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Environmental agency opposes permit for wind project  

But biologists at the Natural Resources Agency were not convinced. They worry that turning blades on the 328-foot-high turbines will kill migrating birds and bats. The wind developers failed to do studies that would allow the agency to conclude the project will not have an undue harmful impact on wildlife, the agency said.

The state Agency of Natural Resources will not support granting a permit for a four-turbine wind farm in the Northeast Kingdom – Vermont’s first major wind power project in 10 years – the agency said in a recently filed legal brief.

That conclusion puts the environmental agency at odds with a second state office, the Public Service De- partment, which represents the public in utility cases and supports the East Haven Windfarm project.

The utility-regulating Public Service Board will decide whether to approve East Haven Windfarm’s application. The board weighs the economic, energy and environmental impacts of utility projects and determines whether, on balance, they serve the public good.

There is no timetable for a decision, which could be weeks or months away.

Wind developers and opponents are watching closely. Developers are considering at least a half-dozen other wind farms up and down the Green Mountains, often in the face of local opposition. East Haven is the first to reach the decision point.

East Haven’s developers argue that their site, East Mountain, is close to ideal because in addition to a steady breeze it has an already-developed summit served by a paved road – relics of the mountain’s past as a U.S. Air Force radar station.

The state Public Service Department supported the project partly on those grounds.

But biologists at the Natural Resources Agency were not convinced. They worry that turning blades on the 328-foot-high turbines will kill migrating birds and bats. The wind developers failed to do studies that would allow the agency to conclude the project will not have an undue harmful impact on wildlife, the agency said.

"We simply don’t know the intricacies of bird and bat migration through high elevation habitat in Vermont. Until we do, we should be cautious," said John Austin, a state wildlife biologist. Bat deaths are a particular worry, he added, because "studies are finding that bat species we once thought were abundant, are not."

East Haven Windfarm Vice President Dave Rapaport said the state biologists’ fears are unfounded.

"It is not going to kill a lot of birds and bats," he said. "There is ample evidence from other wind farms, what we know about migratory patterns, and the fact that this project is a small size."

East Haven’s legal brief cites an estimated 100 million birds killed by domestic cats each year – compared to "the number of birds killed by the entire U.S. wind industry per year: 33,000."

But the environmental agency’s brief argues that data from other wind sites is of limited use in assessing East Mountain, since few wind farms are placed on similar high-elevation northern mountains. The brief cites a state-commissioned radar study of the air above East Mountain.

"The results from the radar survey indicate that large numbers of birds pass over East Mountain during fall migration at altitudes that would place them within the rotor-swept zone of the wind turbines," the brief says. Later, it adds, "The agency has repeatedly requested certain studies to assess the potential impact of the project on migratory bird and bat species. East Haven Windfarm has been unwilling to conduct these studies."

East Haven’s Rapaport responded, "These studies are not necessary and would be useless. Even if you study the rate of passage of migratory birds, there is no evidence that correlates with mortality rates."

Birds and bats are only one of the issues to be sorted out. Private opponents argue the developers have failed to prove their point on a long list of issues, most notably the impact of placing towering commercial wind turbines in the state’s most remote, undeveloped region.

"This project is out of character with what the Northeast Kingdom is," said Katy Anderson of Westmore, a member of the Kingdom Commons Group, which opposes the project. "They are putting it in the middle of a place where people go to get away from industrialization."

Supporters emphasize the economic benefits of the project, which is expected to generate enough electricity to power 2,900 homes. The power will be sold to Lyndonville Electric Co. at 5 percent below market rates.

"These turbines can’t be seen from many places. They won’t have the profound impact some fear," Rapaport said.

While East Haven Windfarm is waiting for a decision on its East Mountain project, it is proceeding with plans to explore more wind development. Rapaport said the company has received Public Service Board approval to erect wind-monitoring towers on two sites on a hill that straddle the Brighton-Ferdinand border north of East Mountain.
Contact Candace Page at 660-1865 or cpage@bfp.burlingtonfreepress.com

http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20051126/NEWS02/511260302/1007&theme

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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