Former Executive Director, Vermont Natural Resources Council
In 1969 Vermonters responded to a land use crisis: Governor Deane Davis described it as “Rampant Growth” brought on by the expansion of the Interstate Highway System. His solution was to assemble the Gibb Commission that established the foundation for Act 250. Now, 45 years later, we have a different land use crisis, brought on by the urgent need to shift away from fossil fuels to cleaner, renewable sources of power. But the distributed nature of renewable energy generation presents a new set of land use challenges.
Today, we cannot escape the fact that any environmental or land use issue in the foreseeable future must be addressed in the context of how we power our lives. We have statewide goals to build a renewable energy portfolio that satisfies 90% of our clean energy needs by 2050. That means ramping up on efficiency and conservation in a big way. And it also means responding to the land use and environmental implications of distributed energy generation—solar, wind, geo- thermal and hydro—that we will soon rely on as primary sources of energy to power our homes, workplaces, schools, and vehicles. The hotly debated siting issues associated with these facilities must be addressed soon, so that we can meet our energy goals while honoring the longstanding policies and regulation that protect our natural and cultural resources.
It seems strikingly obvious that it is time to assemble the 21st century equivalent of the Gibb Commission to research and recommend ways in which we could coordinate and integrate a system of land use and energy planning and permitting in Vermont.