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Solar Farms, Midd’s EDI project and the Gas Pipeline

Some fragments for the column today. Perhaps in the future, each of these sketches will grow up to be columns.

The Town of Middlebury plans to oversee development of the parking areas between the Ilsley Library and Otter Creek. As the last major piece of soon-to-be-developed land in the downtown, this site has the special quality of being owned not by a company or an individual, but by the town itself.

So shouldn’t we expect something from the project that has town-wide benefits?

Let’s be sure, for example, that any project built there provides a net addition to downtown parking.

It should also enhance access to that lovely stretch of Otter Creek above the falls. We can do better with creekside land than just park cars in the dirt there.

Middlebury should also look out for its lower-income residents. Any new housing in the project ought to include rent-stabilized apartments for lower-income people.

And while we’re at it, what about guaranteeing a living wage for anyone who works at the site?

For employees such as retail clerks and custodians, the national “Fight for 15” campaign has highlighted the plight of millions of those who try to survive on making less than $15 an hour.

The town shouldn’t be in the business of handing land to developers who pay their workers less than a decent wage. Fifteen dollars an hour should be the minimum for any business on that site.

And while we’re at it, let’s be sure anything built there incorporates passive and active solar energy.

***

“What can make the heart ache more than a billboard?” That was the plaintive question from the authors of “On the Loose,” a seminal Sierra Club book from the 1960s.

I think I’ve found the answer to that question: It makes the heart ache more than that, to watch Addison County residents campaign against solar energy.Solar farm photo

If we have any chance of surviving the coming catastrophe that is climate change, it will require a massive shift to solar and other forms of renewable energy.

The nascent movement to block solar projects in the Champlain Valley – even to give towns veto power over this essential part of building a safe energy future – is insane.

I hope the solar critics will turn their aesthetic attention to other things in the Route 7 corridor that do in fact blight the landscape. Strip development, for example.

It’s a tragically misguided effort to go after solar because of some overblown concern about how the panels look in the eyes of a few beholders.

If those folks opposing solar farms are worried about the Vermont landscape, they should ponder what our future will look like, if we don’t combat climate change by installing sustainable energy projects.

Without those projects, our children and grandchildren will be looking at a Vermont landscape where the signature maple tree is disappearing because it’s too hot.

Where evergreens are succumbing to insect infestations.

Where the rivers regularly overrun their banks to destroy homes, roads and bridges (remember Irene?) because climate change brings ever-more destructive rainstorms.

If those things come to pass, we will look back and wonder how anyone could have opposed the solar developments that could have helped save us from a too-hot planet.

***

While we’re on the topic of climate change, a couple of notes about fossil fuel divestment and the Vermont Gas pipeline proposal.

State Treas. Beth Pearce recently traipsed down to Texas on a mission that would have done Don Quixote proud: She was pushing ExxonMobil to reduce its greenhouse emissions.

Lest we forget, ExxonMobil is in the oil business – the very purpose of which is to find, dig, pipe, refine and sell fossil fuels. The same fuels that are driving climate change.

Rather than ask an oil company to put itself out of business, maybe we should ask Betty Crocker to stop making cake mixes.

The shareholder resolution that the treasurer supported had, in a previous tally, attracted more than 20% of the vote at ExxonMobil’s annual meeting.

This year it got 9.6%.

While Pearce’s windmill tilting was well intentioned, it was also pointless. Rather than expecting oil companies to reform themselves, she should drop her stubborn resistance to having the state of Vermont divest out of fossil fuel companies.

There are many equally profitable investments that don’t dirty the state’s hands. We can make a powerful moral statement about the best future for Vermont by taking state funds out of this dirty business.

We did it with apartheid South Africa, and we need to be on the right side of this pressing moral issue, too.

While Pearce continues to hold out a naïve hope that investors can force oil companies to change their business model, many wise minds have already decided to divest.

Even the Rockefeller family fund – whose enormous wealth was built upon oil—has recognized the futility of shareholder resolutions aimed at fossil fuel companies. As announced the day after the massive People’s Climate March, the Rockefeller fund is now in the process of divesting from fossil fuels.

State Sen. Anthony Pollina put it nicely: “It makes no sense for us to say we oppose climate change and then invest in the companies that are causing it.”

***

Also on the climate front, here’s a shout-out to Rising Tide Vermont and others who have continued to make their case about the lies from Vermont Gas.

As that company continues to push its loser of a plan to shove a pipeline through the heart of Addison County, Rising Tide and other pipeline groups are shining examples of what democracy looks like.

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