Opinion: Vermont landscape being blanketed by solar projects
The Green Mountain Boys of Vermont are back and this 21st-century army of renewable energy soldiers is by all appearances fighting for nothing more than personal gain. With warp-speed competitive zeal this 1 percent band of investors, developers and manufacturers is very busy blanketing the landscape of Vermont with solar fields.
This conflict is about renewable energy and these Green Mountain Boys know they are unfettered in any regulatory or ideological capacity. Vermont has unleashed this solar oligarchy under the umbrella of a 2050 renewable energy plan. Debated as unrealistic, the 2050 goals never the less convey a critically important message. The public has embraced fighting climate change, reducing fossil fuel emissions and yes, converting to renewables. Boy, do they understand this and boy, do they exploit it for all it’s worth.
The kicker here is that the trust we place in our democratic institutions to inclusively and responsibly administer this goal has been corrupted by regulatory loopholes, incentivized decision-making, federal tax credits, taxpayer subsidies and huge, enormous profits. The complexity of this deal making is staggering and difficult for the public to fully comprehend.
The state has empowered the Public Service Board to rubber-stamp, with dictatorial authority, all of these projects while overriding any local zoning and development regulations that effectively apply to us, but not to them.
The devouring, the defacing of the Vermont landscape by these interests is tragic. The use of prime agricultural lands, wetlands and breathtaking view sheds for massive solar installations is so economically shortsighted and reckless that it demands accountability, politically and morally.
The Basin Harbor Club is the latest example of a family business seduced by the Green Mountain Boys; willing to sacrifice long held, public commitments to preserve the rural and agricultural landscape that is the drawing card for this Lake Champlain landmark.
The “small” 150-kilowatt solar array proposed for the Basin Harbor Club abuts shoreline homes and sits within 200 feet of Lake Champlain. Designated by the town as the shoreline district and theoretically protected by passage of the Shoreland Protection Act, this area is clearly defined as environmentally sensitive and restricted in development. The 25 AllEarth trackers will be sited near a massive compost heap and an overwhelming population of healthy, prodigiously defecating seagulls. Even more alarming, this solar array will be located 800 feet from the club’s small but active private airport.
The Basin Harbor Club has acknowledged this solar field is sited so their guests will not be exposed to “unsightly” solar panels, and the sole intention of this project is to provide tax credits for developer Mathew Rubin and leased land income for the Basin Harbor Club.
These “small 150-kilowatt projects are now being fast-tracked with a 30-day turnaround window and the neighbors know full well this project will predictably be rubber-stamped. This game is rigged. This game ignores our collective attachment to the natural world while enriching the solar energy oligarchs who seek every possible tax credit and kilowatt gumdrop available.
While many “economic royalists” conflate capitalism with a form of governance, the people of Vermont have stubbornly held on to the fundamental precepts of a functioning democracy, demonstrating that local control has worked pretty well; until now.
Historian Dan Sisson suggests this country is pregnant with revolution: Vermonters should consider giving birth to the urgency of fighting back, demonstrating a collective resistance to an egregious abuse of the public trust.
Gov. Shumlin needs to put a halt to this wholesale exercise of unchecked power, establish a collaborative and respectful process for site review, and abandon political objectives that are causing great harm and pain for many Vermonters.
Because in the end, the example set by Vermont will only serve to discourage other states from implementing policies to address climate change. By opening their doors to the Green Mountain Boys they risk the vast degradation of the landscape, they risk disabusing citizens of their rights to oppose unchecked development and ultimately they risk leaving behind a population, a generation of disillusioned well-meaning citizen activists who now understand that science and saving the planet is no match for the greed and power of those who take the money and run.
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