November 1, 2007
By Susan Smallheer Herald Staff
SPRINGFIELD â€” If the people in the cafeteria at Springfield High School were writing Vermont’s new energy policy, Vermonters would no longer use electricity generated by coal, oil or nuclear fuel.
Activists, businesspeople and ordinary citizens said they were worried about the effects some sources of power generation had on climate change. And they repeatedly said they wanted more of Vermont’s energy generated locally, preferably by smaller plants. Many people said they were willing to pay more for “green” power.
More than 170 people signed up for Monday’s regional workshop sponsored by the Vermont Department of Public Service. It is one of five workshops across the state designed to gain people’s insights into how and where Vermont’s energy should come from in the future.
Starting in 2012, Vermont is losing access to two-thirds of its electricity. The state’s utilities’ contract with Entergy Nuclear, the owner of Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, expires when its federal license expires. And the state’s contract with Hydro-Quebec also starts to expire, ending completely in 2016.
Those at the five-hour workshop said they wanted more money put into energy conservation and efficiency, and said they were worried about the effects of climate change, spurred by the use of fossil fuels, and what to do about high-level radioactive waste.
The group also gave a thumbs-up to wind development, saying that they could easily live with the aesthetic impacts of large industrial wind turbines on some of Vermont’s ridgelines.
The Department of Public Service hired Raab Associates of Boston to run the planning process at a cost of $500,000, and the workshops included instant polling on about 50 different energy questions at the end of the workshop.
Using small keypads the size of calculators, participants registered their opinions on diverse energy questions, with the results tallied instantly on giant computer screens.
David O’Brien, the commissioner of the Department of Public Service, said that Springfield’s results were similar to results in South Burlington, Montpelier and St. Johnsbury.
When push came to shove on the tough choices of energy purchases, the 130 people who participated in the instant polling said they would favor shutting down Vermont Yankee and getting the state’s power elsewhere by a slim margin, 52 percent to 48 percent, over more coal or oil-fired power. An earlier question showed that 64 percent wanted Vermont Yankee nuclear plant shut down.
And residents, who came from all over southern Vermont, said they were willing to pay more for “green” energy, with 20 percent saying they were willing to pay at least $50 more a month for “green” energy.
O’Brien said that the state was already talking with Hydro-Quebec, but that the issue would probably come down to cost. And he noted that Hydro-Quebec is also building wind facilities.
“There are no perfect solutions,” O’Brien said.
Stephen Wark, director of consumer affairs, said that the results of the Springfield workshop and the others would be compiled and cross tabulated and posted on the department’s Web site.
Wark said that in addition to the workshops, which were open to the general public, 200 Vermonters randomly selected from the telephone book, have been invited to a two-day “deliberative polling” session in Burlington.
At luck would have it, Wark said, the head of Green Mountain Power was randomly selected. He declined to participate, Wark said.
Wark said that in the St. Johnsbury session, there was more opposition to wind development.
But the Springfield session, which was attended by people involved in the debate over the now-stalled Glebe Mountain wind project in Londonderry, there was overwhelmingly support for wind.
“People care very deeply about the environment,” Wark said.
The group at Springfield High School was notable for being overwhelmingly male, 67 percent. And 32 percent of the people were college graduates, with 30 percent adding they had graduate degrees.
Contact Susan Smallheer at email@example.com.