Making Sense of Governor Shumlin’s Energy Policy

The last week has been a roller coaster ride under Governor Shumlin’s leadership on energy.

Just a week ago Friday, he and Mary Powell of Green Mountain Power announced they were going to present a “united front” to the Public Service Board in support of the Canadian corporation’s Lowell Mountains wind proposal by making a deal in concept to “mitigate” environmental impacts, which VCE learned was timed to leverage his bargaining powers in an upcoming trip to Canada. Shumlin and Powell have not announced how they are going to mitigate the impacts to the human species.

A week later, after returning from Canada, the Governor is now talking about a glut of power, no power gap [3:35 into broadcast], it’s a buyer’s market.  “Let the good times roll,” he said in a video clip broadcast on Vermont Public Television’s Vermont This Week.

But that same day, Governor Shumlin was quoted in a Caledonian Record article defending his deal with GMP on environmental issues on the Lowell Mountains saying,

“We gotta build some wind.”  He says he prefers wind turbines on mountains to Vermont Yankee, and “I’m going to build solar and wind and everything that can get us off oil,” Shumlin said. “We cannot scramble fast enough to get off our addiction to oil.”

However, a Vermont Public Radio video clip by the vtdigger reporter who was at the same event begins with Governor Shumlin saying,

“I can assure you the future of power generation for the planet is not 400 foot turbines that stick up into the sky, it’s just not.”

Then he goes on to say,

“We’ve got choices.  I said to my agency, as much as Gov. Douglas said no wind, I said build wind.”

Adding to the nonsense on Friday came the Burlington Free Press editorial weighing in with Take a Leap of Faith and Ride the Wind”, which simultaneously calls for a dose of reality yet refers to reducing our acceptance of coal-fired power from the Mid-west and says the Lowell project is “the smallest of starts.”

Here are some facts in response:

  • Vermont’s grid is not interconnected with the mid-western grid.  Vermont does not rely on mid-western coal-fired electricity.  Coal made up 11% of New England’s grid energy source in 2008.
  • Three wind projects have already been approved by the Public Service Board, totaling 72 MW rated capacity.  GMP’s Lowell project is for 63 MW, by far the largest wind proposal to get to the PSB hearing stage.  Given those already-approved projects, which just by having CPGs get counted towards Vermont’s SPEED goals, why is it necessary to go forward with a fourth?  Don’t we have enough guinea pigs already?  Why not pause and look at the issues and come up with means of addressing all the complicated issues that are involved in siting wind turbines on top of ridgelines, if they can be addressed at all.  Grandpa’s Knob is coming along, Little Equinox is still being pursued, met towers are popping up on many Vermont mountains, all of which have been or are being prospected for their wind development potential [see pages 2-3].  There is nothing small about the current pace of big wind development in Vermont.
  • Wind energy cannot replace Vermont Yankee power.  One source is intermittent, one is baseload.  And no, this isn’t a pitch to keep Vermont Yankee running.  It is simply a fact, wind energy needs back-up generation and in the New England grid, the fossil fuel used for backing up wind is primarily natural gas.  New England’s coal and nuclear power plant cannot cycle up and down to meet wind’s intermittent load.
  • When politicians and wind proponents say we we need wind turbines to get off foreign oil, they are leaving out a series of steps to connect the dots. [New England’s electric grid has 1 – 2% oil as a generation source, so they can’t be talking about oil-fueled electric power plants].  The vision is that we will all drive electric cars, our cars will serve as batteries for wind energy generated mostly at night, and that is how we will reduce oil consumption in cars.  Technically, that is already possible, and I want to believe in it.  The problem is the batteries, and in particular the cost, which some industry spokesmen say is not going to come down.  Others are more optimistic about the potential for everyone to switch to electric cars.  What’s clear is that we aren’t quite there yet in terms of deploying it widely, that’s a few years off at best.

I’m sorry if you are dizzy from reading the above.  I am.  We want wind, we don’t need to worry about where our electricity is coming from, there’s plenty, we have to build wind, we have to get off oil, wind is better than nuclear, we have to get off mid-west coal, oh and I forgot to add in the natural gas pipeline plan.  (I seem to recall that Governor Shumlin got his start in politics fighting the Champlain natural gas pipeline).

But to the point, why is it necessary to build any new utility scale generation at all right now?  Do we really have to take that “leap of faith” now, and is faith really a good way to decide public policy?  Aren’t Vermont’s mountains worth more than a brush-off by the editor of the Burlington Free Press?  Can we have the statewide conversation and learn about the subject before making such a profound change to our landscape, environment, and communities?  Is ridgeline wind energy a good use of limited resources since it costs so much less to build wind turbines on flat land where the wind blows more consistently?  Is ridgeline wind really where we should be focusing hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded subsidies if our goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing fossil fuel consumption, and get off foreign oil?  Vermont’s Greenhouse Gas Emission profile is primarily from transportation and home heating.

and Vermonters have some of the highest Vehicle Miles Traveled of any state.

Remind me again why we have to build wind turbines on Vermont’s mountains right now?

The “Ira wind” project area, as seen from the top of state-owned Birdseye Mountain.  Looking south, all the ridgelines seen from this perspective were proposed to host an 80 MW wind energy generation facility.  Birdseye Mountain’s nesting Peregrine falcons fly out over the 4000+ acre undeveloped area owned by Yale Endowment,  just 6 miles west of Rutland.  Developer Per White-Hansen of Vermont Community Wind Farm has said the project is “on hold”.  He has not announced it has been dropped.

For a “thoughtful, informed piece displaying a lot of insight,” we recommend Kevin Jones’ commentary from last week’s Rutland Herald, Getting Smart About Energy Future.


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About vermontersforacleanenvironment

VCE's mission is to raise the voices of Vermonters and hold corporations accountable for their impacts on our people, our land, our air and our water. We are united in the belief that Vermont's future lies in conserving its clean, rural, small-town environment. We have joined together to pursue the common goals of encouraging economic development with minimal environmental impacts and preserving Vermont's natural beauty. VCE is committed to providing facts and information so that people can make informed decisions. We encourage your participation.
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One Response to Making Sense of Governor Shumlin’s Energy Policy

  1. Carole Naquin says:

    Is the Public Service Board a political board? Is it swayed by our Governor’s opinion? It’s mission statement says it will provide ” …an independent, fair and efficient means of resolving public utility disputes; and by guiding the development of state utility policies and rules for public services to best serve the long-term interest of Vermont and its residents, all as defined in Title 30 V.S.A.”

    Why would the Governor, in the middle of PSB hearings on the Lowell Mt Wind project, cut a deal with Green Mountain Power over bear habitat and make a showcase of it? Why would he support a project that will blast away the peaks of the Lowell Range and leave the ridgeline permanently altered?

    If the Governor wants to rewrite the state’s energy plan, he should put a moratorium now on all ridgeline wind power projects until this is completed.

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