Commentary: Vermont’s Renewable Energy Policy Worse Than Worthless (January, 2015)

By Rob RoperRob Roper

The Vermont Legislature has long been bent on saving the planet through government micromanagement of energy policy. The big issue this year appears to be passing a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that would require utilities to sell a set percentage renewable power (and thereby forcing customers to buy the more expensive product). The other issue, likely debated but not moved on this year, is a carbon tax designed to make fossil fuel use artificially expensive.

According to a recent report by Ross Koningstein and David Fork, engineers at Google who worked on the company’s groundbreaking renewable energy project RE<C, this is exactly the wrong thing to do.

In 2007, Google launched RE<C to “tackle the world’s climate and energy problems.” The goal was to figure out how improve renewable technologies to the point that they could deliver renewable energy more cheaply than a coal fired power plant could. In 2011, Google pulled the plug on the project. The science just didn’t work.

As Koningstein and Fork concluded, “Trying to combat climate change exclusively with today’s renewable energy technologies simply won’t work; we need a fundamentally different approach.”

The engineers concluded that even if we were somehow able to shut down every fossil-fueled power plant immediately, it still wouldn’t stop the planet from warming. “We decided to combine our energy innovation study’s best-case scenario results with Hansen’s climate model to see whether a 55 percent emission cut by 2050 would bring the world back below that 350-ppm threshold. Our calculations revealed otherwise.”

A totally new technology will be necessary. What is it? Koningstein and Fork don’t know, but they do offer some ideas for what characteristics it must embody and principles upon which it must be developed. Topping the list: Profit motive.

Profit has wrongly become a dirty word for many in Vermont, but it is the only efficient fuel, if you will, that can ultimately effectively propel technology forward far enough to achieve the environmental goal of cheap, abundant, reliable, renewable energy.

After spending half a decade studying this issue as part of a well-funded project by one of the most tech-savvy, environmentally conscious companies in the world today, Koningstein and Fork concluded:

Let’s face it, businesses won’t make sacrifices and pay more for clean energy based on altruism alone. Instead, we need solutions that appeal to their profit motives.

Across the board, we need solutions that don’t require subsidies or government regulations that penalize fossil fuel usage. Of course, anything that makes fossil fuels more expensive, whether it’s pollution limits or an outright tax on carbon emissions, helps competing energy technologies locally. But industry can simply move manufacturing (and emissions) somewhere else. So rather than depend on politicians’ high ideals to drive change, it’s a safer bet to rely on businesses’ self interest: in other words, the bottom line.

Let’s apply these realities to Vermont. If shutting down all the fossil fuel power plants in the world today won’t solve the warming problem, Vermont’s goal of reaching 90 percent renewable energy by 2050 in our little state alone is really a worthless endeavor. Worse than worthless. It’s potentially damaging to our economy as well as our natural environment while providing nothing in return.

Meredith Angwin of Vermont’s Energy Education project calculated that in order to generate 90 percent of Vermont’s energy requirements from local, renewable sources, which is the goal, it would require developing as much as 700 miles of ridgeline, all on the scale of the Lowell wind project. Vermont is only 154 miles long, and only a fraction of that number is suitable for wind turbines.

Alternatively, we would have to cover an area one quarter the size of the Green Mountain National Forest with solar panels to achieve the same result. Driving through much of the state today and passing acres of unsightly panels where Woody Jackson’s cows used to graze it seems like we’re already approaching that mass, but, despite the perception, we’re not even close.

This kind of industrial development, essentially turning thousands of acres of our pristine landscape, pastures, ridgelines and wildlife habitats into power generation factories, will have a devastating environmental and aesthetic impact on Vermont. The artificially high costs of energy will drive away businesses and jobs. The damage to the landscape will repel tourists. And, even in the best case scenario, this policy will do nothing to solve the issue of global warming.

So, rather than plow forward with expensive and invasive policies we know won’t work, perhaps Montpelier might take a page from Google’s book: pull the plug for now, at least until a real solution has been identified. Our pristine landscape and the children who inherit it will thank you.

- Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Jonathan Falby January 29, 2015 at 6:02 pm

Rob,
No one is talking about taking carbon out of the atmosphere. Carbon is a cycle, it is emitted and sequestered. There is plenty of science backing landscape design, and agricultural design models that demonstrate the ability to pull large amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere. No where in any policy is there any consideration for sequestration. The attention is only on carbon emissions, ignoring the other half of the equation. A policy that involves sequestration could put the family farms and ranches on the front line of climate change. If our republican/libertarian/and progressives could come up with a platform to address climate change, it would need to be based in the idea that private property and land owners that sequester carbon are the key to addressing climate change. Having a climate change policy that is in line with party values will make the party relevant. The family ranches, and farms are a good place to start.

