Opinion: Green energy project impacts should be shared

As yesterday’s article in the Rutland Herald demonstrated, a major issue in achieving Vermont’s goal of producing 90 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2050 is how to balance what has been determined to be the public good with the democratic character of our society.
Democracy as we know it sprang from townships in the colonies, and grew into the representative form of government we have today. It is painful to see local town governments and the respect for the rights of its residents be subjected to authoritarian power as exercised by the Public Service Board which gained its authority by way of legislation poorly conceived in Montpelier by a Legislature leveraging the tyranny of the majority.
Most Vermonters care deeply about the environment and in my view should be supportive of the drive towards non-carbon-based renewable sources of energy.
Those of us living here have a unique social contract with each other and the land we live on, which in part determines where and how we live and relate to our neighbors. That is why we have town plans and local zoning ordinances. Without these mutually agreed upon and generally accepted rules of behavior and governance, individuals living in a residential area, or in an area zoned for agriculture, would find their local environment and property values in constant jeopardy due to the possibility that a neighbor would build a factory or some other commercial enterprise next to them.
That’s why we have zoning laws. Without them, one person’s profit motive can destroy the lifestyle, environment and property values of his or her neighbors. Without regulation, this behavior tears at the social fabric of a community and sows disharmony among its citizens. Peace and comity are extremely valuable public goods, and that’s why we have local zoning ordinances.
The solution to achieving our public good is not going to be found by an insensitive PSB in concert with private solar developers overriding local zoning laws and beating towns into submission. That is a recipe for a very nasty and unnecessary battle. An article in today’s Rutland Herald covers a very large power project, the $1.2 billion New England Clean Power Link, where the developer TDI New England appears to be working very hard with local governments to meet the needs of individual communities. This level of cooperation is missing with some arrogant developers wishing to develop solar installations knowing that the PSB has their back.
A solution could be found in legislation that changes the relationship between the PSB, local communities and private developers from the current exercise of arbitrary power to one of cooperative effort. Just as the cost of climate change is borne by virtually all Vermont citizens, the costs of implementing the public good of renewable energy should also be fairly and evenly distributed among residents of the state.
That might suggest that the Legislature require each town and city in Vermont be responsible for producing its share of renewable energy. That would properly resolve the NIMBY issue at a town by town level, and let local governments deal with micro-level not-in-my-backyard situations, which might provide a process whereby private developers, landowners and local governments would peaceably find the most amenable solution for siting solar or wind installations.
What is going on in our town of New Haven is an egregious example of an unfair distribution of the costs of attaining the renewables’ social good. Addison County accounts for 5.8 percent of the state’s population and yet it accounts for 28 percent of the solar projects listed on Speed Proposals in May of this year. Out of 18 projects four of them are in New Haven (pop. 1,800).
Contrast that to Chittenden County that has 25 percent of the state’s population and has 11 percent of the solar projects. That cannot seem right to any fair-minded legislator, so I challenge the Legislature to come up with an equitable solution to the problem they have created.
Peter Rothschild
New Haven

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