Controversy over wind power fueled by misinformation, by Steve Wright

http://www.timesargus.com/article/20120108/FEATURES15/701089961/1014/OPINION06

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Rutland Herald, Times Argus

Commentary

Published: January 8, 2012

This newspaper, in its Sunday, Dec. 25, edition, reported the details of my arrest on criminal trespass charges in a front-page story about the Lowell Mountains wind development controversy. It also gave my hometown as Albany and offered details as to my volunteer responsibilities to the town of Craftsbury. Much of this was incorrect, and the paper has since offered me this opportunity to correct the record. I appreciate that.

Readers may recall that on Dec. 5, 2011, a group of people ascended the east flank of the Lowell Mountains and strode onto disputed land, the legal ownership contested by the Nelson family and Trip Wileman. Mr. Wileman leased this and adjacent uncontested property to Green Mountain Power for a wind turbine installation: 21 459-foot tall turbines along the ridgeline. GMP then clear-cut and blasted a portion of the three-plus miles of ridgeline road through the contested property.

The Nelson family had the property line resurveyed by a respected, licensed surveyor. He testified in Orleans County Superior Court that the property, amounting to approximately 28 acres, does indeed belong to the Nelsons. In addition, the Nelsons submitted testimony regarding the same issue before the Public Service Board (PSB). While the board is on record as saying GMP is responsible for having clear title to the land they need for their project, the board stopped short of insisting that this matter be resolved before GMP started construction. It should be a red flag for all Vermonters that a state permitting agency would allow a project to proceed without clear title to the land, in effect abdicating their responsibility.

When protesters stepped onto the contested land in the company of Barton Chronicle publisher and reporter Chris Braithwaite, I was not among them. I was safely ensconced in my living room in front of the stove, in the town of Craftsbury, not Albany, disseminating information on the arrests and taking calls from the press.

Dottie Schnure, GMP’s public relations person, was quoted as referring to the people who were on the contested property as “trespassers.” Given the surveyor’s testimony to the court, and the Nelsons’ before the PSB, one can’t help but ask: Is not GMP the alleged trespasser?

Sunday’s article also gave an incorrect description of my role regarding the town of Craftsbury’s status as an intervenor in the Public Service Board Section 248 review of GMP’s application to build the Lowell Mountains wind energy facility.

My role on behalf of the town is as a volunteer. I work with an attorney and expert witnesses to shape the overall presentation of the town’s case before the Public Service Board. Our Select Board receives regular briefings on these efforts via the Town Conservation Commission. The town of Craftsbury has never taken a position “opposing” the Lowell Mountains Wind project, and I have never referred to the town as “opposed” to the project. The Select Board decided to enter the Section 248 permitting process as an “intervenor,” in order to protect town interests and raise issues and concerns that were identified by the Select Board, the Conservation Commission and individual residents. This action is congruent with a Select Board’s mandate in law.

Finally, that the author referred to the area of law as “Act” 248 is an important distinction, primarily because it is wrong. There is a big difference between “Section” 248 (of Title 30) and “Act” 248. The former is the section of law under which utility generation and transmission is regulated. Act 248 governs the care and welfare of people with mental health issues.

Reporting errors — those about my personal circumstances being more symbolic than an example of systemic duplicity — are none the less part of a larger cascade of misinformation and half-truths. Vermonters are awash in it on the subject of big wind and renewable energy generation — from developers, regulators, policymakers, and sadly even from municipal officials doing the bidding of developers. This is unfolding — some would argue aided and abetted — by a permitting process lacking in rigor for these types of projects.

In fairness, some of the most harmful side effects have only become widely documented as a result of the installation of thousands of turbines around the world in the past five years. Turbines have gotten taller — from 200 feet (Searsburg) to 459 feet (Lowell), and even taller elsewhere. These newer machines have little track record, and we are all part of a grand experiment with few protections in place for neighbors and towns, especially on issues of public health, water flows, and property values.

As an incentive for developing wind energy the utilities/developers receive renewable energy credits. These have monetary value and can be sold. Few Vermonters realize that when the developers sell the renewable energy credits (as GMP and most utility-scale wind developers do in Vermont) there is no retirement of atmospheric carbon. Commonly, the renewable attributes of the project are sold to a fossil fuel utility so they can keep polluting. For those who extol the virtue and presumed necessity of “sacrifice,” including Gov. Shumlin, in this scenario sacrifice does not result in an environmental gain. This moral pandering to a largely uninformed public is also blind to the considerable environmental costs that are currently not required in the cost-benefit analysis for these projects.

