Opinion: Use Act 250 for energy projects

The guest editorial posted Jan. 28, 2016, “Give Vermonters a voice in siting solar and wind projects,” by Emerson Lynn of the St. Albans Messenger, identified some of the reasons why Vermonters see this rapid solar energy expansion with a good deal of skepticism. Trust would be restored in part if legislators recognized the public’s desire to follow the full Act 250 process.
Some unanswered concerns that come to mind:
First, our rural landscape has become sacrificial zones created by the Vermont Public Service Board. A board with no academic expertise in the solar technology they are widely disseminating.
Second, as a recent Addison Independent article identified, Green Mountain Power has all but maxed out their infrastructure to connect to industrial solar arrays on Addison County’s plains. A simple look at the GMP Circuit Rating map, www.greenmountainpower.com/innovative/solar/solar-map, brings home the fact that Addison County has been subjected to a disproportionate adverse impact of solar proliferation. Compared with other Vermont counties this rings loudly of issues concerning environmental justice.
Third, there is an increased risk of solar array involving fires in agricultural fields with limited fire services. Our farm areas with limited water infrastructure must rely on dry hydrant availability.
Fourth, there are adverse health effects of electrical, visual pollution, and toxic materials that solar arrays bring to a site. Example: a 5-megawatt solar array mounted over 40 acres of agricultural land using cadmium telluride technology contains as much as two tons of cadmium, a carcinogen.
Fifth,the Public Service Board’s overriding decisions for developers most often usurps long-term community plans, zoning and vision.
Sixth, the appointed, not elected, Public Service Board supports unjustified bias of so-called “green” energy over communities.
Seventh, the Vermont Attorney General has officially cautioned developers/owners who sell their renewable energy credits to other entities, to the extent that they cannot claim the array energy as renewable. It is merely solar. (See http://ago.vermont.gov/focus/news/state-advises-solar-companies-about-de….)
Eighth, Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan (CEP) 2015 (http://publicservice.vermont.gov/publications-resources/publications/ene…) inadequately addresses hazards to firefighters trying to extinguish house fires in homes containing rooftop solar. Prevention of health issues from toxic fumes and hazards of electrocution are left as a town financial responsibility. The PSB takes installation approval authority away from communities and local fire departments.
Ninth, the CEP is also silent on the issue of safe environmental disposal of toxic panel materials. Most panels are China-manufactured with a warranty period of 10 to 12 years, or half the 20-plus years (so-called use period) developers claim in their marketing strategies.
Tenth, the Public Service Department’s CEP touches briefly on energy storage, knowing full well that the intermittent nature of wind and solar energy taken to the nth degree will require energy storage for the non-generating hours, about 16 hours each day. So we better all be ready for the next shoe to drop. The PSB will next be permitting locations within our communities for energy storage, either electro-chemical batteries as big as buildings or individual large batteries inside our homes, both of which have insufficient long-term data on longevity and safety.
The more the Public Service Department and the PSB ignore community input and full allowance of the Act 250 process, the more we will see our freedoms going the way of the past under the guise of “the public good.”
Charles Kelly

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