“We are all complicit. Have we all asked ourselves—are we driving the most fuel-efficient car we can afford? Have we taken steps to halve our own carbon emissions?” -Dr. Alan Betts, at SolarFest.
Your live, on-the-spot reporting from SolarFest here—many dreadlocks, much protest-music playing, sandals, Reggae music and Prius driving, henna tattoos, sprinkled with an occasional dose of suspicion of the government (ha, just like the far right), all wrapped up with a layer of techno-pop-Woodstock ambiance. But a great many products and workshops; ideas that could carry us a long way forward if they were applied across the board, from savannah farming to
carbon-zero houses and all manner of solar and wind products. But also on display—the problem we have that I’ve been writing about all along—many, many cases of the right hand not talking to the left. No one seems to have a workable master plan. On one side of the SolarFest lot, we have groups that are adamantly opposed to nuclear power, and particularly want the closure of Vermont Yankee. I’m not sure what their plans are to replace the power from today’s nuclear plants. My guess would be “consume less”, which, unfortunately, is everyone’s answer (I spoke with them after I wrote this, but I’ll save all that for future posts). Then on another side we have groups that oppose the new solar fields on Route 7 in Vermont, referring to this as “solar sprawl”. Then we have 350.org, which seems to oppose everything, and still other groups that oppose utility-scale wind here in Vermont. I spent some time talking to Lukas Snelling of Energize Vermont, a group that opposes all utility-scale wind on Vermont’s ridges. He had stacks of huge photographic prints of blasting and road construction and the huge access roads that are being built in Lowell, VT, in order to get the parts of these towers up the mountains. I will readily admit that the impact of these roads is substantial. These roads do not match one’s mental picture of “access roads”, they look more like four-lane highways prior to paving, complete with huge infills and equally huge blasting cuts, all in formerly pristine mountain landscapes. But as bad as this is, I’m also pretty sure this is a case of a failure to see the whole picture.
So let’s step back. How exactly are we going to save the planet? What exactly are our plans with regard to energy? The very short consensus by those who have looked at this—we’re going to need to phase out fossil fuels, and use power more efficiently, and, even with this (here’s the kicker)—double the production of electricity. Somehow. This after phasing out electricity generation from coal and natural gas . The amount of energy in fossil fuels is tremendous, almost staggering, and to replace it, even with serious conservation and efficiency, is going to take a massive effort.
Part of this will, and should, come from the one thing that everyone does seem to agree on—distributed, roof-mounted solar. I agree as well, for every roof to have solar on it would be a great start. But it wouldn’t be enough. The sun doesn’t shine at night, and, here in the relative north, it doesn’t shine much in the winter months. So, something else is going to have to take up the slack, and it’s going to have to be big, and it’s going to have to be carbon-free. And there’s no doubt in my mind that a big chunk of that needs to be from wind. Small-scale solar works, but small-scale wind doesn’t work nearly as well—there are huge economies of scale and efficiencies inherent in the larger wind projects. I will even allow that nuclear power might need to stay, at least for a while.
So, more on this topic soon—Lukas is going to send me the files for some of his photographs of the Lowell wind project, and I’d like to post them; they are thought-provoking, and there is much to this that needs discussing.
But back to Solarfest—many good ideas, many dedicated people, mixed in with a few loonies and a few earth-types who could stand to shower a bit more often. It was all a bit messy, with not many clear answers, but perhaps that in itself makes it a miniature version of the problems we face.