Local Action, Global Impact

Feb 5, 2016 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

photo courtesy of Sterling College @ flickr.com

photo courtesy of Sterling College @ flickr.com

Taking action to tackle climate change comes naturally to New Englanders. We spend a lot of time outdoors and we see first-hand that our climate is changing.

Many of us burn wood to heat our homes. We’ve been doing this for generations. It just makes sense. Wood is a local fuel that is available and low cost.  Many of us also grow vegetables that feed us and our neighbors. Local food tastes better, isn’t trucked here from far away, and it always delights us to see the bounty of our humble backyards. It all seems part of our natural frugality and common sense.

On broader matters of energy, the same ethic holds.

New England states are leaders on energy efficiency. While other regions are busy selling more electricity and producing more pollution, New England was the first to include energy savings in our electricity markets. We’ve reduced polluting greenhouse gas emissions and soot while avoiding expensive and massive new transmission projects. The result is lower electricity costs and less pollution for everyone.

In the realm of renewable energy, our region’s efforts deserve praise and support. Going back to the 1970s oil embargo, we re-developed local hydroelectric sites and Burlington, Vermont replaced coal with woodchips.

In the past decade, the demands of climate change bolstered New Englanders’ efforts. Many of our states have renewable energy requirements. And the percentage of smaller scale renewable energy is growing in many states in the region. At a time when some sunny states like Florida are seeing limited growth in generation from residential solar, many Vermont utilities are already meeting fifteen percent of the peak demand with solar. And that is in a state with fewer sunny days than Seattle. Like our backyard gardens and woodstoves, our roofs and fields are now using a local resource to harness energy from the sun.

The sale of renewable energy credits or (RECs) by some solar companies means that the renewable aspects from some local solar panels are not claimed in Vermont. To be sure, all companies need to be up-front and honest with consumers about what they are buying. And customers maintain the choice to own the renewable power their panels generate. But that does not diminish the overall good from all solar panels operating anywhere in New England.

Climate change is a global problem. A solar panel that produces electricity replaces or avoids the need to produce power from more polluting power sources, in the gas, oil, nuclear, and coal dependent New England grid — no matter who owns the RECs. Each solar panel in use increases the overall supply of renewable energy to our region. And with rapidly encroaching climate disasters, we can’t get to more renewable energy — everywhere — fast enough.

Solving global climate problems demands that we each do our part. For decades, New Englanders have stepped up and used their common sense to solve energy and pollution problems. We are still at it. Going forward, putting a price on carbon pollution will create even more incentives and opportunities to grow local renewable energy and move away from polluting fossil fuels. Instead of sending billions of dollars out of our region to support polluting oil and gas companies, pricing carbon will build on our past successes, keep more money in the region and do our part to further cut greenhouse gas emissions.

New Englanders’ local actions cutting pollution reaps global rewards. We need to keep at it.

Approval for Transmission Under Lake Champlain to Bring Power to New England

Jan 6, 2016 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The Vermont Public Service Board approved a large electric transmission project by TDI-NE that would be installed underground and under Lake Champlain. The project will deliver up to 1000 MW of power (roughly equal to the output from one very large coal-fired plant) from Canadian hydropower and Canadian renewable energy resources to Southern New England.

You can read the decision here.

This is a very large energy project for the region. The fact that the project will run entirely underground or under water reduces visual and other impacts, which went a long way toward securing the support of local communities. The project approval also includes conditions – many that are part of a Conservation Law Foundation settlement – that will provide funding for Lake Champlain clean up and increasing renewable power in Vermont.

The experience of the TDI-NE project shows the value of large energy projects carefully evaluating and responsibly addressing community and environmental impacts.

It can be done.

We still don’t know precisely what the energy supply on the line will look like. But, with proposals for oversized, polluting natural gas pipelines in Vermont and the region facing strong opposition, and as more new transmission projects are being planned and developed, TDI-NE sets an important example of a transmission project that successfully meets high standards for our environment, our people, and our communities.


