The latest government report on climate change makes clear that Vermont and the rest of the nation are already feeling the effects of the warming planet. Vermonters who remember Tropical Storm Irene are well aware of it.
One consequence is the effort taking place on many fronts to adopt technologies that will diminish the harm from climate change in the future. Thus, we are seeing the rapid proliferation of renewable energy projects, including numerous solar installations throughout the state. Perhaps inevitably, the rush to construct solar installations has been met with mounting resistance from residents who view them as a commercial or industrial use inappropriate for agricultural or residential areas.
This concern is compounded by the fact that local bodies — select boards, planning commissions, even district environmental commissions — do not have a role in approving or disapproving power projects. That is the job of the state Public Service Board, a fact that leaves some local communities feeling that they lack a voice on important decisions related to the landscape.
Several projects around Vermont have raised concern. The Planning Commission in Sudbury, for example, has written to the Public Service Board opposing two separate projects proposed for its town. Sudbury is a rural town of lovely farms and a small central village. Placement of solar panels for a two-megawatt project and for a 500-kilowatt project would be inappropriate on productive farmland or near a residential district, according to the commission. The commission also said the projects would provide no financial benefit to the town of Sudbury.
Residents in Rutland Town have expressed similar concerns about a project proposed for an open field there. Meanwhile, the Board of Aldermen in Rutland City will consider establishing guidelines for new energy projects. This action follows the push by Green Mountain Power to establish the city as the solar capital of the region. With solar projects popping up all over the city, that goal is within reach.
Montpelier also is looking at solar projects, aong with smaller towns like Plainfield and Marshfield.
The latest U.S. government report gives added momentum to the push toward renewable energy. Any kilowatt of electricity that is generated from the power of the sun is a kilowatt that does not have to be generated by fossil fuel. And the new report underscores the importance of curbing the consumption of fossil fuel.
The pattern has already established itself. Droughts are more persistent and severe in the Southwest. Rain and snow are heavier in the East. Heat waves are longer, hotter and more dangerous.
Some parts of the nation are immediately imperiled. Coastal regions are suffering, as in Alaska where the lack of sea ice leaves villages on the coast unprotected from the ocean, and as in Virginia where flood waters in some places are high and persistent.
The connection between a farm field in Sudbury and the flooding of a coastal village in Alaska may seem remote, but it’s not. More and more people are seeing the connection, which creates a policy imperative that weighs heavily in the balance between local and global concerns.
At the same time, it is important to recognize that the solar energy sector is only now beginning to mature. It will be counterproductive to pursue renewable energy heedlessly, provoking opposition unnecessarily and making the job of developing new energy sources more difficult. Thus, it is useful and appropriate for the aldermen to consider policy guidelines relating to energy projects, as long as they do so in the right spirit. It must be a spirit that recognizes the underlying motive for a transformation of the energy sector away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy. We can’t wait for others to act. It is a human imperative, affecting people all around the globe, from the lowlands of Bangladesh to the river valleys of all those towns in Vermont that remember the floods of 2011.MORE IN Editorials
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