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Slayton: Lessons from Lowell

01/11/12 7:55AM By Tom Slayton
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(Host) Commentator Tom Slayton has been thinking about how the controversy over Green Mountain Power’s plans to build a series of industrial-sized wind towers along the summit of the Lowell Mountains has sharply divided the Vermont environmental community.

(Slayton) It’s ironic. Big Wind projects in Vermont pit environmentalists who want to do everything possible to slow global climate change against environmentalists who love Vermont’s mountains. Mountain tops are where the wind blows most reliably, but such places are also the signature of the state, a part of every Vermonter’s aesthetic heritage. And in the Lowell Range that’s precisely where 20-plus wind towers will be – strung out along the summit.

It’s pretty obvious that industrial-scale wind power is different from backyard windmills. These babies are really big – more than 400 feet tall. That’s taller than the Bennington Monument! It takes big roads and a lot of blasting to get these enormous towers up the mountain and erected. As a result, the top of the Lowell Range has been stripped and blasted into something that resembles a barren moonscape.

A small but determined group of protesters camping on the mountain has brought this issue to the forefront of Vermont’s consciousness. The protestors David-versus-Goliath stance, coupled with the arrest last month of newspaperman Chris Braithewaite as he tried to cover the confrontation, has given Green Mountain Power an ongoing public relations nightmare.

And there’s a continuing debate over whether these big towers will actually generate enough electricity to make any real difference to our warming planet. The pro-wind people, using their numbers, can “prove” that the towers will reduce global warming, while the opponents can use their numbers to “prove” that the towers are a meaningless zero-sum exercise.

But regardless of who turns out to be right regarding the viability and capacity of these towers, what has been done to the Lowell Mountains is sad and unfortunate.

The irony of fighting global warming by destroying an untrammeled mountaintop can’t be ignored. To me, it sounds suspiciously like the Vietnam-era fallacy that you have to destroy the village in order to save it.

The fact is that all sources of electric power, including alternative sources, have an impact. Consequently, if we use electric power, we must make choices. We need a more thoughtful way to make those choices when mountaintops are involved.

Vermont’s mountain summits are too precious a resource to be made a pawn in the alternative energy game.
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