• Curbing greenhouse gas
    December 28,2013

    Readers of The Times Argus recently learned that “Vermont has fallen well short of its first major goal in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” The news came in a report from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources and states that greenhouse gas emissions are now about where they were in 1990, despite legislation passed in 2006 and efforts to curb carbon pollution.

    Deb Markowitz, head of the ANR, stated, “We will need to redouble our efforts if we are to achieve the (GHG) emission reduction goals we have set …” She adds that nearly half of Vermont GHG emissions come from the transportation sector. To address the shortfall, Ms. Markowitz offers that vehicle emissions will be reduced “as vehicles powered by electricity grow in popularity and as more electricity comes from renewable sources.”

    Other important factors that will contribute to curbing GHG include using less heating fuel and warmer winters. We will defer on the question of how exactly the ANR will address the latter. However, the other factors, namely vehicle traffic and heating fuel and their role in the GHG equation, invite comment.

    We view the first, the “transportation sector,” as posing some intractable obstacles as it relates to Vermont achieving our GHG goals. Is it really likely as the ANR hopes that the typical Vermonter will buy an electric car the present ranges of which are 40 to 70 miles on average — depending on make and model, weather, speed and terrain? When and if battery capacity and technology improve, will a critical mass of Vermonters be able to afford electric cars and the supercharging capacity we will need in our garages and offices? And what about light trucks so important and so common in our state? What about “family-sized” vehicles, utility vehicles, heavy trucks for business and industry, and heavy equipment? What about logging trucks and equipment so essential to our state? And farm vehicles? We would offer that as economic development progresses, Vermont’s transport sector might go in the exact opposite direction of what are now mainly smaller electric passenger vehicles.

    Even in an unlikely electric car future, where will the electricity come from? We submit that some sources are renewable but others that have masqueraded as renewable and sustainable are not. Wind, solar, hydro, geothermal and tidal energy are renewable. But wood biomass is one that is not. In planning Vermont’s energy future we need to be precise about what is renewable and what is not if this term is being held out as the holy grail.

    As for renewability, the length of time that it takes for hardwoods to return to Vermont forests calls into question the very term “renewable” as it applies to whole tree harvesting and at the rate required for two and perhaps even a third biomass plant. Most important with regard to biomass, however, is the fact that biomass undermines the state effort to curb GHG because wood biomass produces as much carbon and GHG pollution as do coal-fired plants.

    If the ANR is sincere about curbing greenhouse gas, it needs to make good on its promise. It can do so by taking a clear and explicit position in opposition to the proposal to build a biomass electric power plant in North Springfield.

    The North Springfield plant, by the developer’s own facts and figures, will produce 448,000 tons of greenhouse gas each year, for 50 years that the plant is projected to operate. Four hundred and forty-eight thousand tons of GHG amounts to the GHG produced by 91,000 cars on Vermont’s roadways. And the above pollution does not include the emissions from the harvesting equipment, the tractor-trailer transport vehicles and processing the wood. Will the harvesting equipment, transport trucks, processing equipment and yard vehicles at the proposed plant consist of electric vehicles?

    The ANR is the steward of our natural resources. It cannot, in good faith, on one hand profess concern for curbing greenhouse gas and advocate for clean vehicles and renewable energy, while at the same time turning a blind eye to archaic wood biomass electricity power and the ill-conceived development of a wood biomass plant in North Springfield.

    Gayle and Mike Morabito live in North Springfield. The commentary was signed by 20 others.

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