Climate Talks, Climate Action

Dec 15, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

16451794648_f54e94c55a_bThe COP21 talks in Paris put climate change front and center. They confirmed that climate change is both the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity of our generation. Coastal cities in the United States lie at risk from storm surges and sea rise. But they have it easy. Full nations in the Pacific will end up completely underwater as polar caps melt. Clearly climate change is about more than just polar bears.

In New England, we have already seen the destruction from more frequent and more severe storms. Power outages, road washouts and flooding take a serious toll on our prosperity. The quicker we come together to tackle the problem, the quicker we see results.

New England has made great strides in cleaning up our electricity supply. Through energy efficiency, we have flattened our load growth and avoided expensive and polluting new energy supplies. We are building and relying on more renewable power, and the region is poised to close the last of the coal plants in the next few years.

It is no secret that in rural areas, transportation is the biggest contributor of global warming pollution. As part of the COP21 efforts, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut joined eight other U.S. states, countries, and provinces to announce new efforts to put more zero-emission vehicles, or ZEVs (battery-electric, plug-in hybrid, and fuel cell vehicles), on the road. You can read announcement here. The effort will strive to make all passenger vehicle sales in these places ZEVs by no later than 2050. Already, these partner jurisdictions account for about half of the global ZEV sales.

Putting a price on carbon pollution provides a valuable tool to spur innovation and tackle global warming. On the eve of the climate talks in Paris, President Obama stated that “the most elegant way to drive innovation and to reduce carbon emissions is to put a price on it.”

Efforts to price carbon pollution will be debated next year in the Vermont Legislature. On the eve of the climate talks, advocates delivered over 25,000 postcards and petition signatures supporting the effort to the Vermont state house. With such encouraging words from President Obama, Vermont advocates are clearly in good company.

The Vermont effort is guided by three core principles. It calls for an effective carbon pollution tax that will not only reduce emissions, but will also be equitable. Low-income people already pay more than their fair share for fuel and heating. And they bear more of the impacts from polluting fossil fuels and climate change. The Vermont carbon pollution tax will level the playing field and ensure they are part of the transition away from outdated and polluting energy. The carbon pollution tax will also create jobs and grow the economy. A portion of the tax will be re-invested to grow clean energy right here at home.

Building on the COP21 efforts, Vermont and New England can show that by working together to advance common sense solutions, cutting carbon, and investing in clean energy, we can solve even the toughest problems. In doing so we will leave a healthy and more prosperous New England for future generations.

We Delivered! 25,000 Strong – And Growing

Dec 3, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

With leaders from around the world gathered in Paris for the international climate summit, CLF advocates are commenting on how what happens in Paris will impact what needs to happen here in New England to cut carbon, boost renewables, and protect our communities. Read the entire blog series.

MONTPELIER VT - Energy Independent Vermont and VPIRG delivered 25,241 petition signatures from Vermonters to the State House in support of a carbon pollution tax. Photo: Roger Crowley

MONTPELIER VT – Energy Independent Vermont and VPIRG delivered 25,241 petition signatures from Vermonters to the State House in support of a carbon pollution tax. Photo: Roger Crowley

On the eve of climate talks in Paris, we delivered in Vermont.

We delivered more than 25,000 postcards and petition signatures to Vermont lawmakers. All supporting a price on carbon pollution.

And we are in good company. The next day, in Paris, President Obama stated that “the most elegant way to drive innovation and to reduce carbon emissions is to put a price on it.”

That’s refreshing.

President Obama also recognized the challenges of getting such a proposal through Congress.

Here in Vermont, CLF joined many allies to show the growing support for putting a price on carbon pollution right here. In a small state like Vermont, 25,000 signatures mean a lot.

Like President Obama, these 25,000 people recognize that putting a price on pollution is an elegant solution.

It gives us the opportunity to reduce pollution, cut taxes, and save money by growing clean energy right here at home.

