Energy Independence in Vermont & Beyond: Is it Possible?

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Friday April 13th, 2012 4:36PM

Energy independence has been a topic of conversation a lot lately in Vermont because of news that a federal judge blocked the state’s attempt to shut down Vermont Yankee, Vermont’s Nuclear Power Plant(1). Vermonters continue to fight to close down the plant, but for now, Entergy, which runs the plant, has permission to continue to operate it until 2032.

Vermont currently gets about 38% of its energy from nuclear power(2). This had me wondering: how would Vermont replace the power generated annually by Vermont Yankee if nuclear power were no longer an option?

It turns out that Vermont has a plan for that – in fact, the state plans to generate 90 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050(2)! Some of the elements of the plan include:

  • Rely more on “biomass,” which means burning wood, corn, and other crops as heat sources.
  • Continue to import hydroelectric power from Canada & local sources (hydroelectricity currently accounts for 41% of the state’s energy)
  • Reduce consumption through increased efficiency and by making efficiency programs & financing more accessible to consumers.
  • Implement smarter transportation and land use initiatives.
  • Harness more wind power (this will account for 14% of the state’s energy by 2025).
  • Install more solar technology for electricity and heat generation (solar energy will account for 3% of the state’s energy by 2025).
  • Involve local communities in creating solutions.
  • Improve energy regulation policies and structures.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, Vermont actually consumes the least amount of energy in the Nation, and it has the advantage of plenty of biomass resources and wind power potential, though we do import lots of heating oil & gas for our vehicles(3). (You can view your state energy profile here). The state also recently approved a moratorium on fracking (fracking, or hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, is a highly risky and toxic process) and does not currently have coal plants. While nuclear energy is a major hurdle, Vermont is better positioned to attain its goal of being 90% renewable by 2050 than many other states might be. Many states will likely look to Vermont as an example in the renewable energy movement in the coming years.
Of course, the so-called “clean” energy sources don’t come without their problems. Hydroelectric dams are capable of devastating ecosystems and displacing people on a massive scale(4). Solar panels are extremely expensive to install & maintain, and wind turbines can kill birds and have a negative impact on people’s health. Biomass can still produce substantial carbon emissions. But given what we saw in Fukushima, Japan in 2011 and the less disastrous but equally dangerous health & environmental risks of nuclear waste disposal, I have little doubt that the alternatives have to be better.

It’s hard to predict what will happen in the next 50 years, but I think that my generation and those that follow us will develop innovative solutions that will help us gain energy independence in Vermont and beyond. Like the State of Vermont, Common Ground Center and other institutions that model energy independence play an essential role in setting an example for others to follow. When people attend a wedding or retreat here or spend a week with us at Camp Common Ground, they realize that they don’t need all of their energy-hungry devices and appliances to survive and indeed thrive! They also get to see that it’s possible to meet our electricity & heating needs through solar power. 

As Earth Day approaches, we’re inviting the Common Ground community to take a first step toward energy independence by participating in our Earth Day Challenge – go the whole day without electricity! By our calculation, if 200 Common Ground households turn off their televisions, devices, lights, and appliances for one full day, we could collectively save 6400 kilowatt hours! That's equivalent to roughly 8500 lbs of coal! To join this challenge and see who else is participating, visit our facebook page. We believe the Common Ground community can be a part of building a more environmentally sustainable future!

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vermont_Yankee_Nuclear_Power_Plant
(2) http://www.vermontbiz.com/news/december/final-vermont-energy-plan-90-per...
(3) http://205.254.135.7/state/
(4) http://www.altenergy.org/renewables/hydroelectric.html

Neily Jennings is Common Ground Center's Communications Coordinator. She loves to swim in the pond at Common Ground Center, cook, read, and play. She's also a big believer in the cooperative business model and has been a member of housing co-ops, credit unions, food co-ops, and has planned lots of cooperative educational events & conferences.