The previous year was a big one in Vermont's unfolding energy debate — from wind to solar, fracking to divestment. Seven Days went back to some of the big players in the energy debate — opponents and proponents, citizen activists, onlookers and developers — for their thoughts on a busy, sometimes tumultuous year. What did 2012 mean for energy development in Vermont and what might 2013 bring? (Don't miss yesterday's post with comments from some of industrial wind power's biggest critics.)
Bill McKibben, writer and climate activist
"Vermont punched above its weight in 2012. Becoming the only state in the union to ban fracking was a big deal — it gave great heart to others in places where the fight is still raging. I think Vermont has also made it increasingly clear that there will be no tar sands pipeline through the state — some combination of Peter Shumlin's words and the truly powerful organizing by lots of folks should, I think, be enough to put a real crimp in the plans of the tar sands tycoons.
"2013 will have all kinds of fights, I'm sure, but the one that intrigues me most is about divestment. What Middlebury does will be closely watched, including, I hope, by other colleges around the state. (Wouldn't be surprised if Green Mountain or Sterling tried to steal their thunder!). And UVM will be a wonderful stage on which to debate the issues at the heart of the biggest crisis humans have ever faced."
David Blittersdorf, president/CEO of AllEarth Renewables
"We now have some renewable energy running. It’s a start. ... The other important piece is that after Obama’s election and the election here in Vermont, we’re going to actually see some serious movement forward on climate change and carbon. We’re going to see a lot more reality set in. I think most people have been living in a state of denial about energy and climate and carbon, but after Sandy …there’s starting to be a real realization that something has to be done, and we’re running out of time. …You can’t say no to everything, and there’s things we’re going to have to get done.
"Seeing what was happening on the national front with the Republicans and the election, I was pretty pessimistic that we were ever going to go anywhere. I’m becoming more confident because the citizens of the United States have finally figured out …that climate change and these things are real. I think 2013 could be the pivotal year of moving forward. There is a big problem. I think we’ll see more political will in the state. Vermont has to show the rest of the United States how to do this. We can be nimble. We can have the will to do this. We can show the rest of the United States how to do it. We’ve led in a lot of areas, and now we have to step up to lead on renewable energy and conservation a lot more.
"I think [the opponents to wind energy] made a lot of noise. ...They brought up a lot of things, but a lot of things they brought up are stories, myths and out and out lies. Once people understand, things will change. ... I see going forward there’s some skirmishes we’re going to have, but in general, I’m very optimistic that things will change. They’ve had their day in the sun … but sorry, us Vermonters have agreed we need to do something to change."
State Rep. Tony Klein (D-East Montpelier)
"Let me start by saying this to you: This state has for the past 15 or so years developed an energy policy that has had widespread universal support of all Vermonters. And over the years that energy policy basically in shorthand says, 'Build as much in-state renewable as fast as possible.' ... At the same time, we’ve also spent the last 30 years developing a regulatory process in the state of Vermont that I and others would argue is the toughest and most arduous there is in the country.
"Now we are finally in what I will call the implementation stage of the process. The fruits of the labor are coming to be born. As you and everyone else knows, it’s not unusual to drive around the state and see solar panels all over the place, or wind projects. That’s a direct result of the policy and the regulatory process.
"What I think is the concern going forward, is that when problems arise, we should be coming together to find the solutions to these problems. I’m worrying that people, rather than doing that, are walking down paths where they either want to stop what we’re doing or undo what we’ve worked for for so many years. ...You tell somebody you’re going to paint a picture, and they say, 'Sure, sure, sure,' but then you actually paint the picture, and they say, 'I didn’t think it was going to look like that.'"
Tom Slayton, former editor of Vermont Life
"In 2012, Vermonters realized that large-scale wind power is not benign. The issue was larger than the town of Lowell or the Lowell Range since there are more than a dozen large wind installations either planned or already in operation in Vermont, five of them in the Northeast Kingdom alone. It was also a larger-than-Lowell issue because it demonstrated that no source of energy — not even renewable energy — is cost-free, economically or environmentally. And it showed, once again, that Vermont’s mountains are important to the people of this state, and that they will fight to protect them.
"The backers of Big Wind won the Battle of Lowell. Before the year was over, more than 20 towers — each of them taller than the Bennington Monument — were installed and operating, and the top of the Lowell Range had been massively altered forever. But the issue won’t be going away anytime soon. By year’s end, opposition to industrial-scale wind power had spread across the state, and several towns had voted to ban large wind towers.
"Look for a major legislative fight over the issue in 2013 — most likely over a proposal to impose a moratorium on new major wind power installations while facts and figures that can be agreed upon are developed."
Mary Powell, CEO/president of Green Mountain Power
"I feel like we made great strides forward as a state in 2012. We’ve always had legislative intent and direction in Vermont to move more toward renewable energy. Laws have been consistently passed …to move more toward renewable energy resources. Under Liz Miller’s leadership, the [Department of Public Service] came up with an overarching vision and goal. Stepping back, I feel like we’ve made a lot of headway ...in terms of things happening on the ground in Vermont.
"It’s always so easy to be critical and think of what more we could do and should do. It’s really quite remarkable. We finally have taken some substantive steps forward, and I’m proud that [GMP has] been a small part of that with our wind project as well as ...putting a lot of steel and solar in the ground. ...Not just have we made steps forward as a state, but we’re doing it in a manner that Vermonters support."
Kathryn Flagg is a Seven Days staff writer. She completed a fellowship in environmental journalism at Middlebury College, and her work has also appeared in the Addison County Independent, Wyoming Public Radio and Orion Magazine. She lives in Shoreham with her husband and son.