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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Vermont’s Dirty Little Secret

Our State Government is Anti-Renewable Energy

Vermont State House (Flickr/Jim Bowen)

Peter Sterling

Talk to anyone who has tried to bring renewable energy to Vermonters and they will tell you the same thing: despite our green reputation and the thousands of Vermonters who have asked for leadership to avoid the existential crisis climate change presents to humanity, our state government works every day to put the brakes on new solar energy and wind power projects.

The latest example is the draft Comprehensive Energy Plan from the Vermont Department of Public Service which will guide state energy policy for the next five years.

Facing massive demand for new electricity consumption that will be needed as Vermont reduces climate-changing fossil fuel use by electrifying its transportation and weatherization sectors, the Department’s Plan:

  • Makes no mention of using clean and reliable Vermont wind power;
  • Fails to recommend any new in-state renewable energy use beyond the meager 10% already in state law;
  • Whitewashes Vermont’s loss of renewable energy jobs every year since 2016 when incentives for solar energy started being reduced;
  • Inaccurately alleges that “Under any reasonable measure, the existing siting process allows well-sited generation projects to be built in Vermont”

By failing to recognize the need for new, homegrown clean energy sources, undercounting the clean-energy job loss, and misrepresenting the significant challenges facing those trying to build clean energy projects on private land, the Department’s plan is anything but “comprehensive.”

The Vermont Public Utilities Commission (PUC), charged with permitting renewable energy projects, wrote the most restrictive statewide sound standard for wind power in the country – effectively banning new wind projects in Vermont by, for example, requiring wind turbines to be roughly 100 times quieter than the FAA’s “strictest” sound level for F-35 jets.

Renewable Energy Vermont members have long documented how the current permitting process for solar projects is unpredictable and unnecessarily time consuming and expensive for all but the smallest size projects.

For example, the PUC rejected a solar project in Manchester stating, “The Project would have an undue adverse impact on aesthetics…[because] The duration of the view for drivers [passing by it] would be approximately 26 seconds” and that “approximately ten residences or businesses near or adjacent to the Project site would have visibility of the Project.”

Similarly, the PUC denied a solar project proposed on a vacant, treeless lot next to an auto parts supply warehouse, self-storage facility and a gas station. The hearing officer denied the project because he reasoned that it would have an undue adverse effect on the aesthetics of the already heavily-developed area.

While these and other cases represent a relatively small number of denials, they have a substantial chilling effect on renewable energy developers and private landowners who abandon otherwise promising sites—including sites in already-developed areas where forest and other wildlife impacts are minimal—because of the uncertainty they create.

These project denials and other harmful PUC standards also harm our economy and our ability to fight climate change. Since 2016, when the PUC started decreasing incentives for solar power, Vermont has lost 1,421 jobs in the renewable energy field.

One could imagine the Governor’s office taking very direct action if say over 1,400 Vermonters lost their jobs in the ski industry or at Global Foundries over the last five years with no end in sight.

If our state government doesn’t allow solar panels next to warehouses and gas stations because of aesthetics or doesn’t think it’s ok for drivers to spend 26 seconds looking at solar panels as they drive by, it is impossible to see how Vermont will reduce our fossil fuel use enough to do our part in stopping climate change.

To reduce greenhouse gas pollution, we know the future will require increased reliance on cleaner electricity to power our cars and heat our homes without burning dirty energy sources that are making our planet less safe for humanity. Vermonters need a state government that truly leads on the fight to stop climate change by removing barriers to electricity from clean, safe, reliable, and affordable in-state renewables like solar and wind power. But the record is clear, Vermonters are not getting what we need.

Peter Sterling is the Interim Executive Director of REV, the voice of Vermont’s renewable energy business community who are working to eliminate our reliance on dirty fossil fuels by increasing the use of renewable energy and building a clean energy economy.

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