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Sheffield wind project shifts towers, hits another roadblock

On the theory that you go where you’re welcome, a wind power developer announced Tuesday it is dropping its bid to build two of 16 planned wind turbines in Sutton, moving them instead to Sheffield.

But at the same time it tried to ease objections in one town, it got slammed by a special town vote in the town of Barton.

About 150 residents there unanimously voted Tuesday to advise selectmen to oppose the neighboring Sheffield Wind Farm Tuesday night because it would burden town infrastructure and hurt tourism.

“I’m blown away,” said Selectman Dan McMasters after the vote. “We’re going to challenge it (the wind farm) the best we can and we’re upset we couldn’t jump in. I wish we could go back in time,” he added referring to how Barton officials missed a Public Service Board deadline to intervene early in the process.

UPC Vermont Wind filed papers with the Public Service Board asking for the shift in the wind tower location, saying its request followed a suggestion by the Department of Public Service and would put the entire $75 million project in the much more welcoming of the two Northeast Kingdom communities.

“It’s something that we’re pleased to be able to do, because tension has been around those two turbines that remained in Sutton,” said Matt Kearns, the company’s director of development. “The community (of Sutton) was not supportive, so it was not good for us and not good for them.”

Kearns said the company, a subsidiary of Newton, Mass.,-based UPC Wind, had tried to listen to concerns voiced by area residents. “The idea was to reduce the overall effects and I think that’s what we’ve done.”

Greg Bryant of Sheffield, a leader of the opposition to the projects, said Tuesday that the changes would not sway him.

“It basically means nothing,” he said of the proposed changes. “This company’s not getting the picture. They’re trying to repair something that’s unrepairable.”

He said the project would continue to mar the view from Crystal Lake State Park of mountains at the lake’s southern end. “The problem is it frames the lake,” Bryant said.

Besides the view from Crystal Lake, an issue in Barton is transportation.

Selectmen took a neutral stance toward the wind farm when it first filed for a certificate of public good in February 2005. UPC provided Barton with information all along because it is within a 10-mile radius of the project, but outcry only began when wind project organizers scaled the project from 26 to 16 turbines and rerouted construction traffic through Barton Village, according to McMasters.

Tuesday, the project generated scorn from those at the meeting.

“I’ve paid taxes for over 30 years and we’ve been taxed on our view,” said Rose Harper, who owns a home at the north end of Crystal Lake. At least 14 of the 16 398-foot wind turbines will be visible directly across the lake about five miles away in Sheffield, according to paperwork filed by UPC.

Barton officials are concerned about getting turbine parts through the village to the mountaintops at the south end of Crystal Lake via 160 oversized truckloads traveling at the maximum rate of two miles per hour over a 10-month period.

If approved by the PSB, the project would generate 40 megawatts of renewable power at maximum capacity. Washington Electric Coop has agreed to buy wind power for their Central Vermont customers, but Tuesday’s vote disheartened Avram Patt, general manager for WEC.

“I am disappointed,” Patt said after the meeting, referring to how printed materials handed out before the hearing contained factual errors like incorrectly claiming wind turbines do not displace fossil fuels. “Every time the blade turns is another source of energy (such as fossil fuels) that is not being called for,” Patt said.

He also said people are incorrectly saying wind farms hurt tourism. Other communities with wind farms have found the wind farms to attract tourists, he said.

It’s the second time UPC has sought to revise its proposal. In September, it announced it was reducing its number of proposed turbines from 26 to 16, while increasing their height from 399 feet to 420 feet. The project’s output was reduced from a rated capacity of 52 megawatts to 40 megawatts.

Kearns said the new proposal would still have 16, 420-foot turbines, bunched a bit more closely together. He said the changed design would reduce the project’s impacts on bear habitat and on wetlands.

Public Service Board hearings on the project are set for late January and early February.

David Gram of the Associated Press and Carla Occaso of The Times Argus contributed to this story.

Associated Press/Times Argus Staff

timesargus.com