We have a long way to go to get all the facts about renewables, in part because the facts are changing as the technology and its costs change. Those of us committed to the facts are willing to chalk up an occasional error about our actions to inevitability, chance, and unmerciful media deadlines. What will not be accepted as inevitable is the continued destruction of our environment, tarnishing the Vermont brand and unnecessarily high electric rates. Vermonters must be given the facts and a permitting process that protects citizens as well as it currently insulates developers from the true cost of their projects.

Steve Wright is a former Vermont commissioner of fish and wildlife.

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7 comments on “Controversy over wind power fueled by misinformation, by Steve Wright

  1. Kevin McGrath says:

    When Benjamin Franklin left Independence Hall just after the second drafting, he was approached by a woman on the street. The woman said, “Mr Franklin, what manner of government have you bequeathed us?” And Franklin said, “A Republic, madam—if you can keep it.” The responsibility of a country is not in the hands of a privileged few. We are strong, and we are free from tyranny as long as each one of us remembers his or her duty as a citizen. Whether it’s to report a pothole at the top of your street or lies in the State of the Union address, speak out! Ask those questions. Demand that truth. Democracy is not a free ride, man, I’m here to tell you. But this is where we live. And if we do our job, this is where our children will live. God bless America.

  2. Suze says:

    Without The People educating ourselves/themselves and each other…with accurate and honest information, how can we expect to have a Democracy? God Bless America is more than a saying. We have to honestly be involved in our political, social, environmental, economic, health policy, etc. education and participate…or others will make decisions for us. And then…can we be justified in our complaining? No…not if we are just giving lip service about loving our country and being outraged when things go awry, as they are now, in a huge way. God Bless America entails doing our part. Yes, we can.

  3. OceanMoon says:

    Demand the truth as Mr. McGrath points out ! Speak out ! The continued destruction of the environment is simply NOT ACCEPTABLE and those in charge have to be held accountable!

    OceanMoon

    • windy says:

      Just how do you hold them accountable?

      There is no way to ‘unblast ‘ the mountains, get the oil out of the Gulf, the radiation out of the ocean or the GM pollen out of the ecosystem.

      You could give them all the death penalty but their vile deeds live on and the ill gotten money is long spent.

      • OceanMoon says:

        Windy: You are correct in that there is no way to “unblast” the mountains. The approval that GMP received at each and every step by every governmental body is a travesty of justice. The day the GMP cranes went into the Lowell Mountains to commence its destruction was the day the Lowell Mountain range ceased to exist in its natural pristine state. Nonetheless, that does not mean that we, as citizens, should cease to protest the continued destruction of the mountain and cease to seek to expose the truth of the devastation that is being caused. We cannot give up Windy ! I’m sure you know that. Let’s continue the struggle against such tyrannous disregard of our property rights and environment !

        OceanMoon

        • windy says:

          But how is continued protest ‘holding them accountable’ ?

          Who is to be accountable? Shumlin, Schnure, Powell, Wiseman, the workers or the corporate entity ?

          .

          • OceanMoon says:

            Where does responsibility lie for the destruction of the Lowell Mountains? With those that sought to procure the LM wind project for profit. GMP made a corporate decision, through its president Mary Powell, to seek the construction of the wind turbines. GMP has clearly, through its actions, refused to adopt responsible environmental and social policies. GMP must pay the price and be stigmatized publicly by us Vermonters for their decision to force environmental destruction upon us. Nonetheless, GMP is not solely to blame for its greed. Governor Shumlin, has been, since he came into office, in favor of the project and has given unsound reasons for his support. He has failed us Vermont citizens and has failed to protect the destruction of our environment. The cards have been stacked against as the Public Service Board, giving the appearance of weighing all arguments, gave a profunctory approval to GMP’s project. To top it off, the Agency for Natural Resources has totally abdicated its responsibilities by failing to protect our health and environment. Nonetheless, we are not blind and can see all the manuvering. As such, we must hold GMP accountable, Gov. Schumlin, and the neglectful regulatory agencies by having our voices heard. Corporations such as GMP must ultimately be held accountable and realize that their decision will be a business nightmare. Vermonters whose environment has been destroyed, whose property values will undoubtedly decline, and health issues arise, must hold GMP totally and fully accountable.

            OceanMoon

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