State’s energy plan a hot topic at Essex forum

Attendees call for carbon tax, guidance on wind projects


Dozens of Vermonters from the northwestern part of the state gathered at Essex High School last week to participate in the formal public hearing process to give feedback on the state’s updates to the Comprehensive Energy Plan for 2015.

Among the goals of the agency overseeing the hearings, the Public Service Department, is to reduce the state’s dependence on fossil fuels with the new comprehensive plan. The state aims to have 90 percent of the state’s energy needs met by renewable power sources by the year 2050, with a goal of having 25 percent of the energy needs met by renewables in 10 years. Currently, 16 percent of the state’s energy demand is supplied by renewable sources, according to the state report.

Asa Hopkins, director of energy policy and planning at the Public Service Department, spoke to the crowd of about 60 people gathered in the school’s cafeteria last week. In front of the school, signs opposing wind turbines were planted in the courtyard, flapping in the rainy and windy night.

Hopkins presented highlights of the plan from a 32-slide presentation that outlined how the state planned to address issues regarding improved efficiency of existing structures, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, limiting the state’s demand for energy, finding the finances within the state to pay for large projects, improving the availability of funds to help middle-income earners make home improvements, how the demands for land in renewables can be addressed in municipal development, the goals for transportation improvements, and the plans to transform electric power sources — which they hope to convert to 67 percent renewable by 2025.

Speakers, who were given a time to comment on the record after Hopkins’ presentation was finished, but were not able to engage in a dialogue with officials, came from Fairfield, Franklin, Milton, Shelburne and Fairfax to weigh in on the 400-page plan. It was clear several people wanted further explanation, guidance within the report, or feedback from the state to direct questions.

“I’ve heard a lot of apprehension, and even more than that about the wind turbines. I’m not even really sure what the facts are, with regards to that, I’m just hearing a lot of locals that are feeling that their lifestyles will be impacted by that,” said Carol Geske, who said that the state could do a lot more to educate people about wind power. “We should learn more,” she said.

Jonathan Dowds of Burlington said the state plan had some good points. “Overall the goals are largely laudable,” he said, but added that it could use more prescriptions for the average Vermonter. “It’s important that we have some things that help steer people’s decision-making,” he said.

Newt Garland, of Fairfax, who introduced himself by saying “I’m a grandfather and I care about the future,” said he applauded efforts to cut back on fossil fuels, but said the plan didn’t do enough by falling short of promising a carbon tax of some kind.

“I would like to see a recommendation for a carbon pollution tax. I think that’s the most effective way to get the population to reduce their fuel consumption,” he said.

Several others echoed his calls for a carbon tax. Both fuel consumption and miles traveled in the state has led to a one-sixth decline over the last decade in revenues from the state gas tax, and state officials from the Agency of Transportation are studying other income streams, including a carbon tax, to pay for road maintenance and improvement, according to an Oct. 10 story by

The Essex presentation was the second of five public hearings on the plan before the state’s window for submission of written comments closes on Nov. 9.

To comment on the plan, visit the website established for its public review at

— Jess Wisloski