An out-of-state company has partnered with a Vermont environmental consulting firm to locate potential wind power sites in the state.
Noble Environmental Power and Vermont Environmental Research Associates are exploring sites for wind parks throughout Vermont, including potential sites in Rutland, Bennington and Windsor counties.
The wind parks would ideally be situated along some of Vermont’s ridgelines, where wind currents are strongest, said Anna Giovinetto, a spokeswoman for Noble Environmental Power in Essex, Conn.
Giovinetto said the company is in the very early stages of evaluating potential sites.
“I would say it would be probably a year before we could positively propose something for a specific location,’ Giovinetto said. “You have to do so much work in terms of evaluating a site not only for its wind resources and access to transmission but also in terms of the community acceptance and a bunch of other factors.”
Wind power is considered an environmentally friendly and an alternative source of power that would decrease dependence on fossil fuels that contribute to global warming. But because of their size, wind farms have been criticized as being unsightly, especially when placed on mountain tops or ridgelines. There are also environmental hurdles as well, some related to the impact on birds and other animals.
A proposed wind farm in the Northeast Kingdom was scaled back after opposition from neighbors. Another wind project proposed for Glebe Mountain in Londonderry has also run into opposition from some residents.
The largest wind farm in New England is located in Searsburg. The 11-turbine wind farm is operated by Green Mountain Power Corp. According to GMP, since the first turbine went into operation 10 years ago, the wind farm has generated 110,000 megawatt hours of electricity or enough energy to power 14,000 homes for a year.
Acutely aware of the debate over wind farm citing, Giovinetto wind projects not only require a location with sufficient wind velocity and access to transmission lines but also have to be compatible with the local environment and that community acceptance is critical.
“The way we overcome any potential problems is we like to think through our approach to development,” Giovinetto said. “We really try to do as much groundwork with stakeholders, building up support for it before proposing anything because that’s a more effective way to do things.”
Giovinetto said wind energy has strong public support with a very small percentage of people opposing wind projects on aesthetic grounds.
A survey conducted by Noble Environmental in August of 700 residents in Rutland, Bennington and Windsor counties found that 87 percent of respondents were in favor of expanding the use of wind energy. Another 79 percent said they would approve of placing a wind farm in their area.
To persuade those with concerns, Giovinetto said the company attempts to educate the public and uses a computer-generated visual simulation to illustrate the local impact of the proposed wind farm.
Citing a 2002 study conducted by Renewable Energy Vermont, Giovinetto said that Vermont could produce 10 percent of its electricity from a six wind farms with a total of 150 wind turbines. Each turbine would generate 1.5 megawatts of power. In 2002, total cost of the wind farm project was estimated at $342 million and would take place over 10 years.
The company said in its press kit that “Vermont could get 10 percent of its electricity from wind energy by placing turbines on just 1.4 percent of its ridgelines.”
Vermont Environmental Research Associates has a 28-year track record in helping to develop wind power projects. The Waterbury company headed by John Zimmerman has been involved in a number of wind projects including the Searsburg wind farm and the Hoosac project under development in Massachusetts.
Zimmerman said his company’s role is to identify potential sites and help Noble through Vermont’s regulatory process.
“Noble has a history and a track record of doing a lot of groundwork up front before proposing a site and that’s a process that can easily take a year,” Zimmerman said.
Giovinetto said that a 1.5 megawatt GE turbine has a 14-foot base, is 262 feet high with three blades that are each 110 feet in diameter.
Noble Environmental Power is touting the economic benefits as well.
As an example, Giovinetto said that a wind park of 50 to 60 turbines would create 10 to 12 permanent, well-paying technician jobs. In addition, the project would employ hundreds of construction workers.
She added that a Vermont wind farm would undoubtedly have far fewer than 60 turbines.
In Clinton and Wyoming counties in upstate New York, Noble has four wind farm projects underway and another four projects in the pipeline. In total, the company says the projects represent $1.5 billion in direct investment with each wind farm estimated to generate $3 million to $4 million a year in local economic benefits.
Despite the difficulty in sitting a wind farm in mountainous areas, Zimmerman expressed confidence the partnership between the two firms would be successful.
“We’ve been doing it fairly successfully and Noble has been successful in New York state and I think the combination of the two firms will yield a successful project in Vermont as well,” he said.
By Bruce Edwards Staff Writer
Contact Bruce Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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