The Wind Power Debate — Elizabeth Courtney

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(HOST) This morning, VPR’s special 10-part commentary series on Wind Technology in Vermont concludes with Elizabeth Courtney, who says that – important as it is – wind power should be just the beginning of the alternative energy debate.

(COURTNEY) While Vermonters have been talking a lot about wind power in recent weeks, there hasn’t been much focus on our energy appetites. And, quite frankly, we consume just too darned much. We need to pay attention to efficiency and conservation at the same time that we talk about new generating sources such as wind.

First, in less than ten 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 new energy sources, such as gas, coal or nuclear power considering their potential impacts?

Fortunately, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative planning process is getting underway among New England states,
and it’s 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 its 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, but 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.

Realistically, wind power can only play a limited role in our energy future, but the debate surrounding it has sucked most of the oxygen out of a much-needed conversation about conservation, efficiency and diversity. We need to look beyond the mountain tops where the wind blows to balance our energy appetites.

This is Elizabeth Courtney of Montpelier.

Elizabeth Courtney is Executive Director of the Vermont Natural Resource Council. You can find the text and audio of our complete “Wind Energy” commentary series on line at

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