Monday, January 6, 2014

Mary Brenner Gets Mad---About Vermont's "Energy Plan"

The Department of Energy has effectively shot itself in the foot with the State Energy Plan. Did your analysts really consider the consequences of some of its policies? 
The subsidies for wind and solar installations have gone to the large, mostly out-of-state profit driven carpetbaggers who have built huge installations simply to garner the subsidy. Unintended consequences are destruction of Vermont’s mountain tops, largely ineffective projects, small poor rural areas disproportionately affected by negative impacts; negative environmental impacts; and all the energy and profits going south. The individual homeowners and public facilities do not get the tax breaks, the large companies do. 

Net metering cap has blunted any effect the original idea of net metering had. The cap enriches the utilities while discouraging individual homeowners. The impact of the inconsistency has been detrimental to the new struggling Vermont companies that do home installations of solar and wind.

The support for importing natural gas shows a basic confusion about ‘green energy’. Yes natural gas is cheaper and cleaner than oil, but it is still a fossil fuel and depletes the energy reserve somewhere. Likewise the transformation of wood burning to wood pellets to save on use of fossil fuel of living trees only expanded the market for wood,,,, and profits for stove manufacturers. The wood pellets do not produce that much less environmental pollution.... and contribute to wholesale deforestation or at least de-stabilization of existing woodlands by encouraging harvesting above preservation.

The de-commissioning of Vermont Yankee has been the only bright light this year. Not due to the Department of Energy. The state needs a policy of nuclear energy ban until or unless someone comes up with a better idea of how to use nuclear energy without creating tons of radiated nuclear waste with a half-life beyond anything we can imagine. Permanently poisoning the earth is not a good trade off for energy.

And the biggest disaster of all is allowing tar-sands oil to cross Vermont. The tar-sands oil is too expensive environmentally to be even considered as an energy source for anyone.

The very idea of energy as a utility has been upended. A utility provides a needed service to the public. Energy is necessary for survival (if we are to avoid going back to pre-industrial life). A certain amount of energy is need for each individual to have light, heat, cooking facilities, communications, transportation, security. But the idea that everyone should pay the same for such energy is inconsistent with our social reality. Not everyone can afford to pay the same. So why is pricing not income sensitive? Not everyone uses the same amount of energy. Why haven’t we considered taxation on energy use above the level of necessity? Why haven’t we really talked about heavier taxation of recreational use of energy? We may eventually have to consider rationing anyway. 

Energy conservation measures seem hit or miss. An overhaul of the system of support, inducements and consistency of conservation programs is needed. Persons living on low income cannot take advantage of tax write-offs for home energy conservation improvements. For many on social security, there is no money available for caulking, weatherization, or other energy saving measures. 

Reliance on technological measures to regulate energy use is a cute gimmick for the rich to make them feel good about all their energy gobbling appliances. Real conservation is a mind set as much as anything else. Yes it is unamerican to say you cannot spend your money on snow-mobiles, Christmas lights, gas-guzzling automobiles. But is also unamerican to leave some of us out in the cold. The availability of energy from all sources may be limited. The pool of fossil fuels is not expanding. The ability of the environment to absorb heat and fossil fuel pollution is limited and we have well gone beyond that limit. Climate change is real. Our response to that so far has been disaster relieve! Life style change is considered untouchable. Public policy must prepare us to make the inevitable changes we face as a society.

January 6, 2014

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