Activists concerned about ridge line wind development descended on the Statehouse Thursday to make their case for a three year moratorium on the projects.
The moratorium has some support in the state Senate. But its prospects in the House are much less certain.
The rally against large-scale wind came a day after global warming activist Bill McKibben lectured at the Vermont House. McKibben said Vermont and the planet can’t afford to have a time out on carbon-free power projects.
"We need to be doing all we can on every front and with real purchase and dispatch," McKibben told a packed House.
But opponents, such as Caledonia Senator Joe Benning, seemed determined not to let McKibben have the last word.
"I am very much looking forward to what you are about to hear," Benning told the anti-wind rally. "Because what you are about to hear is the twirling sound of David with his sling approaching Goliath."
Following Benning to the microphones was a wind project neighbor who complained about health impacts from turbine noise, and local officials who said wind developers often ignore the wishes of local towns.
Lisa Wright Garcia is from Rutland County, where Reunion Energy has looked at erecting wind turbines on the Grandpa’s Knob ridgeline.
"I’ve long considered myself an environmentalist. And I have to take issue with the environmentalists who are jumping on the bandwagon of this as the magic bullet to fix global warming," she said. "They’re looking at things in a very black and white way. They’re not giving this the scrutiny it needs to have."
A detailed environmental perspective came from Steve Young, a biologist from Wolcott and a founder of the Center for Northern Studies. Young told a Senate committee earlier in the day that he’s spent four decades studying the long term impacts of climate change. Young said he’s not opposed to large-scale wind. But he said the mountain ridgelines targeted by developers in Vermont are largely intact ecosystems that should be protected, not damaged by road-building and habitat loss.
"The damage is physical in terms of geological and hydrologic effects. It’s biological in that it destroys critical habitat and migration routes," he said. "And it’s aesthetic and cultural, not least in that it has caused deep divisions in the environmental community. These divisions play directly into the hands of corporate interests whose roots are outside Vermont."
Mainstream Vermont environmental groups are opposed to the moratorium.
So is Renewable Energy Vermont, the trade association for the industry. Executive Director Gabrielle Stebbins said a moratorium will send a message to developers and investors that Vermont does not want their business. And Stebbins characterized the opposition as a vocal minority.
"It is not the bulk of Vermonters. It is under a thousand Vermonters," she said. "Not that that doesn’t matter. It does matter. But the important thing is the interest of the broader public good, which is how we do energy in our state."
While there’s support in the Senate for the moratorium, leaders in the House are skeptical. East Montpelier Democrat Tony Klein chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He said he’s open to discussing the issues behind the moratorium proposal.
"But to just say stop the music for three years, it doesn’t make sense to me," he said.
The anti-big wind group Energize Vermont also released its own plan for renewable energy development. It calls for more reliance on both in-state and out of state hydro power.