Our Legislature will evaluate bills this session that put a price on carbon pollution. As a broad coalition of businesses, faith leaders, low-income advocates, environmental and community leaders, we recognize the intolerable cost of inaction.

Our effort is guided by three core principles. An effective carbon pollution tax will not only reduce emissions, it will also be equitable. It will ensure low-income people are part of the transition away from outdated and polluting fossil fuels. And it will create jobs and grow the economy. A portion of the tax will be re-invested to grow clean energy right here at home.

New Englanders have led the country with our response to climate change, cutting carbon, and investing in renewables. Now, our leadership can serve as a model for the globe.

Learn more about the Energy Independent Vermont effort and follow CLF President Brad Campbell as he reports from the Paris Climate Talks. 

Testing Our Mettle

Nov 4, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

DSC05251When rampant development overran Vermont’s hillsides in the form of shoddy ski chalets, our state’s casual regulations proved ill-equipped to stop the flow of sewage, pollution and bad decisions. In 1969, the prospect of 1400 new vacation homes on Stratton Mountain sent a wake-up call. Our collective response was to pass Act 250. This law requires large development projects to show they meet ten sensible criteria. In the process we ensure that developments do not run roughshod over Vermont’s valuable communities and natural resources.

Considered groundbreaking at the time, the strength of Act 250 rests on three pillars – comprehensive review, citizen decision-makers, and broad participation. Combined, these allow communities to make common sense decisions about how we develop, and how we protect valuable resources.

Forty-five years later Act 250’s — and our own — mettle are being sorely tested. A massive development of over one million square feet – about the size of ten big box stores – is proposed on valuable farmland at one of Vermont’s most scenic vistas in Randolph.

A development of that scale has enormous impacts. The square footage of commercial space alone would be more than what currently exists a few miles away in downtown Randolph, Vermont. A project of this size shows exactly what Act 250 is designed to do, and why it has been a model for addressing environmental impacts. Through the Act 250 review, regional Commissions carefully weigh the impacts on farmland, water, forests, downtowns and other resources. The clear standards reflect what we value and assure that we do not squander important statewide treasures.  As one witness said at a recent hearing for the Randolph project, “once farmland is paved, it is gone forever.”

There is high demand for good farmland. Agriculture adds much to the local economy. Going forward, climate change puts more farmland at risk nationally, and demands that we rely more on local supplies for food and crops. Act 250 helps us meet these challenges. It provides strong and sensible protections for valuable farmland. Location matters. There are stronger protections for farmland outside of downtowns than there are for farmland in downtown areas. This makes sense. Protecting our rural farmland against the inappropriate development that is proposed in Randolph ensures that our resources and our communities can thrive not just now, but in future generations as well.

Citizens play a vital role in the success of Act 250. Like Vermont’s legislature, the Commissions that make the Act 250 decisions are local citizens. They bring their knowledge, caring and local perspective to the process. They apply the statewide law to evaluate local projects that have far-reaching impacts. In doing so, their common sense judgments have steered Vermont away from the toughest shoals of boom and bust real-estate bubbles experienced in other states.

Broad participation is another hallmark of Act 250. The Commissions must rely on the information presented to them. Often they will hear only from a developer, and the effect is like listening to just the bass drum in an orchestra. This makes it hard to carefully evaluate impacts. Sounder decisions result when Commissions welcome broad input and full participation from local citizens, and groups that have an interest and expertise in the resources and communities affected.

We will always face new challenges and new opportunities. The strength of Act 250 lies in its combination of vision and common sense. It allows us to avoid the pitfalls that come with slowly chipping away at resources we know we will need in the future, like good farmland and clean water. Plans for over-development like what is proposed in Randolph Vermont, threaten our communities, our farms, our economy and our future.

