Parker and Douglas trade barbs over energy policy

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(Host) Two candidates for Governor traded barbs Thursday over energy policy.

Democratic challenger Scudder Parker accused Governor Jim Douglas of ignoring a growing crisis over where Vermont will get low cost energy in the coming years.

Douglas says his administration has developed a comprehensive policy to deal with the state’s future energy needs.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) Parker laid out his energy policy in broad strokes Thursday morning. He accused the Douglas administration of lacking any strategy to deal with increasing energy costs and failing to prepare the state for the day when the contract for Hydro Quebec power and the license for the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant will expire.

Parker says as Governor he would increase funding for and broaden Vermont’s energy efficiency program, offer incentives for the development of biofuels made from crops, and promote energy from renewable sources.

He says planning, wise investment and energy efficiency are the three keys to providing Vermonters with reasonably priced energy in the future.

(Parker) “On all three of these principles, Mr. Douglas has failed. His energy planning has been a disaster. He is a chronic skeptic and underachiever in increasing efficiency and he has no thoughtful investment strategy to secure affordability in the future.”

(Zind) Parker noted that fuel prices have escalated in recent years, but Vermont’s electric rates have actually gone down. But he says credit for that goes not to Douglas but to Vermont’s long term energy contracts and to the work done when Parker was head of the energy efficiency program at the Department of Public Service.

(Douglas) “Well, I’m sure he’ll try to take credit for everything and blame everything on me. Probably I’m responsible for tent caterpillars and the common cold.”

(Zind) For his part Douglas says electric rates remain relatively low because his administration resisted rate increases by the utilities and is investing in energy efficiency.

Douglas says his administration has drafted a comprehensive energy plan, and he reiterated his opposition to large scale wind projects as part of that plan: including a proposed project in the Northeast Kingdom.

(Douglas) “Personally I think twenty six turbines in Sheffield and Sutton are excessive and would have an impact on the ridgelines of the Northeast Kingdom that cannot be justified by the relatively small amount of power that would be generated.”

(Zind) Parker says he believes commercial scale wind projects should be built in Vermont, but he declined to take a position on the Northeast Kingdom project.

(Parker) “What I support is carefully developed wind projects. I am not a staff person for the Department of Public Service and I don’t know the details of those specific projects. In general I support putting forward projects of that kind.”

(Zind) Parker says Douglas has failed to promote alternative energy at the same time he has supported what Parker called a risky power upgrade at the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant.

Parker says he’s open to the idea of relicensing Vermont Yankee, but he would first insist on an independent safety assessment.

The plant’s owners have applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a twenty year license extensions.

Douglas says the plant is safe and an independent safety review is unnecessary.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Montpelier.

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