Community forum: The Little City sets the pace on renewable energy

This week’s writer is Anders Holm, a longstanding Addison County resident, a senior member of the surgical staff at Porter Hospital and a lifelong renewable energy advocate.
Vermont is at an impasse with regard to its energy future and looking for direction. Meanwhile our hopelessly outdated nuclear power plant is seemingly running as much on legal hot air as it is uranium. Legal games aside, there can be no question that the facility is a far cry from what Vermont deserves in terms of reliability and efficient use of a finite source of fuel. A debate also rages regarding the future of industrial wind and solar given the relatively unique siting challenges Vermont’s landscape presents. Given the inherent limitations of Vermont’s current sources of power and the rugged terrain we appear to be more than a little lost and we know we can do more.
As we search our souls perhaps wisdom lies right in front of us in our own “Little City.” Over the past two Vergennes has quietly but thoughtfully harnessed its own local resources to help protect itself from an increasingly tempestuous energy future. During that time it became home to a freshly restored hydroelectric facility, one of Vermont’s largest solar farms and a Vermont-made 100kW wind turbine. The additive output supplies the vast majority of power need by local homes and businesses from a responsibly blended spectrum of sources.
Each source has strengths and limitations and the intelligent combination allows for a relatively steady stream of renewable, emission-free power year round. In addition, producing power locally minimizes transmission losses, which can be substantial with long transmission lines. The power that is made is almost completely available for use and not squandered as it is moved from one location to another. Expensive transmission lines are essentially negated from the upfront cost of the project, increasing the fiscal viability both short-term and long-term.
Vermont has a long history of locally produced power. Many Vermont towns are strategically located. Many Vermont towns were unwilling to wait for the drawn-out rural electrification process to electrify their towns. They in turn decided to make their own electricity using their own resources. Despite having a reliable electricity supply currently Vergennes had the foresight to act preemptively rather than reflexively to uncertain future.
The discussions regarding Vermont’s overall plan are likely to lumber on for years to come in a tangled, expensive and embarrassing legal mess. Moratorium or not, mountaintop wind is getting a long hard look. Vintage nuclear facilities are increasingly showing their age and one significant nuclear event anywhere in America will almost assuredly jeopardize Vermont Yankee’s ability to continue to produce power for us.
Vermont’s own renewable energy rock star should serve as an example of old-school Vermont ingenuity and common sense in a time where they are desperately needed. Vermonters did it centuries ago; Vergennes Vermonters did it for the second time last year. Why not follow suit instead of sit back and passively wait? Vergennes proves without equivocation that it is possible.

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