Local Livestock in Burlington, Vermont

Oct 14, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Residents of Burlington, Vermont, now have even more local food options. Burlington City Council passed two new livestock ordinances. The ordinances regulate the humane treatment and slaughter of chickens, rabbits, goats and sheep within the city limits. Folks in Burlington can now raise their own local meats and know the livestock are humanely treated. Burlington is one of only three cities in the nation with urban livestock regulations. The other two are Chicago and Seattle. Conservation Law Foundation worked closely with the Burlington Food Council’s Urban Agriculture Task Force in recommending a cohesive urban agriculture policy to the Burlington City Council and then developing thoughtful urban agriculture regulations. The language of the final ordinance largely reflects the language CLF drafted with the Urban Livestock Working Group.

The ordinances give residents of Burlington greater control over what they are consuming. Burlington residents now have a viable alternative to purchasing meat products produced at environmentally hazardous large-scale confined animal feed operations. Access to healthy foods such as the products and meat produced from chickens, rabbits, goats and sheep also lends itself to greater food security and independence. By developing these thoughtful ordinances allowing not just the keeping and slaughter of animals, but also ensuring that the process is humane and healthy for all involved, Burlington is leading the nation in urban agriculture.


Posted in: Farm & Food, Vermont

Protecting Act 250 and Important Vermont Farmland

Oct 7, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment


We recently sent this e-mail to Vermont supporters as a continuation of the work by Conservation Law Foundation, Preservation Trust of Vermont, and Vermont Natural Resources Council, to uphold Act 250 and protect important Vermont farmland:

Dear friends,

Massive over-development of farmland threatens Vermont’s environment and communities. Send a letter to Governor Shumlin, Agency officials and your legislator opposing the destruction of valuable farmland for poorly-planned development.

It’s not just theoretical: A developer in Randolph wants to run roughshod over Vermont farmland. Plans are afoot to build over one million square feet of development – about the size of ten big box stores – on this important land. This area lies just miles from downtown Randolph at one of the most scenic and rural highway exits in Vermont.

A small part of the project is a new Visitor Center – about the size of a large house. But we don’t need the rest of this massive new development – which is more than 200 times larger than the Visitor Center – just to provide bathrooms.

The developer is pushing this massive development forward with the lure of this new Visitor Center. But this modest Visitor Center is really just a cynical ploy to get us to sacrifice nearly 180 acres of farmland to unnecessary development. Keeping farmland nearby is more important than ever as we face the floods and droughts of climate change. We shouldn’t trade our future food sources for a few toilets and a bunch of giant buildings. This proposal is a bad deal for us Vermonters – and it violates the law too.

Act 250 is a state law that requires large new developments to respect natural resources. It prevents developments from blindly paving over land, polluting the environment, and disrupting communities. Our lawmakers and state officials should enforce and strengthen this law.

Conservation Law Foundation along with Vermont Natural Resources Council, Preservation Trust of Vermont and Exit 4 Open Space are fighting hard to oppose the plan for Randolph and to ensure that the law protecting against destructive development is not sidelined. If this development is allowed here, then none of Vermont’s farmland is safe.

We need your help now.

Send a letter to Governor Shumlin, Agency officials and your legislator today. Tell them to uphold and strengthen Act 250. Tell them to oppose the destruction of Vermont’s important, finite farmland. Tell them to remember their duty to protect our valuable resources throughout Vermont.


Sandra Levine, Conservation Law Foundation
Paul Bruhn, Preservation Trust of Vermont
Brian Shupe, Vermont Natural Resources Council

P.S. New projects are being reviewed every day – thank you for taking the time today to tell officials and state lawmakers where you stand.

Low Cost of Renewable Power

Sep 10, 2015 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

photo courtesy of Theodore Scott @ flickr.com

photo courtesy of Theodore Scott @ flickr.com

Whether you are looking to put solar panels on your roof or joining with neighbors for a new community solar project, you know that the cost of renewable energy has come down a lot in the past few years.

For many customers, using solar or wind guarantees stable or lower electric bills for years to come.

And it reduces pollution as we collectively rely less and less on dirty and polluting fossil fuels to keep our gadgets going and our homes comfortable.

