Column: Vermont Bill Would Effectively Ban Alternative Engergy Projects
I appreciate Saturday’s editorial highlighting my open letter to Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell regarding Vermont Senate Bill 30. However, in its eagerness to defend the senator, the Valley News has misconstrued my statements regarding S.30, which is an anti-wind, anti-solar and, frankly, anti-Vermont jobs and anti-environment bill.
While Campbell describes the bill as one that would allow local control of wind projects, it actually seeks to change the current strong regulatory process into an impossible one by allowing a small minority to control the outcome. S.30 would place all renewable energy projects over 500 kilowatts — wind and solar projects, that is, but not fossil energy — under Act 250 review instead of Section 248. Act 250 was not written for energy regulation; Section 248 was and has proven itself an effective tool for scrutinizing such projects.
S.30 would also allow any “affected town” to obtain “party status” in the review process, which is substantially more permissive than current Act 250 rules. To be granted such status in review hearings under current Act 250 rules, someone must have a “particularized interest” in the development. This goes beyond broad objections and is restricted to those with a direct interest in one of the 10 Act 250 criteria. For example, it could include someone whose own water source might be affected or someone who could encounter increased traffic congestion. The undefined “affected town” term opens the door to allowing a vocal minority to halt any renewable energy project. Allowing party status for those anywhere within view of or in postulated hearing distance of an energy project — or, in fact, in any area that by any definition is “affected” — clearly broadens Act 250 into an insurmountable obstacle, while providing no real additional environmental safeguards. This is far beyond the current scope of Act 250 for even the largest non-energy developments in Vermont, putting renewable energy into a uniquely burdened category, which, of course, is the goal of S.30’s supporters.
Section 248 rules, developed to regulate energy resources, provide a thorough review with public input. The anti-wind minority is trying to change the process and make it impossible to permit any renewable energy because the Section 248 process has, properly, failed to block all wind projects.
S.30 started as a moratorium on wind development. When it became impossible to pass that bill, it was amended to make it superficially more permissive. But the goal of the sponsors — to stop all wind development — has not changed, only their public messaging has. Rather than imposing a moratorium, they are seeking to make the permitting process impossible. Same effect. Campbell has been instrumental in creating, changing, messaging and shepherding the bill through the Senate. Unlike me, the senator has not been open about his objectives. Vermont deserves openness from our leaders.
Vermont needs more wind and solar energy. Currently, less than 25 percent of the state’s total energy is renewable. The state has adopted a goal of increasing renewable energy (all energy, not just electricity) to 90 percent renewable by 2050, and the Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan indicates many megawatts of wind power will be needed to achieve that. Incorporating thousands of Vermonters’ comments, this plan is a clear statement of facts and goals, and polls show the large majority of Vermonters support it. Increases in electricity use will occur as we make our vehicle fleet and space heating less dependent on fossil fuels.
The bill includes the same restrictions on solar arrays it would apply to wind projects. Apparently, Campbell, who has professed concern about the “iconic nature of our ridgelines,” would like to install all of our energy generation in someone else’s back yard, far from Vermont.
How can we maintain a successful economy in Vermont with this viewpoint? Campbell doesn’t appear to be similarly disturbed by what ski areas have done to the Vermont landscape, yet they impact far greater land areas than either solar or wind power projects. (For the record, I don’t mind them either.)
The Valley News’ assertion that I brought “moneyball” politics to Vermont is a deliberate mischaracterization calculated to divert attention from the real issue. My 2012 contributions to federal and state candidates were less than $3,000. That’s hardly big money, particularly in comparison with the sort made by the Koch brothers and their friends.
My open letter to Campbell says, “I’ve supported Senator Campbell in a lot of races. But if he supports this bill, not only does that support end, but I will help recruit and support opposition ... and will put my money where my mouth is.”
I did not give any funds to Campbell last year, though I did support him. Previously I gave him no more than $50 per election. I certainly would not expect him to agree with me on every issue, regardless of my contribution. I give my public support and money to candidates who already have views similar to mine. It is naïve to think that the level of contributions I have made would sway a candidate’s position, and it is stage acting for Campbell to pretend that I tried to.
By feigning surprise at the mention of money in politics, the March 23 Valley News editorial is disingenuous and provides Campbell a backdrop for his overwrought indignation. The Valley News would better serve the public by investigating ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) and the Kochs’ funding of the national anti-wind movement that has suddenly gained a larger voice in Vermont.
Campbell is free to do as he believes, and I am not intimidated by him. I have those same rights, and will exert them in an open and clear manner. Vermont needs more openness; the backroom is where ALEC and the Kochs operate best. If the senator wishes to support legislation that goes against his constituents and the majority of Vermonters and is anti-jobs and anti-environment, that is his right. I and others will exercise our rights as well.
Jeff Wolfe, who lives in Strafford, is the co-founder and chairman of groSolar, a renewable-energy company based in White River Junction.