April 25, 2019

Environmentalists: Hydropower, biomass not ‘renewable’

Geoffrey Gardner, of the Upper Valley Affinity Group, at a forum on climate change in Waterbury. Photo by Elizabeth Gribkoff/VTDigger

By Elizabeth Gribkoff

For VTDigger

Environmental activists from New England and Canada are demanding that political leaders stop promoting “false” solutions to climate change.

The Vermont Sierra Club, 350Vermont and other environmental groups protested a New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers conference this week in Stowe. They oppose new fossil fuel infrastructure and say electricity from large hydro dams or biomass plants should not count as renewable energy.

Energy is a major focus of the conference, which took place at Stowe Mountain Resort, Sunday through Tuesday. The environmental coalition kicked off events with an energy and climate forum at the Waterbury Congregational Church on Sunday evening then staged a rally Monday at the entrance to Stowe Mountain Resort.

Panelists at the forum said that neither large scale hydropower nor biomass should be considered “carbon neutral” forms of electricity production.

Vermont gets about 30 percent of its power from Hydro-Quebec, which generates electricity from a massive series of dams near James Bay and in eastern Quebec. The company is planning another large scale hydro project on the Romaine River, north of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Several large transmission lines that would move electricity from Quebec and Labrador to areas of New England have been proposed over the past few years.

Becky Bartovics, an organic farmer from the Maine island of North Haven, detailed the environmental cost of the infrastructure needed to transport hydropower out of Canada and onto the New England grid. New England Clean Energy Connect — a proposed 145-mile transmission line from the Quebec-Maine border to Lewiston, Maine — would destroy 263 wetlands and stifle the state’s growing renewable energy sector, she said.

“Is this the way of the future, more large scale transmission lines?” Bartovics asked. As an alternative, she described a smart grid project in Boothbay that used distributed renewable energy generation like solar to save millions of dollars by obviating the need to build new transmission lines.

The cold weather region needs to invest in energy efficiency to reduce demand, Bartovics said. “It’s very unsexy, but it’s the most important thing,” she said.

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