Kingdom wind project downsizes; Sheffield wind developers cut 10 turbines in effort to address various concerns
Facing strong opposition from neighbors and concerns from state officials, the developers of a large-scale wind project in the Northeast Kingdom have trimmed 10 of the wind turbines proposed for the site.
The project, slated for the towns of Sutton and Sheffield, has met opposition from Gov. James Douglas and from neighbors, including the nearby private King George School.
The down-sized project will leave the remaining wind turbines further from the school and neighboring houses, said Matthew Kearns, project manager for UPC Vermont Wind.
“All of these changes are reductive. They have less impact,” he said.
The changes the company is submitting to the state’s Public Service Board will eliminate the wind turbines slated for Hardscrabble Mountain, a site that neighbors have objected to, and reduce the number of turbines in the town of Sutton, which has opposed the project.
The developers are proposing reducing the number of turbines from 26 to a total of 16, Kearns said. Most of the turbines which neighbors or area officials most strongly objected to in filings before the board on aesthetic grounds will be eliminated, he added.
“We have tackled those particular issues,” he said. The turbines closest to houses will be a half-mile from the nearest dwelling, rather than a quarter-mile, if the project is approved with the proposed changes.
The changes will also reduce the electricity produced by about 25 percent. The total potential power from the site will be reduced from 52 megawatts to 40 megawatts, and the expected power production will drop from 148,000 megawatt hours a year to 112,000.
That is enough to power about 15,000 homes, or roughly the electricity used by Caledonia County, Kearns said.
The project is still economically viable at its reduced size, in part because of new wind turbines which will be used at the site which make more electricity than those originally slated for the project, Kearns said. The original project proposed two megawatt turbines and towers would have been about 400 feet tall in all. The new turbines, which have longer blades, would be about 420 feet tall in all, Kearns said.
The elimination of some of the turbines will also mean the project, if approved, will affect less potential bear habitat and pose less of a danger to birds and bats, UPC officials said. That was one concern expressed by the state’s Agency of Natural Resources.
The changes also mean the turbines will not be visible from the King George School, a boarding school for teenagers in Sutton that has vigorously objected to the project. The smaller size of the project means that fewer roads will be necessary to get access to the site, again lowering the impact on the school, he said.
“There really is no stuffing left in the issues with the King George School,” Kearns said.
Karen Fitzhugh, the head of school for King George, said she has not yet seen the proposed changes to the utility scale wind project.
However, she doubts that the changes will reduce the school’s opposition to the project, she added.
“Aesthetics have nothing to do with it,” Fitzhugh said. “The response of the school is, whether there are 26, 16 or one, we are not in support of any turbines near the school.”
Low-frequency noise and vibration from the wind turbines could harm student’s sleep at the eight-year-old boarding school, she said.
“I have students here who have mental health issues,” Fitzhugh added.
Fitzhugh also said she would be interested to see if the PSB accepts such a drastic proposal change from the original proposal.
“As far as I am concerned they are changing horses midstream and it is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” Fitzhugh said. “The resolution is simple. They should go away. I moved to Vermont to have a bucolic lifestyle.”
“I’m aware they’ve changed the plan and I find that almost laughable,” said Tim Leverette, another opponent who lives on Hardscrabble Mountain in Sheffield. “It is like hiding an elephant behind a tree. They are adding 20-foot taller (turbines) on the ridgelines and calling that ‘Vermont Scale’. For them to reduce form 26 to 16 is just not acceptable. If this was so wonderful, why would they do this? I’ll be happy when these people back their bags and go back where they came from.”
The new plan would mean developers will clear 79 acres of land compared to 119 acres under the previous plan, but 50 of those acres would be “allowed to revegetate,” UPC documents state. Fewer turbines would mean less of a visual impact on Crystal Lake Beach, a popular Northeast Kingdom tourist destination, where most of the turbines would be visible at a distance of less than 10 miles away.
Reducing the number of turbines would cut down on environmental impact, such as fragmenting 40 fewer acres of wildlife habitat than originally planned, UPC said.
Under the new plan, the project would bring in between $350,000 and $481,250 per year in taxes and other payments for the town of Sutton, down from up to $550,000 under the old plan. It would generate 20 new permanent jobs and $1.6 million in disposable income. One to two percent of the power would be sold to Washington Electric Coop, Kearns said, while several other Vermont utilities are also finalizing contracts with UPC to buy power
By Louis Porter Vermont Press Bureau
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