October 9, 2005

Sheffield wind project faces stiff resistance

A Massachusetts wind developer has met his match in the Northeast Kingdom, where people are rallying against his plan to industrialize their ridgeline with massive turbines.

In the village of Sheffield and all along the country roads around Sutton and Glover, "Save our ridgeline" placards are appearing. People who have been reluctant to sign anything or vote for anyone in the past have put their names to a petition to stop UPC Wind Management LLC from building 30-story wind turbines on top of Hardscrabble Mountain.

A citizens group called Ridge Protectors has the votes. More than 70 percent of the people on the town’s grand list have signed a petition presented Wednesday to the Sheffield Selectboard. Now it is up to the three Selectboard members, as elected representatives, to stand with the majority and tell the developer that the community is opposed to this project.

UPC, of Newton, Mass., wants to build 20 to 35 turbines, up to 398 feet tall with red blinking lights, along Hardscrabble and another prominent ridge between Granby and Norris mountains. Friday, the company filed notice with the Northeastern Vermont Development Association, the regional planning organization, that it intends to apply to the Public Service Board by Dec. 7 for approval to build this high-elevation utility.

Strong local opposition to a similar UPC development on Gardner Mountain in Lyman, N.H., convinced the company to pull out of that project in January. UPC should read the signals coming from Sheffield – as well as from the Governor’s Office – and leave Vermont’s ridgelines alone.

Gov. Jim Douglas has started to express reservations about mountaintop wind development in this state. He said in an interview last week that he has seen industrial-size wind turbines in Quebec – and "they are large, taller than the Bennington Battle Monument.

"It’s important that people realize the scope of them, the number and the size," he said. "We need to slow down. This is a very important decision."

The governor’s spokesman, Jason Gibbs, was more blunt a week earlier when he told the Free Press: "The governor is not enthusiastic about developing acres and acres of Vermont’s most beautiful ridgelines with industrial wind turbines and the attendant clear-cutting of transmission swaths required to move the power from the top of the mountain to transfer stations."

Rob Brown, a Sheffield resident and architect in St. Johnsbury, agrees that "more than anything, this is about scale. All of us in Ridge Protectors are pro-alternative energy, but these industrial wind turbines are not appropriate for Vermont."

"It would be foolhardy to jump on the wind turbine bandwagon and wake up in 20 years and find there’s been no substantial gain and we’ve just put roads and turbines on top of our mountains."

Greg Bryant, who runs a vegetable, coffee and doughnut kiosk in the center of Sheffield, said UPC Wind has underestimated the people of the Northeast Kingdom, especially "the old-time Vermonters.

"They saw past all the promises. I don’t think this big company expected that," Bryant said. "Why do they pick tiny towns in the Northeast Kingdom? Something doesn’t smell right."

Sheffield, a town of about 700 people, is somewhat battle-scarred from recent local fights over a microwave tower, a quarry and a town hall restoration. This fight might be different. Instead of dividing residents of Sheffield and neighboring Sutton – which would also have some turbines under UPC’s plan – the fight over industrializing the ridgelines is showing signs of bringing people together in a common cause.

Farmers, writers, retirees, hunters, hikers and school administrators are sitting down together and agreeing that the mountains are so precious that they must be protected. This is a decision that comes from the heart as well as from a business perspective.

The King George School in Sutton, for instance, is a residential arts and academic school for troubled teens that is located on a peaceful hillside across from Hardscrabble Mountain. If UPC is successful, this school would be ringed with commercial wind turbines – and the tranquility that Vermont offers to heal these children would be lost. The school employs about 50 people and is one of the largest employers and taxpayers in the area. School director Karen Fitzhugh said the turbines would mean the end of the school. "No parent would put their child in a setting that would make them worse," she said.

Next to Fitzhugh’s school are Paul and Carol Brouha, living in the farmhouse where Paul Brouha’s family found solace after fleeing the  German advance into Belgium in World War II. They, too, have a hopefulvision for their spellbinding location across from Hardscrabble Mountain. They have applied to the state for a Legacy project to add about 1,000 acres of their land and that of their neighbors to the state’s 400-acre Calendar Brook Wildlife Management Area to provide a
largely unbroken habitat for larger animals, and trails for visitors to enjoy the wild and beautiful Northeast Kingdom.

This is more in keeping with Vermont. This is the kind of legacy Vermonters would be proud to leave their children.

But from Sheffield to the Green Mountain National Forest, wind prospectors are scouting out Vermont’s landscape for outrageously out-of-scale commercial wind turbines.

The people in the tiny towns of the Northeast Kingdom shouldn’t have to fight this fight alone. All of Vermont is affected. The ridgelines are sacred. Industrial development should not be allowed on top of our mountains.

Editorial Staff

URL to article:  https://www.wind-watch.org/news/2005/10/09/489/