The town of Sheffield will gauge public opinion on a controversial wind project Thursday with a town meeting and vote on the proposal.
The vote, requested by group of citizens opposed to the wind farm in the small Northeast Kingdom town, will be advisory only. The state Public Service Board has authority over the project.
During the 7 p.m. meeting, which has been moved to the Millers Run School to accommodate a larger crowd, the Massachusetts developer, UPC Wind Management, will present its proposal to install at least 26 industrial wind towers on rural ridge lines in Sheffield and Sutton. The presentation will be followed by 10 minutes each of testimony by members of Ridge Protectors, a group opposed to the project, and Friends of Sheffield Wind Farm, which supports the project.
Greg Bryant of Ridge Protectors says the nearly 400-foot towers would ruin the rural landscape, hurt the economy and area tourism and provide no economic benefit to the community.
"It could be disastrous for us as far as any future development for our town. Our town would become a windmill town," he said Wednesday.
Bryant also said the multimillion dollar project is out of scale with the town that has just over 400 registered voters.
"It’s a giant thing for a tiny, tiny town," he said. "We have no resources to handle … this size project or company."
Supporters say the project would provide clean energy and generate tax revenues for Sheffield. And they say the community doesn’t have accurate information about the project and its potential effects.
UPC estimates the tax benefits would range from $150,000 to $350,000.
The company has hired a public relations firm to respond to concerns and build support in the community. It’s also set up offices in St. Johnsbury and plans to formally seek permission from the Public Service Board by the end of this year or early in the next year.
Leila LaRosa, a Sheffield resident whose property adjoins the site of the proposed wind farm, is paid to answer a hot line and e-mail questions about the project.
She had originally opposed the wind farm but said she changed her mind after doing research. She said she decided wind energy was a better alternative than other sources of energy.
UPC plans to sell some of the electricity it would generate to Washington Electric Cooperative in East Montpelier, and is talking with Vermont Electric Cooperative in Johnson and Burlington Electric Department about other deals, said Erik Filkhorn of Spike Advertising in Burlington.
"Our hope is to sell as much electricity locally," he said.
Opponents say the state is paying close attention to Sheffield, as six wind projects are being developed around Vermont.
Another Northeast Kingdom wind proposal in East Haven has drawn a mixed response from the state. The Vermont Department of Public Service supports the project while the Agency of Natural Resources opposes it, saying it could hurt migratory birds and bats.
"This is being watched statewide," Bryant said of Sheffield’s vote. "It’s a crucial vote.”