Monday, December 3, 2012

The Vermont Renewable Scene: It's Awkward (for me)

On Saturday, December 1, the Vermont Energy and Climate Action Network (VECAN) held its annual conference at the Lake Morey Resort. The theme of the conference was meeting Vermont's Comprehensive Energy Plan goals of 90% renewables for all energy uses by 2050.  If you remember, the Comprehensive Energy Plant was pushed through by the Shumlin administration in 2011. I blogged about the plan extensively, for example, in the post Hurry Up. Hurry Up.  Renewables. Don't Pay Attention to the Gas Pipeline.

Talking to the Press

The day before the VECAN meeting about the renewables goal, John Gregg of the Valley News emailed me to ask if I would be willing to comment on whether the 90% goal was reasonable.  He emailed that Jon Wolper was attending the conference and writing the article.  I emailed back that of course I would be willing to comment. I have a great deal of respect for John Gregg, and I was very happy to be asked.

Actually, I didn't just say: "Yes, I'll comment." I wrote a long email to Gregg and Wolper about renewables.

The day after the meeting, on Sunday, the Jon Wolper article appeared in the Valley News: Vermont Energy Advocates at Fairlee Conference Eye 90 Percent by 2050 Goal.   It includes a quote from my email. I think it is an excellent article.

The article starts:

Fairlee — For a group of about 300 energy officials and advocates brainstorming how to accomplish a certain state plan yesterday, adjectives reigned.
They said that Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan, which is meant to get the state to 90 percent renewable energy usage by 2050, was bold. It was huge. Audacious. Ambitious. Extraordinary.
Also, essential.

The article ends with the following quote from me:

“No, it is not possible by 2050,” wrote Meredith Angwin, a physical chemist, in an email. ....
“It may never be possible," she said.

I think the Valley News article was clear-eyed about the challenges.

Talking to the Ethan Allen Institute

When I'm quoted in the press, I usually send a link to various people at the Ethan Allen Institute. The Institute is the parent organization for my Energy Education Project.  Rob Roper, the new president of the Institute, emailed me after he received the link to the Valley News article.  Roper said he thought that I had probably said more than "not possible...may never be possible."  Did I give my reasons for "not possible" in the email I sent the reporters?

I assured him I had sent quite a lengthy email to the Valley News, with reasons and links and everything. I sent him a copy of the email.

In Roper's opinion, the incomplete quote in the article was used to portray me as a "negative Nellie." Roper has written a letter to the editor about my quote.

Talking to my Blog Readers

At this point, I will close the blog post with an edited version of the email that I sent to the Valley News.
  • In terms of the Valley News, I know that reporters have space constraints, and I don't feel I was quoted badly.  
  • In terms of the Ethan Allen Institute, I understand Roper's point.  
So it is up to you, dear readers, to tell me what you think of the quote and the email.

Here it is:

Hello Jon and John

Thank you for asking me for my opinion!

About 90% renewable energy...your substantive, it is not possible by 2050.  It may never BE possible, unless our "behavior modification" includes dropping our population to far less than it is now.  You see, renewable energy is pretty land-intensive, and we just can't devote that sort of land area to it and keep any type of society as we have it now.
Note: the original meeting announcement said this about the keynote speaker:

 Dr. Martenson will speak to why he believes a 90 percent renewable energy goal is now a necessity. 
"Getting to 90 percent renewable by 2050 is critical. To get there, however, will require major behavior modification by governments, corporations and individuals.."
I encourage you to look at this free book on the web...Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air

You can download the book, or the synopsis, for free. My son-in-law, a professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia, uses this book as one of the texts for his first-level energy course.  MacKay is a professor at Cambridge and  scientific advisor to UK on climate change.  I am not recommending some off-the-wall book here.

Closer to home, you might want to interview Dr. Robert Hargraves, who has a recent self-published book on a type of new reactors (thorium reactors) which has gotten wonderful reviews by Nobel-prize winners.  Hargraves lives in Hanover.

Hargraves recently spoke in China to a very good reception by some very important people

And he gave a recent seminar at Dartmouth

Here's his book

The important thing, from your point of view, is that the first half of the Hargraves book expands on MacKay's book.  If renewables can supply what we need in the future, then we don't need thorium or any nuclear source, or really, any energy-dense source at all (coal, etc.)  Except that...renewables can't do it for a modern society. Worth reading the book or watching the first part of the Dartmouth talk.

Well, this is long enough!  I just hope it is helpful!



Anonymous said...

And so retold: one of the pitfalls of being a public figure. Ones words can always be taken out of context or used in a less-than-flattering way. But every once-in-a-while, someone really gets it right, and the message rings unadulterated.
It is for these crystalline moments we practice our passion for putting finger to key - and not just for sharing cat pictures.

Mike Mulligan said...

No one ever seems to talk about the income needed in all forms of energy cost inflation till 2050....especially for the bottom half.

How nobody is ever advocating lots more income to the bottom half...

How come?

Meredith Angwin said...


Thank you for the comment. Great perspective and very helpful!

I think about energy costs a lot. If energy gets expensive, it will be bad for everyone, and especially bad for low-income people in cold areas like Vermont and New Hampshire. Whatever politics people follow, we should all try to keep the cost of necessities (like energy) low. That way, everyone can afford what they need.

Mike Mulligan said...

If our income was much higher than we wouldn't care what energy cost.

Travelogue for the Universe said...

You were misquoted by omission and yet when they look back in 2050, you will be seen as the voice of common sense.I am with you today. mary

Rod Adams said...


You did a fine job providing back up and context. Speaking for myself, I would be happy to be quoted with a simple - "not possible" if someone asked me about a 90% renewables energy system, especially if the definition of the word "renewable" does not change.

There are area in the world that approach that level right now; they are all desperately poor and have little access to electricity. They cook their food using dried animal dung as fuel because they scavenged all of the trees long ago.

It never ceases to amaze me how few people take an open eyed approach to recognize that the sun only provides useful energy for a max of about 10 hours per day - with much less in the winter in places like Vermont. The wind blows on its own schedule, sometimes way too much and often not at all.

The big question I always want to ask wooly minded renewable advocates is "why would anyone want to live in the constrained world that you are trying to force on us?" Self sacrifice is simply not very productive.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights

Anonymous said...

The upward progress of mankind through the ages has running through it a common thread, and that is a desire to be free of the vagaries of natural phenomena for the necessities of life. It has driven us to find ways to generate light in the middle of the night by simply flipping a switch, to be able to heat our homes and cook our food in the harshest seasons in very harsh natural environments, and to be able to travel at will over the entire globe in a matter of tens of hours. It has enabled us to build cities in regions where the natural environment would normally preclude even the simplest, sparsest habitation, to grow our foods and harvest them with the labor of a single person when previously entire populations would be spending their lives harvesting only a subsistence living. It is beyond me why individuals and groups would seriously propose a system of energy production that would take us back to those primitive and harsh eras.