Big Wind lost big last Tuesday.
While it’s not clear what Donald Trump’s election means for federal energy policy, it’s abundantly obvious that the wind-energy sector’s agenda was crushed in Vermont. Indeed, thanks to the resounding — and somewhat improbable — election of a new Republican governor, Phil Scott, it is possible that Vermont could ban construction of new wind projects. And in the towns of Grafton and Windham, voters rejected the proposed Stiles Brook wind project by big margins.
Instead, she lost to Scott, despite being backed by a pro-wind-energy PAC called Wind Works Vermont and by one of America’s most prominent environmentalists, Bill McKibben. McKibben is a resident of Vermont (he teaches at Middlebury College) and the founder of 350.org, a group which aims to “stop all new fossil fuel projects.” A few months ago, McKibben published a cover story in the New Republic in which he declared that the American economy should be running solely on wind and solar energy. He has frequently declared the need to “do the math,” but he didn’t bother to note that if such an all-renewable scheme were pursued, it would require a 20-fold increase in Vermont’s wind-energy capacity.
Although it cannot be stated definitively that wind energy was the deciding factor in Scott’s win over Minter, it is abundantly obvious that wind has been one of the most divisive issues in the state. During the Democratic primary for governor, two of the three candidates, Matt Dunne and Peter Galbraith, opposed wind-energy development. In fact, Galbraith made opposition to wind energy the primary focus of his campaign. In the August primary, Galbraith came in third, with about 6,500 votes. Shortly after the primary, he told me that wind-energy development “was the issue [in the Democratic primary] and I think in the general election it will be an issue as well.” It appears that nearly all of Galbraith’s supporters went on to vote for Scott, who ended up beating Minter by more than 27,000 votes.
After the vote a Grafton resident, Anna Visely Pilette, told Vermont Public Radio that “Two little towns were able to stand up to an immense corporation, with all of its resources, all of its lawyers all of its lobbyists . . . I just am very gratified.” In the wake of the vote, Iberdrola officials said they would abandon the Stiles Brook project even though they claimed it would have – get this — made “an impact towards energy independence and climate change.”
As a result of Scott’s election, and the votes in Grafton and Windham, “things are looking up in Vermont,” says Annette Smith, the executive director of the non-profit Vermonters for a Clean Environment and a longtime opponent of wind-energy development in the state. “We have a governor who won’t roll over for the wind business.”
— Robert Bryce is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.