When two out of every three Vermonters express support for something, that’s considered overwhelming support. Politically, it’s bulletproof.
That was the message delivered by a Castleton State College poll in which 66 percent of Vermonters expressed support for wind power.
This support was not just for wind power in general, but for wind power in the form of turbines along Vermont’s ridgelines. Even more – 69 percent – would favor a wind farm in their community. Not only do two-thirds of Vermonters support wind power, but according to the poll, only 19 percent are firmly opposed, with another 14 percent undecided.
Why is it then, that proposed legislation to place a three-year moratorium has received so much attention, its backers marching forward acting as if they are representing the people’s will?
It’s happened because Vermont is a particularly easy mark in the advocacy game. We’re small and a committed minority can make its voice known. In Montpelier, a protest of 200 can be spun as a something much larger than it is. It’s often hard for legislators to see beyond those who testify before their committees, or those who hold placards outside.
And that’s a lousy way to make policy.
Perhaps some of this support for wind power is beginning to seep into the minds of legislators. The Senate committee dealing with the legislation – Natural Resources and Energy – finally passed the bill, but only after the moratorium was removed. It was obvious the legislation would not be passed with the moratorium included – something the Shumlin administration had made clear.
Thus, the public’s support of wind power generation is affirmed?
The moratorium was the visible part of the battle, the idea that generated the attention and the opprobrium. But the bill passed out of committee also contains the requirement that the Public Service Board conform to the state’s Act 250 process for siting wind turbine projects larger than 500 kilowatts.
This, according to the bill’s sponsors, is simply a way to give local communities a stronger voice in the process.
It seems innocuous. Why would anyone oppose giving local communities a stronger voice in any decision?
In the real world, there is little difference between an outright moratorium and forcing these projects through the state’s Act 250 process. As any Vermonter knows, a contested Act 250 process can add years to a project’s timeline. The added expense and uncertainty are often more than enough to persuade a developer to look elsewhere.
It should also be understood that the PSB recognizes the Act 250 process now, but is not required to jump through each of its regulatory hoops. The reason the PSB has been given the authority it has, is that we want decisions to be made absent the not-in-my-back-yard mentality. How we provide ourselves energy is something that affects us all and shouldn’t be controlled by minority groups concerned only about specific projects, not the state’s overall energy mix.
The Senate bill is almost as objectionable now as it was before.
The danger is this: it’s picture perfect for legislators. It’s a way to show the anti-wind people that they were sympathetic to their cause [with a wink and a nod toward the Act 250 requirement] and show the pro-wind people their support by saying they were opposed to the moratorium.
The truth, however, is that if the bill is signed into law it could slow the development of wind power in Vermont as effectively as any moratorium. [That’s such an odd stance for a Senate committee whose charge is to focus on renewable energy and to protect our natural resources.]
This understanding should not be lost on other legislators. As all polls have shown, wind power in Vermont enjoys overwhelming support. Vermonters do not recoil from turbines on ridgelines or the thought of wind farms in their communities. They understand that the proper regulatory processes are already in place.
The legislation approved by the Senate Natural Resources and Energy committee does not embrace that understanding. It opposes it, and by so doing, opposes the majority’s will.
When that is understood, the political cover should disappear and the bill should be dropped.
by Emerson Lynn
Renewable Energy Vermont (REV)
PO Box 1036
Montpelier, VT 05601-1036
(802) 229-0099 office