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Save our ridgelines  

Almost 70 years ago, Vermonters decided man's hand did not need to be evident everywhere. Remember that spirit now as this state considers allowing wind turbines on ridgelines.

For one state lawmaker, the debate about wind turbines on Vermont’s
ridgelines is reminiscent of a Depression-era scheme to build a highway
along the spine of the state’s highest peaks. The Green Mountain
Parkway, which was defeated in a statewide referendum in 1936, would
have stretched 260 miles from Massachusetts to the Canadian border —
and ruined our ridgelines.

Rep. Michael Obuchowski, D-Rockingham, sees the growing movement to
build 30-story-tall wind towers on Vermont’s mountaintops as a similar
violation of the state’s treasured natural assets. He has introduced a
bill, H.186, to require that aesthetics, water purity, historic sites
and wildlife habitat be given distinct consideration when the state is
dealing with wind power proposals.

The bill is important because it opens a discussion that must happen in
the Legislature as well as in all of Vermont. Our mountain- tops could
come under assault no differently than building a Green Mountain Parkway.

Who decides?

Under the bill, a review of aesthetic and environmental issues for these
high-elevation utility projects would be conducted by a district
environmental commission – rather than the Public Service Board —
using certain criteria of Vermont’s restrictive land-use law Act 250.
The Public Service Board would then be required to give the commission’s
findings due consideration when determining whether to issue a
certificate of public good to a wind developer.

Obuchowski argues that environmental commissions, familiar with the
principles of Act 250, are more adept than the Public Service Board at
making decisions on aesthetics and sensitive environmental issues.

Gov. Jim Douglas’ commission on wind energy decided that the current
regulatory process for utility projects, 30 V.S.A. section 248, under
the Public Service Board was adequate to deal with wind power – an
energy source that was not a consideration when the regulations were
enacted in 1969. The opposing view is that Act 250’s rigorous criteria
for development should be applied to wind projects – that Act 250 makes
the environment the top priority while section 248 balances
environmental good with economic benefit.

“Our ridgelines are special,” Obuchowski says. “Once we violate them,
they will be violated for a long time. We need to be respectful of the
resources that will be impacted. They belong to all citizens of Vermont
and all citizens of the world. Vermont is this haven that others come to
enjoy. The infringement of the viewshed has as much impact on people
living there as those who climb a peak.”

State’s spirit

The rush to wind power across the nation, spurred in part by the renewal
of federal tax credits for wind developers and partly by state
legislatures’ renewable energy mandates, is taking root in this state as
well.

Certainly, finding sources of nonpolluting energy is part and parcel of
the Vermont spirit, but at the baseline of this spirit is understanding
the special nature of our environment. This is the state that banned
billboards. We ought to be the state that bans 330-foot- tall wind
turbines on the top of our mountains. This stance is also part of the
Vermont spirit. We are the shareholders of a wonderful environmental legacy.

State legislators are considering mandating renewables, such as wind,
solar and biomass, as part of Vermont’s energy mix. Vermont has only one
wind tower project, 11 turbines at the Searsburg wind facility near
Bennington. The towers, completed in 1997, are largely hidden from view
because of the hilly terrain, and unlighted because they are below the
200-foot Federal Aviation Administration guidelines.

The Searsburg project, which is outdated, does not compare to the new
wind turbines proposed for Vermont. They are at least 330 feet tall with
flashing lights. Across the state, developers have been staking their
territory with wind measurement towers, particularly in the Northeast
Kingdom, preparing to seek government approval to construct commercial
wind farms on ridges above 2,500 feet.

Next month, the first proposal for an industrial wind farm in the
Northeast Kingdom will be before a Public Service Board hearing officer.
Developer Mathew Rubin of Montpelier wants to build four 330-foot-tall
turbines at the summit of East Mountain in East Haven, a property he
owns in the heart of the conserved Champion Lands.

Opponents, including a group of residents called the Kingdom Commons
Group, have a number of concerns about what the turbines would do to
their home. Will Staats, a wildlife biologist and member of the group,
sees the wind towers as man’s intrusion on Vermont’s “last wild place,”
the Northeast Kingdom.

Lesson of history

Vermont stands at an environmental crossroads. Obuchowski has raised the
ghosts of Vermont’s past and they must be considered.

The Green Mountain Parkway, conceived in 1933 as a tourist boost and
job-creator, had the support of a number of key players including Gov.
Stanley Wilson, the state planning commission, the Vermont Chamber of
Commerce and even the editorial board of this newspaper. President
Franklin D. Roosevelt had given it his preliminary approval.

But, as Vermont historian Samuel B. Hand writes in his book, “The Star
that Set,” the almost universal accord was broken by a challenge from
the Green Mountain Club, guardians of the Long Trail. The trail would
have been swallowed up by the highway. In the end, Vermonters voted
their conscience and defeated the plan at Town Meeting Day in March 1936.

“This is the same kind of issue,” Obuchowski says. “It will forever
change the face of Vermont.”

Wind turbines taller than the Bennington Battle Monument do not belong
on Vermont’s mountain tops.

Almost 70 years ago, Vermonters decided man’s hand did not need to be
evident everywhere. Remember that spirit now as this state considers
allowing wind turbines on ridgelines.

Editorial Staff

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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