In a recent op-ed, “Destroy Vermont to save it,” Sen. Joe Benning, the Republican minority leader, demonstrates a dangerously backward ideology that is inclined to try to save Vermont by simply destroying it.
And here’s why: Benning has a fixation on how Vermont has been, where almost every dollar we spend on energy is exported out of state, where we pass the buck of our carbon addiction on to future generations, and where we fail to incubate the local jobs necessary to actually employ our people. Pretty bad policies, right?
Now picture a different Vermont, where people are employed in clean technologies, like those at NSA Industries in St. Johnsbury or Engineers Construction Inc. in Williston or Grennon’s Solderworks in Bristol or PCM Precision in Springfield. Picture homes, businesses, and public buildings powered by solar, on their roofs and in their backyards, and wind farms majestically and quietly powering our state.
Picture our working landscape of cows and crops intermixed with solar electricity. That’s a picture of progress, of true Yankee frugality and ingenuity. That is a state I will be proud of, and one where I want my children’s children to live.
As a native Vermonter, born, educated and building businesses here who first started tinkering with wind energy on my sugarhouse, I think about how in our state’s proud history we didn’t cling to the past to make decisions about our future. We let past industries go, we welcomed electricity and the Interstate system, and we looked out for what was right.
Fact is, Vermont exports nearly $3 billion in energy costs each and every year. We could continue sending our hard-earned money out of state, or we could keep those dollars here and save everyone money. We could also be better insulated from the rate shocks we’ve seen from California to Massachusetts resulting from over-reliance on out-of-state or volatile fossil fuel sources.
Fact is, Vermont’s clean energy sector is one of the fastest growing job-creating sectors in our state, employing more than 16,000 Vermonters. In Vermont, the solar industry grew by over 21 percent last year, the same industry that nationwide is creating jobs at a rate 10 times faster than the economy at large. Apparently, some would prefer to let this growing tech sector pass our state by, and the jobs and businesses that go along with it. I’m proud to have created two Vermont manufacturing businesses centered around renewable energy technology that have employed hundreds.
Fact is, solar developed around unproductive or unused farmland is the perfect complement to our agricultural landscape, preserving this open space for a lifetime of productivity. Farmers around the state are welcoming the opportunity to host solar arrays to keep their farms afloat and their land open.
Fact is, the approximately 10 square miles we need to meet current electric demands in solar represent less than 0.17 of 1 percent of our land. Think about the farmers, landowners, and towns that benefit from hosting these arrays that silently produce energy for our local economy’s consumption. We need rooftop solar, everywhere, but all our viable roofs will only produce 4 percent of the energy we need.
As Vermonters, we don’t shirk away from big challenges. Nor do we send our problems elsewhere for others to deal with. That’s exactly what’s at stake here. By not confronting our own energy challenges is we will continue to rely on other states for our energy solutions and continue to write IOUs to our children and grandchildren for the effects of our addiction to spewing carbon. That’s simply not the Vermont way.
I’ll admit, this isn’t going to be easy. And the renewable energy industry needs to be good Vermont corporate citizens as well, listening to the concerns of communities and neighbors, working with all parties to see that projects are built in the best way possible, and finding ways to ensure real local benefits for landowners, towns, and the public good at large.
None of us, Senator Benning included, can in good conscience fill up our car with fossil fuels or flick on the light switch without thinking about whether we are truly doing our part and, most importantly, whether we are building a future Vermont as bright as our past.