A storm of controversy is blowing across Vermont, shattering the calm of the countryside.
“So there are neighbors that are divided either you are pro wind or anti wind,” said Marsha Burrington in Sheffield.
“I think this will split this town emotionally for the next 25 years,” said Jack Simons.
The turmoil is over turbines and how they fit into the terrain and the state’s energy future.
Every year Vermonters use 6 million megawatt hours of power at a cost of 380 million dollars.
Every time we flick the switch, we expect the lights will come on, not always knowing the source of that electricity.
More than 35% of our power comes from the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant….almost 30% from Hydro Quebec.
and 20% from other out of state sources – including fossil fuel burning plants.
The rest is a combination of smaller sources like wood chip plants, methane plants and instate hydro.
But time is ticking, both contracts with our biggest power providers, Yankee Nuclear and Hydro Quebec, are set to expire within a decade and some say it’s time to look to the sky for help.
John Zimmerman is a wind consultant, “I think in terms of serving Vermont homes, wind can make a meaningful contribution there.”
Developers say even though wind could not replace our biggest power sources, it could potentially provide 10 – 20%, but that would mean building about 200 to 400 turbines on the ridge lines.
“It will forever change the area,” said Marsha Burrington.
It’s the turbines that have created a great divide over green power in the Green Mountains.
And nowhere is the debate more emotional then in the Northeast Kingdom.
Matt Kearns with UPC wind was surprised with all the opposition, “I was astounded,” he explained.
UPC wind wants to build 26 turbines on Hardscrabble Mountain in Sutton and Sheffield. The almost 400 foot turbines would power up to 20,000 homes.
“Wind is now among the lowest cost power supplies but it has other benefits like no emissions, free fuel, no fuel volatility, no price volatility,” said Kearns.
“I still can’t imagine 400 foot turbines there,” said Marsha Burrington explaining that the turbines would be 1400 feet from her home. She worries about the noise and what it will do to her property value. Burrington says UPC wind offered her $2000 a year to live with the new view, an offer she turned down.
“Is $2000 going to make me happy? No. Living here like I am is making me happy.
Signs of opposition have sprouted like weeds, but support for the project has also taken root.
Resident Jack Simons is all for the turbines and he’s not alone.
A majority of people in Sheffield gave the green project, the green light during an advisory vote last winter.
The vote was 120-93.
Said Simons, “We have not gotten the publicity the other side has gotten, we’re not organized the way they are.”
When it comes to what happens on top of Hardscrabble Mountain, money is in the mix. UPC has pledged to give Sutton and Sheffield each almost $500,000 in tax payments just so they can place their turbines, here on the ridge line.
“That’s more then half our budget,” explained Simons.
In Sheffield the 700 residents or so could see their tax bills drop by hundreds of dollars.
“Do you think without the money there would be less support?,” asked Channel 3 Reporter Kristin Carlson.
Jack Simons responded, “Probably. Sure if it was more money there would be more support.”
“I’ve had people come up to me and say well you are not thinking of the town,” said Burrington, “Well you are not thinking of me, you are sacrificing my property for your gain and that’s how we feel.”
State regulators will ultimately determine the fate of the wind project. A decision is expected next year. Both sides of the debate have invested a lot of money in this fight. UPC wind estimates they’ve spent about $3 million so far, doing environmental studies and printing up literature on their project. The opponents have formed a group called the Ridge Protectors, the 250 members have hired a lawyer, and lobbyist and they predict by the time this is all done they will have spent upwards of $300,000.
Kristin Carlson – Channel 3 News
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