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Anthony Iarrapino: Vermont needs to overcome its NIMBY notions

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This commentary is by Anthony Iarrapino of Montpelier, a lawyer with the Wilschek Iarrapino Law Office. While he represents renewable energy developers in the permitting process, the views presented here are his own.

I spent a decade in the early 2000s working on Lake Champlain cleanup. At that time, scientists predicted (with frightening accuracy) that increases in extremely warmer and wetter weather caused by climate change would cause more polluted runoff and more explosive growth of the toxic algae blooms fed by that runoff.

I realized then that securing clean water, along with many other aspects of our health, safety and economy, depends on a rapid transition to clean energy.

Though I am frustrated by how slow our political leaders have been to act, I still believe we can avert the worst of this crisis if we commit to actions that will dramatically reduce and eventually eliminate fossil fuel use. Vermont must do its part. Fortunately, there is plenty we can do in the name of self-preservation and environmental justice.

For me, as an environmental attorney, this has meant helping Vermont renewable energy businesses and host landowners lead the transformation away from polluting fossil fuels by developing homegrown, affordable, renewable clean-energy sources.

Making real progress will require us to increase energy efficiency while ensuring that the energy we must still use comes from truly renewable sources such as solar, wind and local hydropower.

Now, we need new state legislation to empower Vermonters to benefit from recent technological advances in renewables, coupled with federal Inflation Reduction Act incentives that have made solar and wind power, coupled with battery storage, more affordable than the dirty fossil fuels that provide most of the power flowing through our regional grid.

Before Vermont can realize its potential for a homegrown renewable energy renaissance, we must overcome the false “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) notion that scenic beauty, historic preservation, a tourist economy, and widespread deployment of solar and wind power cannot coexist. Other places near and far have proven the NIMBYs wrong. It’s time that our leaders adapt renewable energy regulation to this reality.

Our neighbors in Maine are among those who have shown how to harmonize renewable energy with New England’s landscape. Penobscot Bay is a beautiful part of the ocean dotted with offshore islands, including Vinalhaven Island. It is home to many year-round and summer residents and to those who work on the ocean.

It is also home to utility-scale wind turbines prominently visible from much of the busy bay coast. Thousands of tourists pay good money to stay in hotels and eat in restaurants whose viewshed includes the turbines. Many more sail out from nearby harbors into the bay and right by the wind turbines on historic sailing schooners that, like the turbines, harness the power of the wind.

Maine also has New England’s only national park — Acadia, one of the busiest in the country. From the summit of its highest peak, Cadillac Mountain, you have a breathtaking view of the park itself, the surrounding ocean, and interior Maine. The nearby 19-turbine Bull Hill wind farm is part of this viewshed too and does not deter tourists and locals alike from ascending the summit to enjoy the sights.

Meanwhile, on a project I worked for here in Vermont, NIMBY-friendly procedures and rulings by Vermont’s lead utility regulator made it impossible to construct a single utility-scale wind turbine in the middle of a large dairy farm cornfield.

Those same Vermont utility regulators rejected a solar project based on its alleged aesthetic impact, even though it was sited between a shopping center, a gas station, and an auto parts warehouse.

Vermonters have for a long time had the luxury of imposing much of our energy production pollution burdens on those who live in faraway places.

Our complicity in this environmental injustice is yet another reason to embrace clean, local renewable alternatives.

Most of the power flowing into Vermont through our regional energy grid comes from fossil-fuel natural gas. As a result, communities across our country have to live with the environmental devastation from the fracking process used to obtain this gas and with the leaky pipelines that transport gas through sensitive ecosystems.

And hundreds of thousands of people in Massachusetts and Connecticut, often in lower-income communities and communities of color, live near power plants and suffer from air pollution spewed by burning natural gas all so we can keep the lights on in Vermont. It's past time to end this injustice.

The good news is that Vermont has tremendous potential for homegrown renewable energy. It is now up to our elected leaders to align our energy policies with that potential before it is too late.

Read the story on VTDigger here: Anthony Iarrapino: Vermont needs to overcome its NIMBY notions .

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