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Voices / Viewpoint

Which price do we pay?

Keeping additional industrial-scale wind power out of our region is shortsighted and dangerous. Is there any middle ground?

Michael Bosworth has volunteered with community energy initiatives, including Co-op Power and the Brattleboro Town Energy Committee, for which he serves as chair.

Brattleboro

The draft Windham Regional Commission Energy Plan is disturbing, because its wording and its biases would effectively exclude economically efficient, acutely needed, renewable wind energy almost everywhere in the county where it would be feasible to site.

Yet, I have some sympathies with industrial-wind-energy opponents, with those who would like to preserve our ridgelines intact.

Is there any middle ground to advocate for both?

* * *

Though I moved to southern Vermont only 15 years ago, I have been hiking and skiing here (downhill and cross-country) since the mid-1960s. The trails are intimate, the brush with plant and animal life sometimes close and occasionally unexpected. The views are breathtaking, the ridges can be challenging, the hollows are comforting.

Meanwhile, I have been volunteering in community energy work for the last 10 years, because I have come to realize how much of a threat climate change is, not just to the planet as a whole but also to our local way of life.

Much of Vermont’s fauna and flora are at risk. Many bird species are threatened or endangered. We are projected to lose our iconic maple trees. The very snow we ski on is way more unpredictable than it used to be.

Climate change is playing a huge role in all of this. To ignore that is to have one’s head in the sand. There is also mounting evidence that it is happening more rapidly than was initially anticipated.

* * *

The draft Energy Plan is very concerning. There is a direct correlation between the plan’s “Resource Lands,” where all development is discouraged except for forestry and agriculture, and the ridges where wind power would be most efficient and effective.

There is another land category, the “Productive Rural Lands,” where the proposed restrictions against development are not as tight but where industrial-scale wind turbines would still not be allowed.

Those two categories of land comprise 90 percent of the total land area in our region, according to figures supplied by the WRC.

The plan proposes to meet the state’s renewable-energy goals for Windham County essentially through development of a lot of solar power. New solar power is a good thing.

However, according to engineering analyses, to produce the same amount of power as wind turbines, solar arrays would need approximately 10 times as much land area.

At the same time, it would cost two or three times as much to erect and maintain those solar arrays as the equivalent wind facilities. Nowhere in the draft Energy Plan are these differences described, but they certainly should be.

* * *

To be clear about my own feelings, if I am standing on the Putney Mountain/Pinnacle ridge — which I am very happy is conserved, an effort to which I have contributed money — I don’t want to look out at a sea of wind turbines.

Yet, I would be open to seeing some turbines in that view shed. One approach might be to limit them to the proximity of areas that have already been disturbed, such as where there are ski area trails and towers, or where power lines already run, or where access roads have already been constructed. (The tops of Stratton, Magic Mountain, Mt. Snow, and Haystack/Hermitage are in the plan’s “Resort Center” category, and so are not proposed for restrictions.)

Another approach might be to allow for a finite number of additional wind-power farms in the region (three? two?), each with a finite number of turbines (ten? eight?). A third approach could be to work with towns that are open to having these facilities sited within their boundaries. (The Energy Plan draft policies do not allow room for town-by-town exceptions to the “Resource Lands” and “Productive Rural Lands” restrictions.)

* * *

That such wind facilities would likely need to go up on ridgelines somewhere in the “Resource Lands” or “Productive Rural Lands” would be a price we would need to pay (some soil disturbance, some bird mortality) because of the significant benefits that the corresponding renewable energy would bring.

Also, allowing some wind towers can help forest tracts stay in forestry and not get developed for other uses; allowing some wind towers can help agricultural tracts stay in agriculture. That is certainly happening in other windy areas of the country.

Keeping additional industrial-scale wind power out of our region is shortsighted and dangerous. I personally think we should put limits on how much wind power development we are willing to accommodate, but excluding it widely will play a role in having us fall further behind in the progress that we sorely need to make.

Our ridges will become more vulnerable to extreme weather events, more changed by the changing climate, and more devoid of the bird life and other wildlife and experiences we’ve come to love.

What do you think? Leave us a comment

Editor’s note: Our terms of service require you to use your real names. We will remove anonymous or pseudonymous comments that come to our attention. We rely on our readers’ personal integrity to stand behind what they say; please do not write anything to someone that you wouldn’t say to his or her face without your needing to wear a ski mask while saying it. Thanks for doing your part to make your responses forceful, thoughtful, provocative, and civil. We also consider your comments for the letters column in the print newspaper.

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Tamara Stenn
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Tamara Stenn (Brattleboro, Vermont, US) says...

Thanks for writing this Elayne. I was thinking the same thing myself. The silence we received from the hospital is quite deafening. Unfortunately we\'ve had to continue working with the hospital as other (minor) heath issues come up.

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Judith Skillman
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Judith Skillman (Newcastle, US) says...

Excellent and informative writing about the media and about the state of our nation. We must support the press speak truth to power, now more than ever before.

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Ruby Bode
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Ruby Bode (Westminster, Vermont, US) says...

We are also obliged to criticize the press when they merely echo the lies of the powerful. In this case, much of the press has taken a side, not just against the policies of the President, but against the election itself on behalf of the parties of war and Wall St. Just as the US has in the past agitated in other countries for coups against democratic outcomes they don’t like, much of the press, including this editorial, is now agitating for a coup here at home.

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Peter Ford
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Peter Ford (Dallas) says...

Nailed it - Thank you.

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TB Smith
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TB Smith (Ba, Oklahoma, US) says...

The divisiveness brought on by this shamefully poor excuse for a president has been once again, borne out by this article, and the responses to it .. his most devoted followers are the most gullible and easily swayed sheeple since the \"Kool-Aid party in Jonestown\" ... those who stand up the most fervently to this dictator \"wanabe\", will , inthe end, see him and the fellow purveyors of his garbage rhetoric like FOX News, Alex Jones, Breitbart, etc., crumble and be dumped like stale crackers (pardon the pun) .. we must impeach this tyrant before too much damage is done, either from within or outside our borders.

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Ruby Bode
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Ruby Bode (Westminster, Vermont, US) says...

So it’s OK that access to outlets that simply recognize Trump as President is indeed being shut down? But isn’t that exactly what this editorial is against? Should outlets that cheered on Obama’s wars and love of Wall St have likewise been shut down? Only John Birch Society–inspired screeds against Trump indicate the “legitimate” press?

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Ruby Bode
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Ruby Bode (Westminster, Vermont, US) says...

TB Smith’s comment in apparent support of the us-vs-them tone of this editorial illustrates why so many people distrust so much of the press (although, again, it appears to be only pro-Trump and anti-imperialist outlets that are actually being shut down): They are promulgating hysterical claims about fascism, Russians, and “crackers” not in the interest of the people, but wholly on behalf of the neoliberal/neoconservative program of Reagan, Clinton, Bush, and Obama to deny Trump the Presidency and even remove him from office – not democratically, but by coup if necessary. That makes the press rather anti-democratic and, indeed, against the people.

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Amelia Stone
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Amelia Stone (E Dummerston, Vermont, US) says...

Kudos to the Boston Globe for encouraging newspapers across the country to remind us all of the value of a free press, and to the Commons for hearing that call. The NYTimes article, A Free Press Needs You, concludes with the following: \"If you haven’t already, please subscribe to your local papers. Praise them when you think they’ve done a good job and criticize them when you think they could do better. We’re all in this together.\" Today I plan to subscribe.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #442 (Wednesday, January 17, 2018). This story appeared on page D1.

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