Four candidates for lieutenant governor on Wednesday participated in a forum focused on Vermont’s climate policy, and while all voiced support for green energy, some had reservations about the role of Big Wind.
The event was hosted by activist organization Rights and Democracy and facilitated over Zoom.
While expressing reservations about large wind and solar installations, all the candidates said they were strongly committed to Vermont’s recent efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
The candidates who appeared together in a Zoom call were former lieutenant governor and Progressive David Zuckerman, executive director of Vermont Council on World Affairs Patricia Preston, former Democrat state lawmaker Catherine “Kitty” Toll, and state Rep. Charlie Kimbell, D-Woodstock.
Zuckerman, who served as Vermont’s lieutenant governor from 2017 to 2021, argued that the state needs to spend more money on combatting climate change.
“All of the things that other folks have mentioned in terms of expanding transit, expanding electric vehicles and charging stations, it’s going to take money,” he said.
Zuckerman spoke of his vision to see smaller housing units focused in community centers, where residents can make more use of public transportation.
“Development patterns are critical,” he said. “Our investments need to be in affordable small housing in town and village centers because that will enable public transportation to be more efficient.”
He added that energy policy should take into account a variety of social-justice concerns.
“How we produce our energy, and where, is directly impactful on the BIPOC communities. So, speaking out in support of renewable energy throughout Vermont versus our energy policy impact onto BIPOC communities in southern New England is something that I’ve been very vocal about,” Zuckerman said.
Zuckerman also said wind energy “is productive and extremely beneficial to balance solar; we get more wind at night and solar during the day.”
Preston, during her segment of the forum, said climate change is an urgent “threat” that lawmakers must address as a priority.
“Vermont is at a crossroads — climate change is the most serious threat humanity has faced. It is a threat to our way of life in Vermont and everything that we hold near and dear,” she said. “We have to address the climate crisis now.”
Preston emphasized that public engagement would be a key to getting buy-in on new wind and solar development in the state.
“Particularly when it comes to making progress on wind and solar development, we will accomplish the goal if we are able to bring communities together and really look at and discuss this critical work,” she said. “We have to make sure that all voices are being heard in this process, and as we move forward on expanding renewable energy, communities impacted by this expansion will be part of this expansion.”
Kimbell, while expressing support for urgent climate policymaking, said he has reservations about large scale industrial wind turbines.
“It’s the permitting process of the new wind projects in which we have neighbors pitted against neighbors,” he said. “… I’ll be honest: I need to learn more about it. I’m not going to just toe the line and tell you that I have the answers.”
Industrial-scale wind power has been controversial in Vermont. Even some environmental groups have pointed to mountain top destruction, noise violations, and destruction of wildlife habitat as reasons to oppose industrial-scale wind power.
Kitty Toll, who represented the Caledonia-Washington district between 2009 and 2021, and served as former chair of the House Appropriations Committee, emphasized the need for more solar power.
“Solar power is a very important piece of this entire puzzle,” she said. “And there needs to be more accessibility to all Vermonters. And the government has to get involved and … has to lead people away from the use of fossil fuels.”
However, she admitted that her past constituents complained about construction of large industrial wind turbines, and that she would be mindful of that going forward.
The Zoom meeting, being an online platform, allows for streaming live viewer comments. David Blittersdorf, the CEO of AllEarth Renewables and a developer of large scale wind power in Vermont, weighed in with his own perspective on the topic.
“Time to fix the PUC and DPS with new legislated direction. … Phil Scott has killed windpower in VT. Half of our future energy needs to come from in-state wind,” he wrote.