For a period of several years in the early 2000s I compiled news story lists on Vermont environmental issues. I did it for my own purposes and also as a service provided to others. Many people in the environmental community subscribed to my free frequent news story lists, organized by topic such as agriculture, energy, solid waste, groundwater and surface water. Whatever was in the news, the historian in me (B.A., Vassar College in contemporary European history, 1977) archived it.
I do not recall when I stopped compiling the news stories, but I remember why. Energy news. Wind news. So many articles, editorials, commentaries and letters to the editor appeared so frequently that it became nearly impossible to keep up with. At the time, wind energy was raging in Manchester and just surfacing in Londonderry. It is typical of the discussions that are being repeated in too many rural Vermont communities ever since.
Among those articles is a commentary I wrote promoting wind energy. I confess I knew nothing about wind energy at the time. It sounded like a good idea.
Fourteen years ago, the cast of characters was a little different, but not by much. David Blittersdorf, past president of the American Wind Energy Association and founding member and past chairman of Renewable Energy Vermont, appears as a wind developer. The name Blittersdorf occurs 10 times in that batch of news stories. Sabina Haskell was managing editor of the Manchester Journal and is now on the board of the Burlington Electric Commission. Andy Perchlik was the executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont and is now director of the Department of Public Service’s Clean Energy Development Fund. Dave Gram reported on the topic for The Associated Press in 2002, as he does now.
I spend too much of my time these days digging up files from old computers to answer the questions of people in new communities learning about a new wind project proposed for their area. Heads up, Bolton, you’re next. Seven big wind turbines.
In 2015, I turned on the old computer, this time for the people in Swanton, and found the legislation drafted in 2010 to establish wind turbine noise standards with setbacks and/or decibel levels. In December 2015, I met with House Speaker Shap Smith and put a copy of the 2010 legislation on his desk, along with a copy of Sen. John Rodgers’ just-introduced legislation calling for a ban on big wind turbines in Vermont. I told Speaker Smith that Rep. Tony Klein, chairman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, refused to take up the 2010 legislation, arguing that “you people don’t want standards, you just want to ban them, so why don’t you be honest.”
So, I said, “take your pick, we don’t care which: setbacks, noise decibel levels, a ban, can we please have the conversation? How are we going to move forward on renewable energy and siting?” House Speaker Smith said, “We’re not.”
And that is how the conversation about Vermont wind energy has gone for 14 years.
The wind industry in Vermont — which presents itself now as Spanish Avangrid/Iberdrola Renewables, Chittenden County’s David Blittersdorf, and enabling utilities and government agencies — has not changed its tune: People don’t like to look at them, there are no other issues. The wind industry’s consistent denial of problems is how proponents ridicule critics and dismiss their concerns.
Community responses have expanded, especially as acoustically complex noise pollution becomes part of the real world experience.
When I am asked to give talks about wind energy, I dig out the two-page document I created years ago called “Wind Issues.” It is a menu of the issues surrounding wind energy that Vermonters raise in public meetings as they do their own research. Solar energy, by comparison, has a short list of issues. Yes, there are issues. But wind energy has a huge number of issues, all magnified when wind turbines are built on Vermont’s ridgelines in our quiet, rural communities. The more Vermonters learn, the more opposed they become (see chart, below).
How can we move forward on wind energy? We can’t.
Let’s stop fooling ourselves by continuing conflict and enriching a handful of already-wealthy individuals and corporations. Their claims of getting off foreign fossil fuels and creating jobs while saving the planet are not supported by facts. Let’s enable progress toward locally distributed renewable energy by taking big wind off the table.
We can move forward with renewable energy for Vermonters, and right now our best resource is solar. Vermonters want renewable energy that we can live with, constructed in our communities to serve our homes, businesses and industry. That means building next to load, building projects that serve our communities locally and retiring the renewable energy credits. And it means that the profiteers must become collaborators while the politicians must restore and respect our democracy.
Annette Smith is executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment Inc. She is also a member of the Danby Planning commission and the Rutland Regional Planning Commission.