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Forum airs out solar issues


By Gordon Dritschilo as seen in the Rutland Herald:

The tension surrounding renewable energy development was captured in an exchange Wednesday night at the Paramount Theatre in Rutland.

The theater was hosting a forum by the Vermont Council on Rural Development as part of the development of the Vermont Climate Change Economy Council’s “platform of action.”

The meeting began with a panel discussion on the economic implications and opportunities related to dealing with climate change, and then the audience of about 50 people was invited to offer input and stories that might inform the planning process.

After a number of glowing comments about the state and impact of solar development, groSolar co-founder Jeff Wolfe said solar developers were starting to avoid Vermont because it was hard to get permits.

James Stewart, executive director of Rutland Economic Development Corp., had already made a call for greater “predictability” in the permitting process, saying some renewable energy projects had been held up in recent years by groups opposed to them.

Wolfe took the issue a step further, citing a “grass-roots push-back which isn’t really grass roots.” He went on to compare the fossil fuels industry to the slave economy in that powerful people had a massive investment in the old way of doing things and would fight any effort to change.

“Those other folks, the Koch brothers, etcetera, come after us and shut us down,” he said. “How do we set it up so we run it and not the few NIMBYs who bring in outside money to fight the progress we’re making?”

A riposte of sorts came with the very next comment, made by a woman who said she loves having a solar array at her home and is grateful for net metering, but there “is a wrong way to do the right thing” and local feelings regarding projects need to be carefully evaluated. She called for keeping up community “conversation, dialogue and care.”

A man who said he traveled from Manchester said more attention to transportation infrastructure could play a large role in cutting fossil fuels.

“Had there been a rail car we could have come up in, we would have taken the train here,” he said. “Rutland is a nexus of rail lines, and yet all efforts have been, I guess I can use the word ‘glacial,’ to set up a passenger service.”

Bob Farnham of Thetford argued for paying attention to efficiency as well as renewable development, saying money invested in the former comes back to the community more quickly.

Philip Allen of Same Sun of Vermont, a renewable energy company, described how most of his employees are 21 to 35 years old, and five of them are graduates of Green Mountain College. All of them, he said, have told him they wouldn’t be here were it not for the solar boom in Vermont.

“The jobs we’re talking about are real,” he said. “They’re the youth of America, and they’re the kind of youth we want to have here.”