stripped for or by grazing. Even the heights of the main ridge of the Green Mountains are often cut by stone walls, signal that someone farmed up there. A local factor in a number of areas was clear cutting to make charcoal for blast furnaces in places like Shaftsbury, East Dorset, Tinmouth, Clarendon, Pittsford, Brandon, and Plymouth. Most of them went out of business around 1840, though some, like Plymouth, revived during the Civil War. It’s hard to visualize Vermont in 1840, with steep pastures full of sheep where today there are 100 year old maples connected with plastic pipe. I’m just a historian; I don’t know much about the future. But the past is more subtle than turning-point dates.

    • Grant,

      The 1865 turning point of Western civilization towards modernity was when coal and iron became more prominent, followed by oil and gas.

      It was also the around end of the Little Ice Age which had started in the 1450s and became less cold in the late 1700s. The world average temperature rose about 1.0 C from 1775 to 1865 WITHOUT A CHANGE IN CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.

      Most of Europe was already deforested. It imported wood from Russia and Scandinavia. Relatively, the US was virgin territory.

      Excerpt from:

      “Early settlers in Vermont were eager to establish farms. They cleared the forest to create agricultural land and provide wood for building and heating homes. They burned trees for potash and for charcoal to fuel iron furnaces—commodities they could sell.

      By the mid 1800s, logging surpassed agriculture, with Burlington the third largest lumber port in the country.

      Large areas in the landscape were logged. Landowners did not renew the timber resources, which resulted in soil exhaustion, loss of wildlife, erosion and flooding, increased fires, and a significant reduction of the state’s greatest natural resource: its forests.”

      More advanced technology made it easier to log areas heretofore inaccessible. Some reforesting took place on the eroded lands. This reforested land was subsequently damaged by acid rain which sickened the forests.

      Organized reforesting did not occur until the 30s as part of Great Depression make-work programs.

  • Kevin Ryan

    Wilmot and the other foresters interviewed for this article give little reason or basis to believe the claims that they make, namely that there will be any impact on maples or any other species of tree over the next hundred years.

    Unfortunately, this is fairly sloppy reporting. I expect a better standard from VTDigger. I suppose the headline is accurate, the foresters DID say they saw a reduction in native tree species, but the only reason given to believe such a claim to be true is the temp rising, which it is currently not, combined with the conclusion that Vermont Maples cannot live in a warmer climate, which they can.

    To Mr. Turner: It is very easy to discuss these things without feeling that the sky is falling, discuss them from the perspective of reality, not fantasy.

  • FoLks: Here is a reality BOTANICAL post-I live in North Florida during the winter months and every day I see sugar maples.red maples and just maple-maples.,I ALSO SEE WHITE AND YELLOW BIRCHES, So botanically speaking I am not sure what this article is getting about as far as globa warming impact is concerned in Vermont?

  • Kristin Sohlstrom

    Why is VT so behind on the times? That’s right, I forgot – money.

    The earth is cooling, C02 levels are rising. No one can explain this because the earth itself is proving rising C02 levels don’t cause global warming. So now the spin is to scare you using a term called “climate change.” You are supposed to feel guilty because you’ve caused the weather (a.k.a. climate) to change on I-89 from Barre to Burlington. That’s right – YOU are the culprit. Every time climate changes, feel bad about it so money can be spent on “fixing” a problem that can’t be fixed…that’s what the goal is. My question to you is, do you and should you feel guilty over something that is naturally occurring? My answer is NO.

    This sounds like a puff piece to keep ANR relevant because it’s growing in size and oversight. It also sounds like a precursor for those in the maple industry to keep receiving grant funding which is the real problem for maple trees. Grant funding comes with vested interest of the government which is always a problem for producers and explains why production is down.

    Remember, it’s the very nature of climate to change. Put a sweater on when you get cold and take it off when you warm up. No need for a flurry of activity in Montpelier over something that’s normal and natural.

    • Lance Hagen

      Ms. Sohlstrom,

      You do realize, the words you speak amount to heresy. The Grand Inquisitor will be at our door this evening, with a mob, holding pitch forks and torches. How dare you even hint that changes in the climate are a result of nature and not man?

    • Charlie Hohn

      So I guess we have lost a huge proportion of our Arctic summer sea ice because of this cooling climate? Funny thing that this alleged cooling climate has led to loss of sea ice and glacier mass. Last I checked when it gets cold the ice expands. Or maybe the “the earth is cooling” thing is just more denialist silliness.

