This article by Bruce Parker originally published July 24, 2015, on Watchdog.org.
Now that Vermont has a mandate to get 75 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2032, residents will have to ditch automobiles and embrace a whole new way of life, the state’s top renewable energy CEO says.
“We’re probably going to have to abandon the car,” David Blittersdorf, president of All Earth Renewables, told Addison County Democrats in a recent presentation titled “Vermont’s Renewable Energy Future.”
Blittersdorf, the entrepreneur arguably responsible for the Green Mountain State’s transition to an energy policy opposed to oil, coal, nuclear and natural gas, says Vermonters face big changes as Act 56 kicks in.
“The car has been our No. 1 reason we consume so much energy. Suburbia is built around the car; our highway system is heavily subsidized around the car. It takes a lot of energy to run a car-centric system,” he said in the hour-long presentation captured on YouTube.
In the new green Vermont, where renewables-based electricity will power nearly all human activities, people will have new lifestyles. Vermonters accustomed to driving will have to seek out mass transit; homes heated by oil and propane will require conversion to solar, wood and biomass sources aided by heat pumps; even air transit will diminish.
Without the benefit of cars, Vermonters living in rural areas will need to relocate to cities and towns to survive.
“We got to get people to live where they work and get into the community. They can’t be living everywhere,” Blittersdorf told his audience of Democratic voters.
“In Vermont, people like to live 10, 20, 30 miles from work. That’s going to disappear. The 10-acre lot way out in the middle of nowhere on a dirt road is not going to be working anymore. It’s going to get expensive to live like that. So we have to get closer to where we work,” the All Earth Renewables chief said.
Sponsored by state Reps Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, and Rebecca Ellis, D-Waterbury Center, H.40 (Act 56) requires that 55 percent of a utility’s annual sales come from renewable sources beginning in 2017. The number increases each year until renewable sources hit 75 percent of sales in 2032. The new law ensures Vermont will be on track to reach its aspirational — though non-legislated — goal of 90 percent renewable energy by 2050.
According to Blittersdorf, whose business stands to profit handsomely from the 25 megawatts of new renewable power generation required each year for the foreseeable future, Vermonters can expect to see solar and wind farms everywhere across the state. His industry plans to install 6,000 megawatts of solar capacity and 3,000 megawatts of wind to meet Vermont’s goals — a sharp increase from the roughly 100 megawatts of renewable energy generation today.
Wind turbines won’t need to cover all mountaintops, however. Only one-third of the state’s ridge lines will host wind farms.
“(To reach) 3,000 megawatts, you can put about 15 megawatts per mile — so that’s 200 miles of ridges. In Vermont we have about 600-plus miles of ridge lines. So we don’t have to do all the ridges,” Blittersdorf said.
While the green-energy CEO didn’t calculate the land mass required to produce 6,000 megawatts of new solar generation, he said installing solar on every usable rooftop in the state would generate only 1 percent to 2 percent of the state’s energy needs — meaning the coming solar build-out will be sited across Vermont’s available lands.
Vermonters can expect other big changes: targets will require a moratorium on new roads, airports, gas stations, car dealerships and natural gas pipelines. Blittersdorf even predicts air travel will be diminished, though not as a result of Vermont’s legislation.
“The idea that we’re going to be flying around in airplanes — it’s one of the worst consumers of energy and emitting carbon. … I tell my kids … if you’re going to travel, travel now. Don’t wait 50 years. It’s going to cost you 10 times as much for every one of those flights.”
How will Vermont fund this transition while preventing fossil fuel companies from gaining a foothold in the state? The green-energy CEO says lawmakers should pass a $100-per-ton carbon tax on distributors of fossil fuels. The tax will generate an estimated $500 million annually while dissuading fossil fuel companies from doing business in Vermont. To advance public acceptance of the tax, the Blittersdorf Family Foundation helped fund a study touting the economic benefits of a carbon tax.
Not everyone is excited about Vermont’s renewable energy future.
Guy Page, communications director for the Vermont Energy Partnership, a coalition that advocates for clean, low-cost electricity solutions, said Vermonters need to ask themselves if a world without cars and other modern amenities is the the world they really want.
“(People need to know) this is the vision as described by David Blittersdorf. Is this your vision, too? If not, Vermonters need to engage with their legislators about the carbon tax, about public transit, and about the whole 90-percent-by-2050 renewables plan, because that’s the reason why all these changes must be made,” Page said.
“If that’s what you really want, then say so. But Vermonter, if that’s what you don’t want, or you have a different vision, you really need to be telling your legislators and the governor what you want.”
Page said people who have siting concerns or who think going green isn’t worth sacrificing Vermont’s habitats or prime ag lands need to speak out.
“If you want to be riding a train or electric-powered bus to work every morning past miles and miles of solar panels … it’s a good discussion to have.”
He added, “I think part of the problem is that those discussions have happened in Montpelier. It has not been an intensive public discussion. I think that needs to happen.”
John McClaughry, founder and vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute, said Act 56 will enrich renewable energy CEOs like Blittersdorf and hurt average Vermonters.
“For years (Blittersdorf) has been advocating for regulations, subsidies and taxes to stamp out fossil fuels and replace them with the energy solutions he is in business to profit from. That, of course, requires eliminating energy-intensive fuels in favor of energy-diffuse fuels like wind and solar,” McClaughry said.
“The most energy-intensive fuel is nuclear, which emits almost none of the carbon pollution that Mr. Blittersdorf wants to end. But he opposes nuclear energy, which is a threat to the high-cost and intermittent renewable energy products he is promoting.”
For Blittersdorf, the state has no option but to abandon fossil fuels, which, he claims, have reached their maximum extraction potential. He says Vermont must be the example to the world, even though the state emits the least CO2 of any state in the nation.
“Vermont is in an ideal place: we’re a small state, we have low population density, and we have resources. We have the wind, sun and hydro. We can be the example for the rest of the United States and a large part of the world,” he said. “If we can’t make renewables work here, I don’t think anybody can. We have to be the leader.”