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Commentary – Wind Energy In Vermont

Delivered by Elizabeth Courtney on Vermont Public Radio

December 2005

While Vermonters have been talking a lot about wind power in recent weeks, there hasn’t been much focus on our energy appetites: we consume just too darn much. We need to pay significant attention to efficiency and conservation at the same time that we talk about new generating sources like wind.

First, let’s put the need for efficiency and conservation in some context. In less than 10 years, Vermont is likely to lose two thirds of its current electric supply. And Vermont continues to stumble without a real energy plan. Sure, Vermont’s corporate utilities have an obligation to keep the lights on, but will Vermonters be satisfied with the new energy sources and their potential impacts? Fortunately, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative planning process is getting underway among the New England states, and it is the right foundation from which to build a constructive discussion.

Second, we need to remember that large-scale wind turbines aren’t the only game in town. In addition to conservation and efficiency, we must diversify our energy portfolio with a variety of renewable sources. This includes solar, biomass, methane recapture, geothermal, and, possibly, low impact hydro.

Third, when we do talk about large-scale wind as an option, let’s make sure we don’t trade one environmental value for another. Inevitably, Vermont will take responsibility for it’s energy consumption and play host to well planned wind projects. But let’s be mindful of the sensitivity of high-alpine areas, the potential impacts to wildlife, and the distance from a turbine to existing power lines. People matter too, and some communities are conflicted.

Because of recent legislation, growth in energy demand between now and 2013 must be met from either renewable energy sources or be offset by energy efficiency. From an economic perspective, efficiency is the way to go. The same amount of electricity conserved through efficiency, costs roughly half of what we pay for wholesale power. So not only do we save money with efficiency, we also avoid having to build new generating plants. Truly, a penny saved is a penny earned.

Currently, Vermont’s award-winning energy efficiency programs offset just over half of our growth in electric use. With increased, cost-effective investment, efficiency could easily offset all energy growth over the next ten years– and then some.

So, while the wind debate has sucked most of the oxygen out of the much-needed energy conversation, realistically, it can only play a limited role. We need to look beyond the mountain tops where the wind blows and focus on conservation, efficiency, and diversity.