    • Colin Flood

      Kristin, nothing you have written has any basis in scientific reality. The Earth’s temperature has warmed over 1 degree Celsius in the past century. That’s a fact. Anyone even remotely familiar with the sixth-grade science involved in the greenhouse effect doesn’t think it’s just a bizarre coincidence that CO2 emissions are rising along with the temperature.

      Is it our fault? Not really. We were born into a system that relies on fossil fuels and extractive industry, and we can’t step outside of it. Even if we could, that wouldn’t stop it. Our responsibility doesn’t lie in driving or not driving — it lies in a society-wide effort towards public transit and efficiency.

  • John Greenberg, do you think that annually cutting several thousands of CO2 absorbing trees to fuel a CO2 belching bio-mass plant is somehow a good thing?

    I would also suggest you go to your dictionary again and find a word less ugly than “hate” in expressing your views.

    • John Greenberg


      Critiquing my language doesn’t answer my question.

      You’re using electricity to participate in this online forum. What sources do you believe are acceptable? You’ve railed against wind, solar, and biofuels, so please be so kind as to tell us specifically where you think we should be getting our electricity? It’s not an unreasonable question.

  • John, you miss my point entirely. The point is the hypocrisy of the renewal energy movement and its failure to acknowledge that the strategies proposed do essentially nothing to solve the green house gas issue.

    On the one hand there are marches to the Department of Public Service to protest the gas pipeline because of CO2, yet no concern with bio-mass plant CO2 emissions.

    Then we have the Conservation Law Foundation putting forth CO2 analysis of the gas pipeline, yet remaining silent on bio-mass plant CO2 emissions.

    The renewal energy advocates wail over the danger of global warming and then propose useless actions such as divesting college endowment portfolios of fossil fuel securities to solve the problem.

    Audrey Clark writes that only 4% of CO2 emissions come from electrical generation, so the renewal energy advocates propose lining our mountain ridges with wind turbines and our roadways with solar panels, all of which do little to nothing to get at the underlying problem of green house gases.

    It’s more important for the renewal energy advocates to send a message than to come up with real solutions. The reason for this behavior is that they have no answers or no real solutions.

    Energy audits and better insulation of homes, the one fossil fuel reduction strategy that probably really helps, gets an all slow implementation schedule when Green Mountain Power elects to take four years to invest the $21 million from the CVPS settlement. Why?

    John, the list could go on. Do you see the hypocrisy and failure to do anything meaningful on the part of the renewal energy advocates?

    As to your question on electrical generation sources, first of all in light of the global warming/climate change issues, you’re asking the wrong question. As Audrey Clark as pointed out, electrical generation is not the problem, its motor vehicles and building heating. So you’re focusing on 4% of the problem and ignoring the 83%, which originates with moving motor vehicles and heating houses.

    But to answer your question, I think we need to get our electrical power from all the sources we presently use, including nuclear, but excluding Vermont wind turbines and large solar farms along our roadways. While continuing to use these sources, work has to continue to improve their green house gas emission reduction efficiencies. I believe we have the technical capacity to do this. As this technology advances it can be exported to China, India and other developing countries that are building fossil fuel fired power generation plants every day.

    Now, lets go back to the question I have repeatedly raised with you and others: Where is the specific cost -benefit analysis that the state has done that demonstrates that industrial wind turbine development makes economic, environmental, technical and societal sense. This is the same analysis called for in S.30 that was killed by the legislature. You’ll recall, you said this analysis was already done and in the CEP. Well, its not and when I raised this absence, you remained silent. So when are you going to answer this question?

    Why have the leaders of this state elected to execute strategies that do little to nothing to diminish global warming and all the while come at a great cost?

  • John, also you owe us all another answer: Do you think that annually cutting several thousands of CO2 absorbing trees to fuel a CO2 belching bio-mass plant is somehow a good thing?

  • John Greenberg

    Since you’ve advised me to consult a dictionary, I’m sure you have one handy. Check out the difference between “renewal” and “renewable.” With that out of the way, let’s proceed to what little substance there is in your claims:

    1) You lump together the protesters at DPS, CLF, GMP, the fossil fuel divestment movement, presumably DPS (who writes the CEP, does the kinds of cost-benefit analysis that you claim have not been done, endorses GMP’s posture vis-à-vis the $21M, etc.) and Lord knows who else as though all of these entities represented one set of interests or one point of view. Where you come by this idea, I don’t know, but each of these entities represents DIFFERENT people with DIFFERENT ideologies, goals, strategies, etc. There’s no hypocrisy involved when protesters do one thing, CLF another, and DPS yet another.

