The Case for VT Wind Power
There has been quite a bit of talk recently about wind power and the role it should play in Vermont’s energy future. A healthy public discourse is beneficial when it comes to any public policy debate and it is critical the debate remain grounded in facts and science. Facts matter and the fact is that wind power is critical to our fight against climate change and our state’s commitment to reach 90 percent renewable by 2050.
In Vermont, wind power produces enough energy to power 46,200 homes (that number will rise to 59,200 once Deerfield Wind is operational) and significantly reduces the region’s dependence on dirty and increasingly expensive fossil fuels. And unlike volatile fossil fuel prices, a long-term contract with a wind project offers a fixed price for electricity. When the wind is blowing in Vermont it’s generating power, which helps keep our electric rates lower than every state in New England with the exception of Maine. Additionally, wind projects bring significant economic benefit to host communities. Vermont's existing wind projects contributed more than $1.26 million to host communities and an additional $963,243 to the Vermont Education Fund.
Our energy system is changing. Not just here in Vermont but throughout New England, the United States and the rest of the world. The model for energy generation is shifting from one where power generation is centralized in the form of large coal or nuclear plants to one that relies on distributed resources like wind and solar. This change is occurring because people recognize that burning fossil fuels is responsible for causing the single greatest challenge of our time: climate change.
It is critical for us to reduce our dependence on the dirty fossil fuels that are causing our climate to change. We owe it to future generations to do what we can to reduce our dependence on these traditional sources of energy and to shift to an energy system that is sustainable.
This shift is also occurring because fossil fuels are finite resources and will continue to become more expensive to extract. The cost of renewable resources like wind power has come down significantly over time. The Department of Energy reports the cost of wind energy has declined more than 90 percent since the early 1980s. The beauty of wind is that the fuel is free, allowing electric utilities to lock-in known electricity rates for 20 to 30 year contracts at a competitive rate.
Unfortunately, the conversation about wind in Vermont too often ignores these facts as wind opponents instead rely on inaccurate and false statements on health, water quality and property values.
A 2012 study by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and Public Health found that “there is no evidence for a set of health effects, from exposure to wind turbines that could be characterized as Wind Turbine Syndrome.” Another study completed by Health Canada also concluded “no evidence was found to support a link between exposure to wind turbine noise and any of the self-reported illnesses and chronic conditions.” Similar peer-reviewed studies conducted in Australia and the United Kingdom have come to the same conclusion. In fact, the Australian Medical Association has written, “there is no accepted physiological mechanism where sub-audible infrasound could cause health effects”.
When it comes to health impacts from energy sources, the science is also clear that, unlike wind, traditional energy sources like coal and oil do have drastic health impacts. Coal mining can lead to chronic health disorders. Black lung disease was responsible for the deaths of approximately 10,000 former miners between 1990 and 2000. The extraction and combustion of fossil fuels has a significant impact on human health, and that comes with a steep price tag. A 2013 study by the EPA found that the price tag for health-related externalities associated with fossil fuel powered electric generation is between $360 and $886 billion annually.
All energy sources will have some impact on our natural environment. Fossil fuels have caused irreversible damage to our environment. By comparison, wind power plays a critical role in reducing air pollution and protecting clean water. In some Vermont wind farm locations, water quality measurements have even demonstrated improved water quality conditions.
In terms of property values, numerous studies have shown that wind power does not affect property values long-term. An analysis released in 2013 by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory analyzed more than 50,000 home sales near 67 wind facilities across nine U.S. states and did not uncover any impacts to nearby home property values. One of the best local examples of this is in Milton, Vermont, which hosts the Georgia Mountain wind project. Property values in this town are among the fastest rising in Chittenden County and this year’s median sale price saw a 7.3 percent increase over 2015.
Sadly, Vermont is already seeing the impact of climate change. Warmer temperatures are changing our seasons, our forests and our economy. Wind energy is not the only solution to solving this crisis but it must be part of the solution. Wind energy is critical in our effort to reduce our dependence on foreign fossil fuels while helping turn the tide of climate change.