Vermont's Energy Future

One thing is certain when it comes to developing an energy policy: we must reduce our dependency on oil and other fossil fuels. The reasons for doing so are global climate change, which is directly linked to the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, and "peak oil", which means that the amount of oil available worldwide has reached a maximum and will only decline in the future. Additional oil may be available through alternative means of extraction; however, those processes are more costly and will surely drive up the price of oil as well as have a greater adverse impact on the environment.

As if to underscore this last point, the massive oil pollution of the Gulf of Mexico demonstrates the risks of relying on "safe" processes that only need to fail once to have a devastating negative impact!  The sooner we reduce our dependence on petroleum, the quicker we will take our country and its economy into a cleaner, safer future.

In terms of global energy consumption, Vermont is a very small piece of the puzzle. But we can have an influence greater than our size by becoming a leader in efficient, sustainable energy use. The areas where we should concentrate our efforts are
  • Improved conservation - the least expensive energy is the energy we don't use. We need to continue to support programs like Efficiency Vermont that helps homeowners and businesses reduce their energy consumption.
  • Wind - Our atmosphere itself is a great source of energy. Proper siting of wind generators so as to have minimal impact on our signature landscape is a small price to pay for the amount of energy we can generate via wind. Of course, wind can only be part of the energy equation, but it can play a significant part.
  • Solar - Solar hot water systems are one of the least expensive means of making use of the sun's endless supply of energy for homeowners.  Advances in photovoltaic systems is also making them more affordable both at the residential level and as power generation installations like the solar array generating electricity in Hinesburg.  Federal and state tax credits for these systems should be continued to encourage further use of these clean energy generation technologies.
  • Hydro power - Vermont has significant in-state hydroelectric generation, but our biggest source is our contract with Hydro Quebec. This contract will be coming up for renewal and Vermont should partner with New Hampshire and Maine to obtain the best rate possible. We should also look into negotiating the purchase of the hydroelectric dams on the Connecticut River that the Douglas administration let slip from our hands several years ago.
  • Geothermal Systems - This is a viable distributed energy resource even in Vermont.  Geothermal heating and cooling systems use the consistent temperature of the earth to provide heating, cooling, and hot water for both residential and commercial buildings. Water is circulated through polyethelene pipes in closed loops that are installed below the earth's surface.  At this time geothermal systems are not included in Vermont's alternative energy tax incentives.  I will support their inclusion if elected. (More>>)
  • Bio-fuels - Vermont has large sustainable sources of renewable bio-fuels such as wood. We should encourage the use of efficient wood-burning for heating purposes as well as power generation. The energy tax credits and the rebate programs sponsored by the state are examples of the support we need to give to this energy alternative.
  • Vermont Yankee - The question of whether or not to renew the operating license for the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant will probably be resolved during the 2010 legislative session. Given current circumstances, I would favor denial of the license renewal. The problem that I see in terms of both the reliability and the safety of VY is that our choices for renewing the license are limited to 0 or 20 years and nothing between. If we could approve the license renewal in 5 year increments, I would be more favorable. In the long run, however, there are other problems with the continued operation of VY.  One is the question of the long-term storage of the nuclear waste which now sits on the banks of the Connecticut River in dry cask containment units. There is no current nor forseeable plan to relocate this material which will remain radioactive for tens of thousands of years. Why add to it? Furthermore, while VY is a relatively inexpensive source of electricity for Vermont at this time, the rate proposal its parent company, Entergy, is offering does not seem to be a good deal in the eyes of neither the legislature nor the state's electric utilities, GMP and CVPS. Finally, the proposed spinoff of VY and 4 other out-of-state nuclear power plants by Entergy into a new company could jeopardize the ability of VY to fully fund the decomissioning of the plant or to pay for any possible future environmental damage caused by a plant failure.  In my opinion, the negatives outweigh the positives on this issue.  The Oil spill disaster in the Gulf should also remind us that all it takes is one major failure to create a nuclear environmental disaster at this aging plant.

The bottom line is that we must support initiatives to take advantage of renewable and alternative energy sources to power Vermont's future.