The Vermont Law School was the venue for a lively discussion on big wind. Panelists from opposite poles of the argument came to the table. On one side-- Vermont renewable energy entrepreneur David Blittersdorf.
"Vermont has great resources for wind. It just so happens that they're on ridgelines," said Blittersdorf of AllEarth Renewables.
On the other side-- Lyndon State College sustainability studies professor Ben Luce.
"They're enormously expensive and destructive. This is not the way to go," Luce said.
Luce and other ridgeline opponents say environmental damage aside, there is just no way that wind power will be able to satisfy the energy needs of the future.
"The basic fact is just to make a small dent-- a few percent of the energy demand in the Northeast and virtually nothing in the Southeast-- you would have to develop thousands of miles of ridgeline. You'd be talking about devastating impacts to the mountaintops due to bulldozing and blasting," Luce said.
Blittersdorf says ridgeline development so far has been extremely responsible, both on its impacts to watersheds and wildlife. He says with concerns over climate change, the argument for wind-- like his Georgia Mountain project-- is long overdue.
"We live in a society where the common good should overrule self-interest, individually or by town, because towns get their energy from elsewhere," Blittersdorf said. "So, if a town says no to wind, OK, well, they're getting oil, they're getting gas, they're getting other things from other places. What if everybody said no to everything?"
Blittersdorf admits that Vermont renewables sale of credits-- or RECS-- to allow dirtier power generation out-of-state is fundamentally flawed and needs to be fixed by the state, even though credits from his project benefit Burlington Electric.
"I'm not a proponent of RECS," Blittersdorf said. "It is a method to try to stimulate renewables, but I don't think they're the right way to go."
The governor's Energy Siting Commission releases its report in about two weeks. Blittersdorf says he welcomes the group's efforts to standardize and streamline project development, but he says it's a mistake to give towns veto power.
The debate was sponsored by the Sierra Club, an organization that on a national level supports the concept of wind power. But when it comes to Vermont, the traditional coalition of environmental groups-- including the Sierra Club-- has been torn down the middle.
"Informed people who have different opinions-- that's fine. What is not fine is the rancor that exists between different camps here," said David Ellenbogen of the Sierra Club.
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