    2) I’m not asking the wrong question. Electricity will come from somewhere as long as we continue to use it. Depending on the source, it will or will not contribute in some measure to climate change, air pollution, water pollution, radioactive pollution, etc. As I have said many times before, climate change is NOT the only problem we confront.

    3) You appear to believe that natural gas, nuclear power, foreign hydro power, oil, coal and out-of-state renewables (roughly the mix, in order, of the New England grid) cause less environmental damage than Vermont wind turbines or solar cells, though you don’t explain why that would be so. Since you explicitly endorse nuclear power, it’s fair to a) ask how you would solve the radioactive waste problem, and b) whether you really believe that the “destruction” or “devastation” caused by wind turbines on Vermont ridge lines equates to the ongoing disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima.

    I don’t think it’s out of order to point out that every poll I’ve seen, and repeated elections suggest that the majority of Vermonters disagree with you, and have for decades. Many of the policies for which you excoriate Tony Klein and Peter Shumlin actually emerged during the Douglas years and even well before that.

    4) I have repeatedly answered the questions, in VT Digger comment columns, that you say have never been answered, about costs and benefits of various energy sources. I’ve referred you to those answers before. I have also repeatedly pointed out that cost-benefit analyses of energy sources are not unique to Vermont, and that they have been performed worldwide for decades now. I’ve presented any number of links in my comments, and many more have been referenced by other commenters. There’s no evidence whatsoever that you’ve ready ANY of them, much less all of them. Your refusal to inform yourself is frankly not my problem, nor that of the “leaders of this state.”

  • John, as usual a lot of words from you along with distorted comments about what I think or mean, but no direct answers to the two questions posed. So here they are again:

    Do you think that annually cutting several thousands of CO2 absorbing trees to fuel a CO2 belching bio-mass plant is somehow a good thing?

    Where is the Vermont specific cost-benefit analysis that the state has done that demonstrates that industrial wind turbine development makes economic, environmental, technical and societal sense? In the past you indicated this analysis was in the CEP. It is not, so where is it?

    If you have concerns with nuclear waste, you would be better served talking to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, I’m sure they would be pleased to hear from you.

    To demonstrate that I’m an appreciative person when someone tries to help me, thank you for pointing my typo, I’ll do my best to be more careful in the future.

  • Willem, adding to your point on CO2 emissions to further demonstrate where the rest of the world is and the futility of Vermont’s clean air efforts, General Electric announced last week that it will be building a 400MW gas fired power plant in Tanzania.

    Willem, you know the numbers better than anyone, so I ask, what is the environmental impact of this new GE plant? How many ridgeline wind turbines would Vermont and throw in Maine and New Hampshire have to erect to off set the CO2 that the plant in Tanzania will emit?

    Tanzania is just the tip of the iceberg when compared to China and India where fossil fuel power plants are added daily. These countries make your point.

    • Peter,

      Late vintage CCGT plants are about 60% efficient. They use 3413/0.6 = 5688 Btu/kWh. CO2 emissions/kWh = 117 lb of CO2/(million Btu x 1 kWh/5688 Btu) = 0.665 lb of CO2/kWh.

      CCGT production in base-loaded mode = 400 MW x 8760 hr/yr x CF 0.90 = 3,153,600 MWh/yr, steady, low-cost energy.

      Capital cost = 400 MW x $1,250,000/MW = $500 million

      Life about 35-40 years.

      Lowell production = 63 MW x 8760 hr/yr x CF 0.25 = 137,970 MWh/yr, UNSTEADY, VARIABLE, INTERMITTENT, HIGH-COST ENERGY, REQUIRING ENERGY BALANCING BY OTHER GAS TURBINES IN INEFFICIENT, PART-LOAD-RAMPING MODE, i.e., more fuel/kWh and CO2/kWh that offsets a significant part of the fuel and CO2 reductions claimed by wind energy proponents.

      It would take 3153600/137970 = 23 Lowell’s at $160 million each = $3.68 billion PLUS at least $0.5-0.75 BILLION FOR MAJOR GRID MODIFICATIONS, PLUS significant social discord all over Vermont.

      23 x 21 = (483) 3MW 459-ft high wind turbines on at least 3.5 x 23 = 80.5 miles of ridge lines.

      Life about about 20 years

      Cost of CO2 reduction : outrageously high.

  • Willem, thank you for the objective response. It will be interesting to see what others have to say about your analysis.