On a larger scale, renewable energy is having the same effect on electricity prices in New England.  Apart from reducing pollution, a key benefit to most renewable energy, like wind and solar, is their low or zero fuel cost. When the sun shines or the wind blows, they produce power and no one is sending them a fuel bill.

Most power plants in the region need to pay for coal, oil, gas or uranium for fuel. The operating cost for these plants depends heavily on their cost of fuel. The cost of fuel gets passed on to customers and often dictates the price we pay for electricity. When fuel prices go up, the cost of electricity goes up.

As more and more renewable power becomes available in the region, low or zero fuel costs from the wind, sun or water are driving down the cost of electricity for everyone.

A recent report and activities by the ISO-New England, which is responsible for maintaining the reliability of our electric grid, confirms this.

This is good news for our pocket books and for the environment.

Our electric grid is a marvel of physics. Because electricity cannot be easily stored, the grid must balance the supply from large and small power generators with the demand caused by anything that we plug in. It is a bit like having a big dinner party and needing to keep everyone’s water glass filled without using a pitcher of water. You’ll have to keep the water from springs, wells and hoses available at just the right amount, and then keep the flow in the faucet to the exact amount needed, all the time.

To do this for electricity, the grid is managed in part by calling on generators to run when needed. The price for this wholesale power is set on an hourly basis by using auctions. The least expensive generators are called into service first and the last generator called into service to meet demand sets the price for all generators during that hour. That is why we pay a lot for electricity on hot summer days. Meeting demand when many air conditioners are running requires lots of electricity, including running some of the most expensive fossil-fuel plants.

Supplies that can operate at low cost, like wind and solar, can and do set the price we all pay during some hours. During the polar vortex in 2014, wind power reduced the wholesale price in New England by $26 million.  For a few hours last winter, renewable energy supplies actually set a negative price.

The value of their renewable energy credits, which they sell for every kilowatt hour they produce, mean that their operating cost is actually less than zero. The low cost of renewables drives down the wholesale price. If coal, gas or nuclear plants are operating in those hours, they not only don’t get paid for their energy, but they will have to pay the ISO. This puts further pressure on polluting plants to close down and not operate.

As renewable energy supply continues to grow to meet our region’s climate change mandates, our grid will have more and more of these lower cost power resources available. These will not only push aside fossil fuel plants that will be too expensive to run, it will also lower overall electricity prices for everyone.

One study in connection with the almost 500 megawatts of wind power expected from the Cape Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts estimated a price reduction benefit of about $185 million annually. That is not only a lot less money that we will all pay for electricity, but a lot less pollution as well.

Solar School Success

Sep 2, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

DSC03678The future is bright at one Vermont school. Conservation Law Foundation joined other Vermont environmental groups and a class of fifth grade students to highlight the success of solar energy in Vermont.

We gathered at the Crossett Brook Middle School. The solar project there provides the school with electricity, stable power costs, and a great learning tool. As students play sports on the fields, or look outside their school windows, they see how their school is helping transform Vermont’s power supply and reduce global warming pollution.

The students’ future is certainly bright. They live and go to school in a community with some of the highest per capita production of solar energy in the nation.

Vermonters’ enthusiastic embrace of solar energy advances the state’s green energy economy. There are now more than 58 solar companies based in Vermont, employing more than 1,500 people, and contributing more than 76 million dollars last year to Vermont’s economy. The 138 MW of solar energy currently installed or permitted in Vermont is enough to power more than 22,000 homes while reducing greenhouse gas emissions roughly equivalent to taking 14,000 cars off the road in one year.

Solar power makes sense for Vermont and New England. The cost of solar power has declined more than 30% in the last year. Solar panels can attach to rooftops, industrial sites, or be placed on open land.

By providing power at times when it is most needed, increasing our reliance on solar helps reduce costs for all electric customers. Since solar power is generated close to where it is used, increasing our reliance on solar also reduces our need for expensive new transmission projects to bring power to Vermont from far away places.

With climate change bearing down on all of us, it is refreshing to see how students and local communities are leading the way.