By David Gram
MONTPELIER – When it comes to wind power, Vermont Gov. James Douglas and Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie don’t always agree.
The state’s top two elected officials, who are up for re-election in November, have different ideas about using mountaintop windmills to harness wind and convert it into electric power.
Dubie is all for it. Douglas supports it in theory but opposes the installation of wind turbines on ridge lines, saying the amount of energy they could generate isn’t worth marring mountain vistas.
“There’s a lot of potential sites in our state,” Dubie said Wednesday. “Even though they may be on ridge lines, I don’t think they should be ruled out.” His comments came a day after he told an energy conference he was “an unabashed supporter of wind.”
Douglas has been less enthusiastic about large-scale wind projects, which developers say need elevations of 2,500 feet or higher to harness the wind needed to be economically viable.
“While the governor supports renewable energy … he cannot support the commercialization and industrialization of our mountaintops,” Douglas’ spokesman, Jason Gibbs, said earlier this month.
Gibbs and James Barnett, chairman of the state Republican Party, said Thursday that Democrats aren’t all on the page, either.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Scudder Parker has said he strongly supports wind power, and earlier this month criticized the Douglas administration when the Department of Public Service came out in opposition to a proposed wind power project in Sheffield and Sutton.
Congressional candidate Peter Welch was quoted in the weekly Manchester Journal earlier this month as saying, “I am against the industrialization of the ridge lines… I think wind is a good renewable source of energy, but that it’s good doesn’t mean that its good everywhere or that it’s practical everywhere.”
Welch aide Andrew Savage said Welch’s real concern was not with the projects’ locations, but that their benefits go to Vermont communities and not just to out-of-state electric consumers or investors.
Douglas did support the East Haven Wind Farm project proposed for the top of East Mountain. But that project, which called for four 400-foot-tall wind turbine towers on the site of a former U.S. Air Force radar base, was rejected by the Public Service Board last month.
The board cited concerns raised by the Agency of Natural Resources that the developers had not done sufficient studies to determine the project’s possible effects on the area’s bird and bat populations.
At a news conference Wednesday, Douglas said he was unaware of Dubie’s remarks to the energy forum Tuesday. “I’ll certainly have a chance to chat with him,” Douglas said.
Dubie said the two already had talked about the issue.
“I’ve talked at length with the governor,” Dubie said. “The governor has got this passion to protect ridge lines and so do a lot of Vermonters. But it’s my opinion that we need to find some locations where we can locate large wind facilities like Searsburg.”
Searsburg, in southern Vermont, is the site of Vermont’s first and so far only large-scale wind power development.
Green Mountain Power put up 11 towers there in the 1990s. Dubie said they had been well received in the area, but wind power critics note that the Searsburg towers are only about half as tall as the current industry norm of 400 feet.
Searsburg could become home to some of the larger towers.
A developer last year proposed up to 30 of the larger towers on Green Mountain National Forest lands near the current Searsburg wind power site. The U.S. Forest Service is reviewing the proposal.
Dubie, a pilot who has training in mechanical engineering, said he understands why wind turbines need to be placed on or near mountaintops.
“A little bit better location, a little bit more wind makes a huge difference in the efficiency and economics of a wind project,” he said.
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