Land Greens vs. Energy Greens—Vermont Edition


Less nuclear more of these - trade-offs are a bitch.

Three years ago with some schadenfreudesque amusement I reported that a conflict is brewing between the energy and conservation wings of the environmentalist movement. A wonderful example of this looming fight among Greens was highlighted by a cri de coeur op/ed in last Sunday's New York Times by Steve Wright, a former commissioner of Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. In his op/ed Wright denounces the building of a new wind farm on top of Vermont's mountain ridges: 

BULLDOZERS arrived a couple of weeks ago at the base of the nearby Lowell Mountains and began clawing their way through the forest to the ridgeline, where Green Mountain Power plans to erect 21 wind turbines, each rising to 459 feet from the ground to the tip of the blades.

This desecration, in the name of "green" energy, is taking place in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom on one of the largest tracts of private wild land in the state. Here and in other places — in Maine and off Cape Cod, for instance — the allure of wind power threatens to destroy environmentally sensitive landscapes….

It requires changing the profile of the ridgeline to provide access to cranes and service vehicles. This is being accomplished with approximately 700,000 pounds of explosives that will reduce parts of the mountaintops to rubble that will be used to build the access roads….

This project will set an ominous precedent by ripping apart a healthy, intact ecosystem in the guise of doing something about climate change. In return, Green Mountain Power will receive $44 million in federal production tax credits over 10 years.

The wind turbines that will soon decorate the Green Mountains are, in part, a result of a legislative mandate that Vermont get 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2017. As it happens, Vermont legislators last year also voted to outlaw a significant source of no-carbon climate-friendly energy that already supplies more than one-third of the state's electricty—the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. The plant's operators have sued to keep the plant open and are still seeking permission from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to operate the plant for another 20 years. 

Wright concludes that building the wind turbines…

…represents a profound failure to understand the value of our landscape to our souls and our economic future in Vermont.

Note that the landscape that Wright wants to protect is new in this century. As Vermont's farms have been abandoned over the past century, its forests have been expanding. As a 2011 history [PDF] of America's forest notes:

…in the 1850s, only about 35 percent of Vermont was forest, with the remainder primarily crops and pasture. Seventy-eight percent of the state had become forest by 2007.

In any case, does Wright come out in favor of keeping the nuclear plant open? Nope. That's part of the problem with a lot of enviromentalist thinking—they fail to understand that every choice involves trade-offs. One cannot have all "good" things simultaneously, e.g., renewable energy and tree-covered mountain ridges.