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VNRC COMMENTARY: Is Vermont Crafting an Energy Plan for Success?

 

The Weekly Planet for the Times Argus-Rutland Herald

By Elizabeth Courtney

September 1, 2008
These are challenging times, marked by skyrocketing fuel costs, surging food prices and a planet increasingly threatened by the brutal vagaries of climate change. Vermont, and the world, must employ the best tools possible to meet these challenges.

MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD!

Let the Department of Public Service know your thoughts on the plan by attending one of the five public hearings they are holding across Vermont. Or, submit written comments to the DPS.

Public hearings on the plan are scheduled from 7 to 10 p.m. on the following dates:

  • Sept. 25: St. Johnsbury. Father Lively Center (481 Summer Street, across from St. Johns Church)
  • Oct. 1: Randolph. Old Dorm Lounge at Vermont Technical College
  • Oct. 8: Rutland. Alderman’s Chambers
  • Oct. 15: Bennington. Public Library, Rotary Room
  • Oct. 22: Winooski. Senior Center (123 Barlow St., across from St. Stevens Church)

Submit written comments to:

David Lamont

VT Dept. of Public Service

120 State Street

Montpelier, VT  05602

Or, comment online at:

http://www.vermontsenergyfuture.info/

For more information or to download and read the draft Comprehensive Energy Plan visit the Public Service Department’s Web site publicservice.vermont.gov.

The draft plan is scheduled to be finalized and presented to the Legislature by Jan. 15.

One of those tools is a plan for success, with goals and concrete measures to reach them. As my father used to tell me, “Without a plan for success, you have a plan for failure.”

In spite of Vermont’s laudable legacy of leadership in environmental policy and energy efficiency, I fear that the state is losing its status as an innovator and trendsetter. Most recently, this is evidenced by the state’s draft 2009 Comprehensive Energy Plan (CEP). Despite the critical importance of specific strategies to meet Vermont’s energy needs now and into the future, the state’s so-called ‘plan’ lacks both targeted goals and measures for achieving them. As such, it cannot possibly get us where we need go.

The Draft 2009 CEP is an even more dramatic failure in light of the fact that its authors had the 1998 CEP and the Governor’s Commission on Climate Change’s 2007 recommendations to use as benchmarks — or at least a strong starting point — to move us through the next decade and into the future. These two documents, unlike their successor, contain the elements of a plan for success.

With the draft CEP, the state has missed an opportunity to guide Vermonters out of a frightening future of dirty, dangerous energy dependence, to a future of clean, affordable energy security. Because the draft lacks measurable goals and cohesive strategies to increase public transportation, develop smart growth tools to conserve our forest and farmland to produce more food and fiber close to home, support renewable energy options (little attention is paid to solar, for instance), and much more, Vermont still lacks a plan for success. The draft is, instead, another document that gives lip service to good ideas, but fails to outline the steps needed to actually implement them. And it’s Vermonters who will suffer, facing staggering energy costs and having lost the time to generate solutions to help meet their daily needs, affordably.

Just one small example: The Governor’s Commission described the direct correlation between Vermont’s land use patterns, over-reliance on the private automobile, energy consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions.  The report recommended support for “planning efforts that adopt and embrace the concept of town centers” as a means of reducing vehicle miles traveled, enhancing transit and protecting farm and forest land.

While the 2009 CEP acknowledges this priority, it stops short of outlining the policies, practices or programs that will turn it into reality.

The 2009 CEP must go far further and provide the much-needed follow-through on the Commission’s recommendations. For instance, the CEP could include a goal to address the land use and energy relationship by ensuring that a targeted amount – say 50 percent – of new commercial and residential development occur within existing and planned growth centers. It would be a measurable goal, achieved through specific strategies like strengthening the existing growth centers program, targeting infrastructure and development incentives, updating land use and development regulations, and conserving farm and forest land.

Perhaps the greatest failure of the plan is the degree to which it has backtracked from the 1998 plan on the issue of finding renewable alternatives to the troubled Vermont Yankee facility.  The 1998 CEP stated that: “When Vermont Yankee and other New England nuclear plants’ licenses expire early in the next century or if these plants retire prematurely, renewable sources such as wood and wind energy need to be ready to replace this generation in order to keep greenhouse gas emissions from growing dramatically.”

Had Vermont heeded its own advice, and plan, 10 years ago, the state might not be in the precarious position of deciding whether to relicense an old nuclear plant. Instead, Vermont could be moving beyond Vermont Yankee toward generating its own clean, safe, renewable sources. Unfortunately Vermont leaders, and the current administration in particular, have failed to guide the state down this path. The 2009 plan offers disturbingly hollow language about making room for renewable energy saying Vermont “should begin the transition toward other environmentally sound and renewable resources.” Begin? Weren’t we supposed to have begun 10 years ago? Instead, heated disputes over where and how to thoughtfully develop renewable energy in Vermont continue to stymie the much-needed projects that other state’s are welcoming, such as solar, biomass, and wind.

Vermont must find a way to move beyond platitudes and make the difficult, but important decisions about Vermont’s energy future. And the Comprehensive Energy Plan is the best, most appropriate vehicle. Unfortunately, the 2009 draft CEP is no recipe for success.

Vermonters who have an interest in how the state will meet its energy needs and tackle the challenge of climate change should engage at this important moment. Attend one of the Department of Public Service’s upcoming public input sessions in September or October. You can find out where and when at www.publicservice.vermont.gov. And join the Vermont Natural Resources Council in calling for a plan that charts a path towards a clean, renewable energy future by incorporating clear, measurable goals and the specific steps needed to achieve them.

There is no time to lose. Vermont can and must build on our historic accomplishments regarding energy efficiency and land stewardship and craft a strong plan for success.