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Jesse McDougall: Why I oppose massive solar power plants on Vermont hillsides

By Opinion,

2023-03-15

This commentary is by Jesse McDougall, an author, regenerative farmer and Savory Institute Hub Leader at Studio Hill in Shaftsbury.

I started farming in Vermont in 2012, when I was lucky enough to marry into a wonderful family and their fifth-generation farm in Shaftsbury. In the years that I've been farming, I have come to understand and appreciate the power and wisdom of the natural world. And as a result, I've dedicated my life to combating and reversing climate change.

Therefore, I strongly oppose the massive solar power plants that are beginning to blanket Vermont hillsides.

Climate change is not an energy problem. Climate change is the result of a broken carbon cycle. Yes, we're spewing too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from carbon-based energy sources. But what's too often neglected — because it has no shiny technological solution — is that the reductionist management of our landscapes has left one-third of the Earth's land mass degraded and unable to capture and store atmospheric carbon.

Currently, scientists tell us that atmospheric carbon levels are over 420 parts per million. That's already high enough that if we succeeded in dropping carbon emissions to zero tomorrow, but did nothing else, the Earth and all of us on it will experience runaway climate change.

The atmosphere is suffering from too much carbon. The oceans are suffering from too much carbon. And most of the soils on Earth are starving for it. The only hope we have to slow, stop, or reverse climate change is to protect and expand the green and growing ecosystems on Earth that naturally and efficiently pull carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soil — where it is desperately needed and wildly beneficial.

The green and growing ecosystems in Vermont grow more precious every day. They've been evolving for billions of years to make maximum use of the sunlight that falls upon them. The idea that the Earth would benefit from us clearcutting forests and scraping off topsoils to replace them with our own inefficient and nascent sunlight-collecting technology is the height of our hubris.

We need to protect, expand and strengthen our green and growing ecosystems — and the biodiversity contained within — at all costs.

The Vermont Legislature is understandably panicking about climate change, but panic does not lend itself to good decisions. They've grasped at the first handhold they could find, and in doing so, they've incentivized the destruction of our farms and forests and opened the door for giant corporations to lead and profit from the effort.

There is a smart way to roll out solar power production in Vermont, a way that does not incentivize the replacement of family farms, does not create neighbor-on-neighbor warfare, and does not require the destruction of the landscapes that make Vermont special. But, the smart way requires patience, planning, and consideration of context — none of which are easy to do while panicking.

This widespread solar-land-grab-at-all-costs does not combat climate change. It further degrades the Earth's ability to capture and store carbon, and makes already rich out-of-state corporations richer — while pushing out the Vermonters who have been earning a living on, and caring for, these natural landscapes for generations.

I propose a statewide moratorium on the development of any solar projects larger than 5 megawatts until we can craft a responsible statewide energy development plan that would protect our not-yet-desecrated spaces.

Read the story on VTDigger here: Jesse McDougall: Why I oppose massive solar power plants on Vermont hillsides .

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