    Now, couple your numbers to the fact that the generation of electricity contributes so little to CO2 emissions. According to the Audrey Clark articles, electrical generation amounts to 4% of CO2 emissions. This highlights the futility of fighting global warming using industrial wind turbines. The strategy is economically inefficient, environmentally harmful and does little to improve air quality. Its interesting that the proponents of IWT are so reluctant to discuss or even acknowledge this type of analysis and instead repeat of the mantra of needing to send a message.

    In the real world, President Obama is in Tanzania today. One part of his African trip relates to African economic development, which includes GE’s construction of the 400 MW gas fired power plant in that country. The Tanzanians believe that such projects are critical to their country’s advancement. There is no way developing countries are going to pull back, further marginalizing what is being done in Vermont.

    • Lance Hagen


      Mr. Greenberg is correct if you consider the entire US. I believe Ms. Clark’s number of 4%, is for just the state of Vermont

    • Lance Hagen


      To place this in perspective, I did a study earlier as to how much CO2 would be avoided by using the 21 turbines on Lowell Mt. versus Vermont buying this power from the New England grid.

      Avoided CO2 = 64,576 Tonnes/yr (assuming the power source mix on the New England grid)

      GMP published avoided CO2 = 92,785 Tonnes/yr (from the best I can tell they used gas power in their calculations for avoided CO2. According to ISO-NE, gas generates only 42% of the grid power and nuclear [CO2 free] generates 31%)

      On a global scale the CO2 avoidance is minuscule.

      For what Lowell Mt. avoids in CO2 in a year, China generates in 3.5 to 5 MINUTES. The US generates this level of CO2 in 6.3 to 9 MINUTES.

  • John Greenberg

    Electricity is 38% of US CO2 emissions: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/co2.html.

  • Lance, thank you for sharing your analysis. It does put CO2 avoidance into perspective and should provoke thought on the real effectiveness industrial wind turbines have on global warming vs their cost.

    Your analysis makes me think of college board exam analogies such as: Industrial wind turbines are to CO2 avoidance as trays of ice cubes are to cooling a blast furnace.

    • Lance Hagen

      Peter, from another earlier analysis and posting

      Let’s look at this CO2 avoidance a little differently, comparing wind turbines to energy efficiency.

      On average Vermont uses 214,267,000 gallons of fuel oil per year which generates 2,191,691 metric tons of CO2. GMP claims Lowell Mt. will avoid 92,795 metric tons of CO2/year. This GMP number is extremely optimistic. A more realistic number for CO2 avoidance is 64,576 metric tons/year.

      This means, that through efficiency measures, if Vermont could reduce its consumption of fuel oil by 5% it would avoid generating CO2 at a level better than Lowell Mt. by a factor of 1.2x to 1.7x

      Add to this, according to the “The Vermont Transportation Energy Report”, Vermont used 332 million gallons of gasoline in 2010. This amount would generate 2,662,476 metric tons of CO2. By reducing this usage by ~4%, either by better MPG (1 MPG better) or by traveling fewer miles, Vermont would avoid CO2 generation by a factor of 1.1x to 1.6X better than is avoided by Lowell Mt. in a year. This factor depends on using the GMP optimistic value or the more realistic value for Lowell Mt. CO2 avoidance.

      So if you fear the effects of climate change and think the infinitesimal amount of CO2 avoided is truly important than you will get much better results with implementing ‘efficiency’ measure versus constructing monuments like Lowell Mt..

      What Vermont really should be doing is take the $ used for wind subsidies and spend these $ on efficiency efforts

  • John Greenberg

    Geez guys, you’ve made a truly remarkable breakthrough here: Vermont is actually smaller than China. Wow! Who knew?

  • Yes, a big break though on the relative sizes of China and Vermont. This will be news to the state wonks who failed to take that fact into consideration when developing an energy policy to deal with climate warming.

  • Lance, by raising the issue fuel oil you have absolutely hit the ball out of the park in the fight to address global warming. Given the dire warnings of the consequences of global warming especially from Bill McKibben and the gang at 350 Vermont, why isn’t there more debate and consideration given to real methods of reducing fuel oil consumption?

    On a sleepy 4th of July afternoon, before my daughter and son-in-law arrive from home from Texas, I’ll share an opinion piece I wrote in early May, but didn’t post, addressing the issue of fuel oil consumption. The piece proposes a solution to reach Bill McKibben’s and 350 Vermont’s goal of reducing CO2 to 350 ppm.

    Here it is:

    McKibben Goes To Dartmouth College: Now, how to turn a quixotic trek into real CO2 reduction.

