Candidates take opposite tacks on energy
By Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Press Bureau | October 24,2012
Gov. Peter Shumlin is among the more vociferous elected officials in the nation when it comes to sounding the alarm on climate change. But Republican challenger Randy Brock said Tuesday that the Democratic incumbent’s solution to global warming is causing more harm than good.
In a 90-minute debate in Burlington, Shumlin said his administration’s push for renewable energy development is designed to ward off what he believes is the greatest threat to mankind.
“The most important problem we face … is how we change the planet’s use of energy,” Shumlin said. “I say the stakes are incredibly high.”
Shumlin said modest, short-term increases in electricity rates are a small price to pay for the proliferation of renewable energy sources that will not only curb carbon emissions but create high-paying jobs.
“We found a balance between subsidizing renewables so we can grow our way out of this mess” and keeping rates affordable, Shumlin said.
But his GOP rival in the race for governor said Shumlin’s energy platform is less about saving the planet than about enriching the “renewable industrial complex.” Forcing Vermont ratepayers to underwrite renewable energy companies, according to Brock, will have an imperceptible impact on worldwide carbon emissions. Working-class Vermonters, meanwhile, will suffer under the weight of higher electricity bills, Brock said.
“We’re hurting poor and working-class Vermonters the most, because they pay a higher percentage of their income in energy bills than the wealthy,” Brock said.
First as Senate president and now as governor, Shumlin has been among the more powerful advocates in Montpelier for renewable energy. He is a key proponent of the Clean Energy Development Fund, which has directed tens of millions of taxpayer dollars — much of it from the company that owns Vermont Yankee — into wind, solar and hydro projects.
He also supports so-called standard offer, which promotes renewable energy projects by requiring utilities to pay above-market rates for the electricity produced by renewable technologies.
But Brock on Tuesday took aim specifically at a plan Shumlin introduced at the outset of the last legislative session that would have required utilities to get 75 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2032.
Shumlin eventually withdrew his support for what was known as the “renewable portfolio standard.” But Brock said the proposal underscores Shumlin’s flawed thinking on the issue.
According to Shumlin’s own Department of Public Service, the plan would have increased electricity prices by as much as $400 million over the next quarter century.
“And what would it produce? Reduced carbon emissions of less than 3 percent, in a state with two-tenths of 1 percent of the nation’s population, in a world in which China and India” are also burning fossil fuels, Brock said.
“What we are doing is a grain of sand in the Sahara Desert,” Brock said. “But we’re jeopardizing the business climate by jacking up the price of energy.”
Shumlin has said renewable energy will fuel the next industrial revolution and that early adopters will reap dividends down the road.
As to the relative size of Vermont’s carbon footprint, Shumlin said this state can lead a regionwide movement that reduces New England’s reliance on oil- and gas-fired energy plants.
Shumlin said his belief in the urgency of the climate change problem is one major reason he doesn’t support a moratorium on ridgeline wind development in Vermont.
“My view is if your hair is on fire, you don’t call a moratorium to discuss how best to put the fire out, and our hair is on fire,” Shumlin said. “Wind has got to be a part of the mix.”
People objecting to the mountaintop turbines, he said, are members of what he referred to as “CAVE” — “the committee against virtually everything.”
“Folks against solar panels, against natural gas, folks against small hydro because it’s going to kill some fish, folks against wind because some bats or some bears might be displaced,” he said.
Brock said climate change doesn’t pose the immediate threat Shumlin has suggested.
“I know we have floods, but we’ve had serious floods from the 1770s forward,” Brock said.
Brock said opposition to wind is about more than bats and bears.
“Our mountaintops are not renewable, and when we blow off the tops of our mountains to put up 415-foot-tall wind towers … I think Vermonters should be concerned,” Brock said.