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Renewable Energy

03/21/02 12:00AM By Ruth Page

Vermont isn't sitting around waiting for Washington to push for energy conservation and promote alternative energy sources. An energy bill (S.264) has already begun to move through the necessary Senate committees. The bill's aim is to encourage energy conservation, along with encouraging creation of more renewable, non-polluting energy sources.

One aim of the bill is to stimulate the Vermont economy, a boost we could clearly use in the state's current financial pinch. It would provide an expanded sales tax exemption for renewable systems. Incentive payments would help those who install such systems. Wider use of solar and wind-power will let us Vermonters breathe cleaner air and pour less greenhouse gas into Earth's atmosphere. We could also help reduce our country's dependence on foreign oil.

Vermont is ahead of the national government, which obviously doesn't consider conservation and alternative energy sources to be as important to America's future as most people do. Surveys have shown that some 60 percent of Americans consider these two steps worth taking and are willing to pay somewhat more for them.

The Vermont bill encourages "green pricing" that would allow customers to ask a utility that offers a renewable energy option to sell some of that "green energy" to them. Initially, green energy is likely to cost more for utilities to produce. However, as more and more power companies work with wind and solar, efficiency will improve and costs will go down.

Our New England states share power over common power lines, so it comes from a mix of sources and a mix of utilities. The electricity we buy combines the flow from these sources, so those of us who opt for "green" power will in effect be spending our money to help utilities expand their use of clean energy sources. Over time, we'll all have greener power.

While nuclear power is widely touted as being clean energy because it does not pollute air and water (though it warms a portion of any river it uses for cooling), most Americans don't consider it a sensible alternative to coal or oil. Nuclear power leaves behind spent fuel rods that are still radioactive, and despite years of study, they continue to be a storage problem.

The government has finally decided that the already constructed tunnels deep under Yucca Mountain in Nevada can be used, but the state's citizens object. Also, most of the other states don't want trains carrying fuel rods from widespread nuclear plants traveling through their landscape to Nevada, fearing an accident could unleash radioactive particles into their environment.

That may be understandable, but since current plants like Vermont's and the others around the country have no permanent, safe, places for storage, at some time all the spent rods will have to do some traveling to reach permanent storage.

This is Ruth Page, hoping Vermont can take a few steps toward putting more "green" energy sources into our power mix.

--Ruth Page is a writer and former editor of a weekly newspaper and a national gardening magazine.
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