We must not strip our mountains for the pitiful amount of electricity the wind turbines would provide
As a writer, I am deeply indebted to the Northeast Kingdom, from which I’ve drawn inspiration for almost 50 years: its woods, fields, ponds, hills, its people, its other creatures. Like most of my neighbors, I favor conservation and renewable energy. The fear of climate change has been with me for many years, ever since I felt the early, subtle signs of it. But I do not support the proposed UPC industrial wind facility.
Many neighbors in Sheffield who share my objections to large-scale wind turbines have spoken out with clarity and eloquence. Surprisingly, their views have been resisted by some of the people we expected to agree with us – some legislators, environmentalists, and advocacy groups, who have allied themselves instead with wind developers, wind speculators, and electric company officials. If you care about global warming, their litany is, you must put up with wind energy. They appear to want. the Northeast Kingdom to be a wind energy showcase, or an experiment, as if they would take their stand against global warming, painlessly, by having us in the Northeast Kingdom take that stand for them, painfully.
It hardly matters to this coalition whether wind is viable here or not, or whether we want it or not, or whether wind turbines are suitable to New England at all, or whether a powerful conservation policy might not make this highly defacing technology unnecessary. Over and over in our newspapers we hear of a legislator saying that UPC’s industrial wind facility is now sited “in the town that wants it.” This gross misrepresentation of the non-binding Sheffield vote of December 2005 needs to be examined. Back then, a small majority of residents voted to approve the project “in principle,” subject to “further opportunities for public input.” But principle disappeared and public input was not to be: the Sheffield select board took the vote they had done so much to promote and ran with it. They drew up a contract with the developer and then did not allow the townspeople to vote to ratify or defeat it. Though Sheffield is deeply divided on the issue of wind turbines, this contract requires the town to support the developer’s case before the Public Service Board.
Why did the project get as many votes as it did? Some of our citizens voted yes after a deluge of the developer’s propaganda, paid for with the people’s own taxes. Some feared “dependence on foreign oil,” though Vermont gets less than – 1 percent of its electricity from oil. Some voted after town leaders made the rounds persuading those who had already signed a petition opposing the turbines to reverse their positions. Others had the idea that a vote against the turbines was a vote against property rights. Some were seduced by UPC’s promise of money. Many were convinced that wind power meant they would pay no taxes or electric bills in the future. Some were fired up about resurrected antagonisms between “natives” and “flatlanders.”
So Sheffield voted, without regard for neighboring towns. In view of the serious nature of this vote, our town fathers should have taken an impartial stance and tried to give everyone a clear view of the possible ramifications. Instead they worked to get the vote they wanted. Four months later, in Sutton, where the impacts of the turbines will be felt most keenly and will cause the King George School to close, more informed citizens voted overwhelmingly to oppose the project in their town. This month the town of Barton, thinking of their beautiful Crystal Lake, voted unanimously to reject the project.
How might Sheffield have voted if we had known that UPC has already applied to expand its recently permitted wind facility in Hawaii or that the citizens of Mars Hill, Maine, are up in arms about the noise level of UPC’s turbines there? Or that the “non-binding” vote would in fact bind us permanently – and bind our neighbors in Sutton and Barton, too, not to speak of Kirby, Westmore, Lyndonville, Willoughby Gap – to live with the consequences of that vote? When the three counties of the Northeast Kingdom are ringed with turbines, perhaps only then – small comfort! – will those true believers realize the profound error of forcing industrial -wind upon us.
Of course, climate change is the most urgent matter before us. But we must not strip our mountains in the hope that the pitiful amount of electricity gained will be of much help. We must deal now with the real sources of carbon emissions – in transportation, space heating and industry. We can prove our determination by enacting serious conservation measures and exploring a broad spectrum of old and new technologies – biomass, methane, wood chips, hydro, solar, and small-scale wind energy. We must move quickly but not thoughtlessly or recklessly. The Northeast Kingdom is not ours to hand over to UPC Wind Management LLC. We are only its keepers, with the obligation to preserve and protect its prodigious natural beauty.
Galway Kinnell was the first State Poet of Vermont after Robert Frost.
Barton (Vt.) Chronicle, February 7, 2007
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