Opinion: Writer's criticism failed to recognize the big picture
I am writing in response to Rustan Swenson’s letter in the April 13 edition, “PSB has licensed the desecration of Green Mountains.” Mr. Swenson sounds off on what he sees as the destruction of the Green Mountains and of Vermont’s landscape, blaming it on the PSB’s granting of solar installations, fracked gas pipelines, and presumably industrial wind towers on ridgelines (though wind by name is never mentioned) mainly by out-of-state or foreign corporations in the name of renewable energy.
He redefines the intention of these installations to reduce Vermont’s carbon footprint as instead causing irreversible, destructive footprints. Finally, in stating that “at stake” is “our very way of life,” “there must be an immediate freeze on all industrial-scale solar projects” and that “Vermont must be declared a ‘perpetual agri-cultural preserve’.”
The fact is, Vermont as a “perpetual agri-cultural preserve” has not existed for well over a century. What would a Vermont farmer from 200 years ago think of what had evolved in our state were he able to observe the present-day landscape? In addition to puzzling over some solar arrays, he would be astounded by paved roads everywhere, many lined with tall poles and endless looping wires, traversed by speeding, noisy, fuel emitting contraptions. He would be taken aback by the lack of farms, yet all the settlements — the near equivalent of how we view, say, South Burlington.
He would be perplexed by the dozens of taller peaks with jagged manmade trails allowing people to zip down them, of all of our devices powered by an immense electrical grid, and on and on. The farmer would probably think this is no longer Vermont. But it still is. It has evolved. And it will continue to do so. It will not remain as it is or was.
So how will we continue to evolve? Would we want to wipe away the “blight” on the landscape that allows us to live in the 21st century? There would be few takers. Yes, some would pick and choose, like preventing solar arrays and wind towers. As if we could have our cake and eat it, too.
There is no question about it — we have to address climate change and need to do so in many ways. Many include conserving energy and lessening our carbon footprint — in our modes of transportation and in our buildings. Solar arrays — also known as solar farms — and wind towers on our ridgelines must be part of this equation.
While this can be done smartly to minimize encroachment on the landscape, we really need to rethink how we view these structures. We can embrace them or at least tolerate them as we do the existing infrastructure on the landscape, knowing that they provide clean, renewable energy from the sun and the wind. Vermont artist Sabra Fields has stated that wind towers on ridgelines “are beautiful in themselves — kinetic sculptures on the skyline.” And the fact is that many solar farms are installed by Vermont firms, and provide local jobs.
What are other clean energy alternatives? Hydroelectric can help fill the gap. Rooftop solar is great but alone can barely make a dent. Heating with wood has its pluses and minuses. There aren’t any significant others. Nuclear power leaves high-level waste. Fracked gas emits massive amounts of methane in the fracking process. Otherwise the burning of fossil fuels would continue to predominate, polluting the environment that has and will continue to compromise our quality of life, and threatening to transform Vermont to a Virginia/Maryland climate in 50-75 years. That would indeed be a very different way of life for Vermonters.