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Vermont Guardian

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Posted May 10, 2007

Make housing affordable

Open space environmentalists and smart growth proponents are advocating housing affordability schemes to prevent sprawl and encourage urban livability.

Policymakers are considering tax subsidies or reducing property taxes to make homes affordable while more and more land is kept green. Yet housing still remains unaffordable (Vermont Guardian, April 16).

Government-subsidized units or those mandated to be affordable only affect a few households in this state. Taxpayers pick up the tab in the form of increased taxes and/or higher housing prices to subsidize these buildings. Nothing is free. This is a hidden redistribution of income that affects housing affordability in Vermont.

If we really want to address housing affordability we need to tackle impediments such as urban growth regulations, lengthy planning processes, complicated design codes, restrictive zoning, historical preservation, land conservation easements, wetland mitigation, and open space preservation programs that all drive up the cost of land and housing.

Regulations and permit requirements have contributed to the 250 percent increase in land costs since 1996. State and local officials take heed — your actions make housing unaffordable.

If you’re interested in reducing housing costs, start with zoning reform, not housing mandates and subsidies. This is the only way to keep the dream accessible to every Vermont family.

Frank Mazur
South Burlington

An answer to Vermont’s energy future

A lot of people in Vermont don’t want nuclear power — even if it doesn’t emit carbon dioxide and it provides our cheapest reliable electricity — and want Vermont Yankee (VY) closed in 2012 (Vermont Guardian, May 3).

But if we successfully close VY, both carbon dioxide emissions and electric rates will go up. It is being proposed that industrial windfarms can fill the gap created when the VY contract, which provides a third of our electricity, ends in 2012. Although industrial windfarms have a place in our energy future, wind can never provide for that gap because it doesn’t always blow. Instead, Vermont would have to build more natural gas generating units to back up the wind, causing more carbon dioxide to be emitted in Vermont. That seems to conflict with the Legislature’s attempt to deal with global warming, the Legislature’s interest in protecting Vermont ratepayers, and existing statutes that protect Vermont high-elevation ecosystems.
But there is an answer for Vermont’s energy future, with or without nuclear energy, and it would help keep Vermont the number one least polluting state in the country and the sixth most desirable tourist location in the world. The answer is hydropower.

Hydro Quebec has 35,000 megawatts (MW) of hydropower. We need only 1,000 MW in Vermont, a drop in a mighty big bucket. It doesn’t emit carbon dioxide, it is renewable (as all hydro is regardless of the size), and it is reliable 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Industrial wind will not make Vermont energy independent, nor will it keep the money earned by out-of-state developers and their investors in the state. If Renewable Energy Credits are sold out of state, as is proposed, windfarms in Vermont could actually help carbon dioxide emitting facilities in Massachusetts and Connecticut continue to pollute.

Industrial wind can be a valuable resource when sited correctly. But it has caused controversy in many of the proposed locations in Vermont because developers do not share the same concerns and dedication to stewardship of the land that many Vermonters do. If we are serious about combating global warming, we need to focus on the causes of carbon dioxide emissions, our heating and transportation, not on an electric system that is already cleaner than anywhere else in the country.

We in the Northeast are fortunate to be able to use water as an electric generating source. Compromising our protected areas above 2,500 feet for any form of development could be a slippery slope, and a lot of mud can be washed down our mountains if Vermont doesn’t get this right.

Hydro Quebec, along with sound efficiency and conservation practices, offers us, right now, our best option for our future electric needs. It would also provide Vermont the time to explore community-based power solutions that are decided by and for Vermonters. And that public discussion, where everyone is invested in the outcome, could be a fertile ground for the discovery of new and better ways to power our electric needs, reduce our heating with new efficiencies, and conserve our energy and natural resources.

Sandy Wilbur
South Londonderry

Support energy efficiency

Recently, while the governor and lawmakers were debating whether to make tiny investments to reduce Vermont’s dependence on foreign oil, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and scientist Jared Diamond was at Middlebury College to warn that our society is close to collapse.

Diamond’s talk broadly followed the contours of his 550-page book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Diamond concludes that there are five reasons societies fail or succeed: human environmental impacts, climate change, hostile neighbors, friendly trading partners, and how the society responds to these other challenges.

While it may seem dramatic to consider the collapse of our society, Diamond noted that many societies have declined rapidly after reaching their peak — much to the shock of their citizens.

The Energy Affordability and Climate Change bill in the Legislature creates an all-fuels efficiency utility that would help Vermont residents and businesses save money on their heating bills, as Efficiency Vermont has saved millions for Vermonters on their electric bills.

The efficiency utility benefits us all five ways Diamond identified: It reduces our vulnerability to oil depletion; it reduces greenhouse emissions; it reduces our dependence on oil from regions hostile to the United States; it provides a model that, like Efficiency Vermont, can be exported to our friendly trading partners and help them; and, it sets up better incentives for making economically and environmentally rational decisions.

Ask the governor and the Legislature to give the efficiency utility the funding it needs.

Carl Etnier
Montpelier

The reasons Vermont is unaffordable

I just finished reading the article on affordability in Vermont (Vermont Guardian, April 26). I live and work in northern Vermont and my job regularly takes me across all of the northern counties. I must disagree with Wallace Roberts on several points.

First, you almost never see a modest-sized home being built on a normal town-sized lot any more. Most are huge homes built on multi-acre lots. At the current price of land, that is a big portion of the price of home. These houses are being built because someone is buying them — people with a lot more money than your average Vermonter are coming here from areas where housing is a lot worse.

Second, on the matter of taxes. The population density in Vermont is low. Therefore, everything in government and school is going to cost each of us more, especially since we seem to want to keep up with the Joneses. There are a lot of people who rent here in Vermont. They do not see how property taxes affect their rents. There are a lot of older people in Vermont also who are not hammered by property taxes the way working property owners are. End result: You have a huge percentage of people who don’t have a reason to get out and vote down school and town budgets.

Thirdly, I want to bring up employment. Vermont has made it so tough to do business here that few employers want to come here. They are regulated out of this state to friendlier places. Act 250 I hear is a nightmare. The environmentalists have such sway here that getting anything of any size approved here is a crap shoot. Wal-Mart in St. Albans and the Circumferential Highway down south are prime examples.

This is made even worse by the fact that the transportation system is awful. We have two major north-south arteries and no east-west arteries. Nearly all other roads in this state are poorly maintained, narrow two-lane paved country roads or dirt roads. This makes getting raw materials in and finished products out tough. The most prosperous areas in the state are next to a freeway. The rest of the state goes begging.

While external pressures are in fact working against us, there is much that could be done that would ease the affordability problem. But it will take getting Vermont legislators’ heads out of the clouds and back on their shoulders and paying attention to what really is going on in our own backyards.

Mark Pynduss
Alburgh

Nuclear is not an option

I was shocked to read the article about nuclear possibilities (Vermont Guardian, May 3). There was not one mention of the radioactive waste sitting around Vermont Yankee or the fact that nuclear is not carbon emission free because of the commissioning and decommissioning processes and mostly in the process of enriching uranium to use in nuclear power plants.

The Guardian also did not mention that Vermont Yankee is an old plant that has been vibrating for years, cracking various parts of the plant and no one has figured out why. I believe all the other plants of this type have been decommissioned.

Also the Guardian states that it is only people in close proximity who are concerned about Vermont Yankee. That is patently false. There are many of us in all parts of the state who learned from Chernobyl that one does not have to be near a plant to be devastated from an accident.

Brennan Michaels
Salisbury