Testimony from two state agencies at a Public Service Board hearing this
month vividly illustrated the deep split that exists in Vermont over the
introduction of industrial-size wind turbines on ridgelines.
The Department of Public Service, which oversees utilities, energy and
telecommunications, came out in support of the proposed East Mountain
project in the Northeast Kingdom. A wildlife biologist for the
Department of Fish and Wildlife expressed serious and foreboding
concerns about it.
It is the job of Kurt Janson, as a hearing officer for the
quasi-judicial Public Service Board, to make an independent decision in
this controversial case – the first wind turbine proposal in the
state’s remote Northeast Kingdom and the first since the smaller scale
Searsburg facility was built eight years ago.
Gov. Jim Douglas has already made up his mind on the project. Spokesman
Jason Gibbs said in an interview Tuesday that the Douglas administration
supports the four 330-foot-tall wind towers being proposed for East
Mountain – but “only as a demonstration project that would allow for
complete and comprehensive studies regarding the environmental impacts
of these turbines.”
This reasoning is troubling. What will they demonstrate, these enormous
wind towers plunked down in the middle of the Champion Lands that the
public just six years ago invested millions of dollars to protect as a
Will they demonstrate that remote ridgelines in the Northeast Kingdom
are to be sacrificed to commercial wind development – and that only a
few souls way up north who have lost their peaceful retreat to
strobe-lighted industrial monoliths will complain?
Will they demonstrate to the other wind developers from as far away as
California who are smacking their lips over Vermont’s windy summits that
this state’s ridgelines are open for business?
Searsburg in southern Vermont was considered a demonstration project,
but it is so far out of date that it cannot compare with the new
generation of wind turbines, which are more than 100 feet taller and
lighted 24 hours a day under Federal Aviation Administration rules.
Given what has happened in the wind industry since Searsburg was built
in 1997, it won’t take long for the East Mountain demonstration project
to be outdated as well.
The Douglas administration thinks wind power will play a “favorable
role” in the state’s energy future, but the degree to which Vermont
relies on commercial wind projects is still open to question and public
debate, Gibbs said.
Commercial wind turbines on Vermont ridgelines pose one of the greatest
environmental challenges to face this state. If there is to be a public
debate, where will it happen? At Public Service Board hearings for the
next group of wind developers who apply for a green light to build
turbines on their private land, with local residents scrambling to
gather a defense of the mountains?
With no overall state policy or guidance, will Vermonters watch wind
turbines be erected piecemeal on owned or leased mountaintops as the
state steps back and makes way for developers?
In poignant testimony to the Public Service Board, Thomas Decker, a
wildlife biologist for the Department of Fish and Wildlife with direct
responsibilities for the Northeast Kingdom, raised concerns about the
towers’ impact on the state’s last wild place, the Champion Lands —
thousands of acres of land and conservation easements acquired by the
state and federal governments in 1999 for wildlife management, public
access and enjoyment.
“Our concern is that we have expended a great deal of time (decades),
effort and millions of dollars to preserve the rugged and remote quality
of this area,” Decker said in his pre-filed testimony. “Key to this
character and maintaining this remoteness is mountain top peaks with
unobtrusive skylines. This project will directly impact this keystone
feature and unravel the significance of the public investment.”
Vermonters who have stood together to fight off billboards along
roadways and encroaching development on hillsides are splintered by the
prospect of wind power. Within state government, and among environmental
groups and citizens, people are conflicted.
Renewable energy and conservation are attractive components of Vermont’s
energy future, but it is hard to justify putting 330-foot-tall towers
and transmission lines on our unique summits for an inconsequential
amount of power. The East Mountain demonstration project would produce
about 0.3 percent of the state’s annual electrical needs.
Allowing this development to go ahead, right in the middle of the
Champion Lands, would be short-sighted and inconsistent with the values
Vermonters have shared about their landscape for centuries.
Tell the governor
If you’re concerned about wind turbines on ridgelines, call Gov. Jim
Douglas at (802) 828-3333.