NEWARK — More than 125 people boarded a fleet of school buses in Island Pond and Newark Wednesday afternoon to see first-hand the wind turbines operated by First Wind in Sheffield, which are similar to the ones proposed by Eolian Renewable Energy/Nordex USA, Inc. for Brighton, Ferdinand and Newark.
It was perhaps the first gathering about the proposed project where many in attendance were in favor of both wind as a renewable energy source, and in the project that may one day be hosted by their communities.
The project is in its infancy with a request for a Certificate of Public Good before the Vermont Public Service Board for four testing or meteorological towers.
John Soininen, vice president of Development for Eolian Renewable Energy in Portsmouth, N.H., said voters in both Island Pond and Newark were informed about the tours and invitations were sent to others. A few residents of other area towns also attended, including Burke, East Haven, Wheelock and a handful more.
On the Newark buses were a selectman, the school’s principal, a former member of the Development Review Board in Burke, landowners near the proposed 35-turbine wind project in both Newark and Island Pond; and some of those who wrote letters with concerns about the request for the MET towers and the underlying project to the PSB.
While some proponents were eager to support the project, others lent quiet, anonymous support. One bus rider said, “I have friends on both sides of the issue, and I don’t want to upset anyone.”
For Richie Wray, the former DRB member from Burke, who attended with his wife, Linda, the visit was to “gather information.”
“It’s a complex issue here,” said Wray.
Two of the three principal developers from Eolian accompanied the tour — Soininen, who has Northeast Kingdom roots, and Travis Bullard, senior development manager — both of whom rode buses with the tour groups, and walked around the wind project in Sheffield, chatting with small groups and individuals about how the technology works.
Wray said he had heard that the turbines “were being turned down,” to quiet the sound for the visitors.
A phone call claiming the same had been received by the newspaper earlier Wednesday, before the tours departed. Bullard, who handed out cold water and apple juice to people on the tour, said that rumor was not true. “They are in the business of making wind power …” Bullard said. “These nay sayers will say anything they want.”
John Lamontagne, spokesman for First Wind who accompanied the visitors along with the First Wind ground crew, said “The only way these projects earn revenue is by operating and generating electricity. We try not to shut down turbines except for routine maintenance, and we’re not shutting down turbines today. … The project is online and operating normal. It’s a hot, humid day — usually means lower — than-usual wind conditions.”
Jeanne and Butch Williams of East Burke both said they support the proposed new wind farm, and enjoy the view of the Sheffield wind farm from their home, and have no problem with it whatsoever. “I think it’s great,” said Butch. “I look up at it every morning.”
Butch Williams recounted a story of his grandmother, who lived in St. Johnsbury and didn’t want power lines and poles spoiling her view; they went in across the street and she waited 10 years to connect to electricity for her home because she was so fearful of a fire, he said. “That was their perspective,” he said. “Times are changing.”
If the Eolian/Nordex project ends up getting the needed permits to construct a wind project, Jennifer Hanlon of Brighton said it would be very close to her home, and she supports it.
Ken Gammell of Newark also is a strong backer of the plans being advanced by Eolian/Nordex.
Standing near the top of the First Wind property, Gammell asked, “Can you hear them?” saying it was a “wish-wash” type sound, and that the cooling unit in the base of the lighthouse-like towers was the main noise you could hear on Wednesday. “There is no noise there that would keep you awake,” he said.
Producing wind power will produce jobs, and energy, said Gammell, something that would reduce dependence on fossil fuels, he said. Wind power can help Americans to stop “buying millions of gallons of oil from countries that hate us and where our kids (in the military) are getting killed and losing arms and legs,” Gammell said.
Pointing to an access road leading to one of the turbines, each of which weigh approximately 300 tons and which soar more than 400 feet into the sky, Soininen said, “This is what we’re talking about. In my mind, this is not blowing out the side of a mountain,” he said.
Heidi Trombly of Newark, walking fairly close to the turbines, said aloud, “My refrigerator makes more noise than this.” She said her daughter lives in Sheffield. If Newark can get property tax relief by hosting part of a wind project, she said, she is all for the renewable energy project.
Bruce Devlin, a Newark resident, was on the tour, and stated afterward, “When all was said and done, I was quite surprised at the lack of noise at the site yesterday. The loudest noise was from the cooling fans at the base of the towers. There wasn’t even much noise from the generators themselves which was a real surprise to me… It sounds like truck tires on the highway.”
“I guess my only objection to the towers is the massive size of them. I don’t want them right in my back yard and don’t see the sense to the whole project when all these millions of tax payer dollars are going to be spent on something that is only going to produce a very small percentage of our power needs,” stated Devlin. “It seems as though the real benefits are focused on the wind farm companies themselves. I really don’t see the need for them at this time and really take offense that we have to fight for our right as a town to just say NO!”