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Opinion: Are solar farms really paying off?

In his Nov. 19 editorial, Mr. Lynn describes very well the environmentalist’s paradox and the challenge facing Vermont. There has to be a thoughtful balance between utilization and preservation of the environment. Having not been in Vermont for many months, my first trip down Route 7 was nothing short of shocking. Solar farms were popping up like dandelions in the spring.
Even more shocking was the level of activity prior to the winter months when there is nearly no return on investment due to short days and snowfall covering the panels. One cannot help but wonder if the actual production of electricity is the driving force behind the farms as they fall well outside standard capitalist teachings of investment.
Anyone taking a business seriously would not deploy capital on a large scale at a time when it would be months before income would be generated. Even in the best of circumstances solar power generates electricity a fraction of the time and during the winter generation is minuscule. Taxpayers and ratepayers are making up the difference with subsidies while the farms sit under a blanket of snow and ice.
I was equally as shocked on a trip to Maui, which has high solar potential. Despite this, hardly a panel is to be found. Instead there is a massive wind farm in the view of one of the most iconic surfing beaches in the world. Locals believe it was surreptitiously built by the oil industry to mar the reputation of renewable energy. The outrage the farm has generated has nearly halted any further development, which may not be in the best interest.
Mr. Lynn is right on that overzealous and thoughtless placement of farms now may hinder development in the future. I love renewable energy and have had solar panels since 1987; however, I love Vermont and the unique character it offers local and visitors. As a former local and a current visitor, concern is growing.
There is plenty of data available to do an audit of how much energy benefit Vermonters are actually deriving from the farms but this seems to be absent from discussions. Broad statements of altruism seem to suffice. That needs to change immediately for towns to be able to accurately assess if the impact is worth the benefit and a vote made based on facts, not dogma.
The environmentalist’s paradox is out of balance. A trip from Burlington to Middlebury on Route 7 will leave no doubt. A trip to Maui will too.
Anders Holm, Dousman, Wis.

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