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James Greenidge January 29, 2015 at 11:13 pm

It’s so ironic that New England’s Yankee nukes all answered the green call in virtually every arena mentioned, yet suffers from a mad senseless fearful dash to shut them down. What sheer eco-hypocricy!

James Greenidge
Queens NY

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David Usher January 31, 2015 at 9:14 pm

Rob,
Thanks for this commentary, which was published in the Colchester Sun this week. In reading the underlying article by Koningstein and Fork

,

they make a good case for the point you build on to argue against Vermont’s futile and economically dangerous path to 90% of energy from renewables. However, they fail to even mention nuclear fission as a viable low carbon source of electricity. Puzzling!

Vermont’s vendetta against Vermont Yankee was a political approach to forcing renewables generation, which may stir voters’ emotions for green candidates, but will accomplish nothing for the planet, assuming people even believe James Hansen’s ‘350 model paper’

Meanwhile, China has dozens of fission units in operation, under construction and planned to begin to replace coal plants.

Thanks for continuing to expose the fallacy of tiny Vermont’s renewable energy thrust. It has more downside than upside for Vermont’s economy where most politicians are addicted to taxation and regulation to fix everything, even those issues far beyond their control.

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Jim Wiegand- Wildlife Biologist February 1, 2015 at 7:04 pm

Excellent post. Unfortunately our country’s Renewable Energy Policy is just one more scheme being used for the redistribution of wealth and this industry’s deadly turbines have put us on a fast track to species extinction.

In a world not run by crooks, the assets of the financial backers behind these wind projects (after your tax dollars) would be frozen until this massive fraud is thoroughly investigated and liabilities have been established. The truth is that the wind industry we know today exists only because we live of a culture of non accountability.

Not only are wind turbines worthless so are many of our leaders. This industry has lobbied for and been given voluntary regulations. Specific regulations and requirements with accountability would easily kill this industry overnight because it is has all been a shell game put over on the public.

This ongoing fraud goes back decades when science was put in the dumpster by the wind industry.

The most scientific study ever produced by the wind industry was conducted 3 decades ago. From this study forward the wind industry has been clearly rigging their research and quoting false data…………..”McCrary, M.D., R.L. McKernan, and R.W. Schreiber. 1986. San Gorgonio wind resource area: impacts of commercial wind turbine generators on birds, 1985 data report. Prepared for Southern California Edison Company. 33 pp”.

Using proper methodology for that time the McCrary study reported that the approximately 197 MW of wind turbines installed at the San Gorgonio wind resource area were killing an estimated 6800 birds per year. This was a fatality rate of approximately 34.4 fatalities per MW at San Gorgonio pass wind turbines.

Keeping in mind those fatality rates and using them for all of the 61,000 MW of installed wind energy today in the US, produces a turbine mortality estimate of 2,098,400 birds a year. This is a number nearly 12 ten times more than the bogus 2.9 per MW quoted by the AWEA.

But this 34.4 per MW estimate for America’s turbines is low because bird use patterns at the Desert region of the San Gorgonio pass wind turbines is lower than many other wind turbine locations. Many other areas have far greater kills rate per MW.

One example is a turbine located on the Lewes Campus in Delaware. Even though this study was rigged to conceal mortality, researchers still reported a kill rate of 41 birds and bats per MW.

For this study the huge turbine blades hung out over the dinky search area and the studies missed most of the carcasses. The search area for carcasses should have been about 200 meters in all directions around this turbine. Instead the search area was about 20 times too small and the area searched was directed away from the primary direction of carcass throw.

Researchers even witnessed blade strike fatalities that were launched way out beyond search areas, but it did not matter and these fatalities were not figured into the data. My estimates are that this one turbine was killing over 1200 birds and bats per year and the wind industry across North America is hiding over 90% of turbine related mortality with bogus studies like this one.

Unfortunately and for obvious reasons, the McCrary study was stripped off the internet years ago. But if one looks, references to it can still be found.

Today this industry uses a multitude of tricks to rig “their” so called research. Readers can learn about these fraudulent ways in these articles.. Dead Eagles: Buffet/Berkshire/PacifiCorp Don’t Want You to Know (Part 1 and 2) , “The voice of dead eagles”, “Exposing the wind industry genocide” and Hiding”Avian Mortality”: Where ‘Green’ is Red”.

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jim bulmer February 3, 2015 at 2:48 pm

Here is just one more example of these nut cases ignoring the opions of experts because knowledgable folks provide data which refutes their pie in the sky ideas.

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jim bulmer February 3, 2015 at 2:49 pm

Do these idiots have a clue? We’re not Arizona!

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