by Erica Walch
Two big storms in Vermont in seven days – one with wet snow that felled trees onto power lines, one with high winds that felled trees onto power lines. Pre-storms, Green Mountain Power notified customers they would be out in force to limit disruptions and fix downed lines.
At one point during the first storm, according to their web site, 163 of Vermont’s 251 towns had outages and as many as 120,000 people lost power. People were (and are, as I write this) without heat and water for days and dealing with food spoiled in fridges and freezers. For this latest storm (which is hitting the north more than the south and is thus getting more attention), heating stations are being set up and the Governor is warning people to be prepared for several days without power and that they should have a plan to go someplace that has heat.
“Make a plan” is the official message. Such widespread long-term outages seem to happen at least once per winter and negatively impact people’s lives in fundamental ways.
The push to change home heating systems from wood and standing-pilot propane to electric igniting pellet stoves and electric heat pumps is incomprehensible when the electric power in the state is so unreliable when it’s needed most – in the middle of a storm. The legislature has renamed the “Clean Heat Standard” to the “Affordable Heat Standard” but even if the proposal were clean or affordable, homes dependent on electricity for heat are going to be in peril at every long-term outage. Something that would make people’s quality of life better would instead be to increase weatherization programs in the state by raising the income limit for households to get free weatherization. That way more low-middle income working people who can’t afford a big weatherization loan can get the benefits of insulation and air sealing and their energy usage will decrease – and they could keep their existing heating systems, putting less demand on our unreliable grid. Or maybe the state could give every household a generator.
In this same seven day span, there was an earthquake in California, with the result of lost lives and 71,000 people having no power. California and Vermont have both made the pledge not to allow any new combustion-engine vehicles to be sold in the state after 2035. There’s no plan to improve electric supply or reliability. The electric grid is going to face more and more demand, and it will continue to be unreliable. If you go all-electric and the power goes out, you’ll have no heat, no water, and no way to leave your desolate, freezing house.
Vermont used to be known as a place where people had common sense. I don’t know what has caused the lawmakers in this state to ignore the very apparent problems of relying more on electricity; it’s like an Emperor’s new clothes situation and we’re going to be in trouble if the proposed heat standard goes through. It’s all well and good to tell us to “make a plan” (of course that press conference was only visible to those of us who had power at the time), but it’s about time the governor and legislature make a plan that isn’t further reliance on electricity.
Once your power comes back, you might want to contact your legislators about how foolish it is to steer the state into being more dependent on electricity.
The author is a Newfane resident.