    Earlier this week, an opinion piece appeared in the VTdigger regarding divesting fossil fuel company securities from the Middlebury College endowment. The same issue was raised at Dartmouth College by Bill McKibben and here’s my take of the matter.

    Last week Dartmouth College issued a press release announcing that Bill McKibben would be on campus to discuss the divestment of fossil fuel company securities as a way to combat global warming.

    The press release cited comments made by McKibben recently in the Rolling Stone magazine. Of particular interest was Mckibben’s dire statement: “With Washington blocked, campuses are suddenly a front line in the climate fight – a place to stand up to the status quo that is wrecking the planet.” Wrecking the planet”, that’s about as serious a problem as one can possibly imagine and thus requires real solutions.

    Yes, serious problems call for resolute action, not quixotic remedies that get short lived news coverage and no real results. McKibben is also quoted as saying in Rolling Stone,” Washington is blocked….”. By constantly repeating his global warming crisis mantra while not offering any meaningful solutions to the problem, it appears that his story is losing impact. Being ignored in Washington, he now moves his road show to the college campuses and tries anew.

    Dartmouth College is a prestigious institution with smart kids and the reputational wherewithal to accomplish something monumental if the students really want to make a difference. Beating the drum to dump Exxon stock won’t accomplish anything in the battle to rope in global warming.

    Now I would guess that just about everyone agrees that the burning of fossil fuels is a primary culprit contributing to human generated global warming. If we take that as a given, the proper solution would call for a strategy that curtails fossil fuel consumption to some meaningful degree. Selling off fossil fuel companies’ securities will not save a teacup of fossil fuel from being consumed. It will simply magnify the futility of McKibben’s message. The message is futile because it just cites a problem while offering no meaningful actionable solutions.

    Following McKibben’s thinking, earlier this year Representative Chris Pearson sponsored H.271, a bill calling for the State of Vermont to divest investments in fossil fuel and related industries from the state retirement portfolio. The bill, which would do nothing except possibly harm the retirement plans of state workers, sits in committee where it will likely die. Looks like Montpelier, as Washington, may also be blocked to some of McKibben’s non-solution thinking.

    If we harken back to the cries from the promoters of large scale renewable energy when their projects are shown to contribute little to nothing in reducing CO2 while negatively effecting the environment, we hear that we all have to make sacrifices and we need to send a message.

    We know that McKibben wants to send a message that institutions need to divest polluters’ securities. By hosting the fossil fuel securities divestment meeting, we can assume that the Dartmouth students may also want to send a message. But simply sending a message that the college’s endowment should sell Exxon is not enough. The message has to be more than a gimmick. It has to convey an actionable undertaking that results in real reduced levels of CO2.

    The Dartmouth students have an opportunity to become clean air leaders by first admitting that they are part of the pollution problem if they drive a motor vehicle. Furthermore, they must be willing to make the personal sacrifices needed to reduce CO2 emissions on the Hanover campus. By doing something tangible to reduce CO2, they will send a powerful signal to the entire world. They would be backing up the rhetoric with real action.


    Parking one’s vehicle for one day per week will indisputably lower the emissions of CO2. This has got to be one issue that the pro and con sides of the global warming argument would probably be able to agree upon. Naysayers may say that not driving one’s vehicle is not a practical solution. But remember, McKibben is saying CO2 is wrecking the planet, so what better choice do we have? I don’t think decorating our ridgelines with Industrial wind turbines represents much of a choice when trying to reduce CO2 emissions. It would be good if Mr. McKibben, the environmentalist, could come clean and admit industrial wind turbines do more harm than good in Vermont.

    Execution of the Dartmouth “Park Your Car” plan is simple. The college administration would issue a colored windshield slicker denoting what day of the week a vehicle is to be parked. The vehicle owner selects the day his vehicle will not be driven. There it is, up to a 14% reduction in gasoline consumption in the blink of an eye. Now project this savings to the rest of the world.

    By demonstrating true environmental leadership, the Dartmouth students can set an example that produces meaningful fossil fuel savings and the world would have a model for major CO2 reductions to follow. Everyone makes a small sacrifice and we’re all better off. Of course, the fossil fuel industry probably wouldn’t like this, but so what.

    Finally the Dartmouth students could testify before the Vermont Legislature about the success of the “Park Your Car” plan, which would lead to immediate adoption in Vermont and end the dynamiting of mountain tops for wind turbines.

    Oh, if it were only possible. But oh yes, it is possible with a little backbone.

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