Many in Sheffield have spoken out with clarity and eloquence against large-scale wind turbines. Their views have been resisted by 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 seem to see the Northeast Kingdom as a wind energy showcase, so they can 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 read that UPC’s industrial facility is now sited “in the town that wants it.” This is a gross misrepresentation of the nonbinding Sheffield vote of Dec. 2005, when a small majority approved the project “in principle,” subject to “further opportunities for public input.” But principle disappeared and public input was not to be: the Sheffield Selectboard drew up a contract with the developer and did not allow the townspeople to vote on it. Though deeply divided, Sheffield is required by this contract to support the developer’s case before the Public Service Board.
Why was the project approved? The town was deluged by the developer’s propaganda, paid for with the people’s own taxes. Town leaders made the rounds persuading those who had already signed a petition opposing the turbines to reverse their positions. Some people feared “dependence on foreign oil,” though Vermont gets less than 1 percent of its electricity from oil. Some saw a vote against the turbines as a vote against property rights. There was UPC’s promise of money. Some thought 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 any regard for neighboring towns. Our Selectboard should have tried to give an impartial view of the serious and widespread ramifications of the vote. Instead, they worked to get the vote they wanted. In Sutton, where the impacts of the turbines will be felt most keenly, better informed citizens later voted overwhelmingly to oppose the project. Last month, Barton’s, voters unanimously opposed the project.
How might Sheffield have voted if we had known that UPC has already applied to double the size of its 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 “nonbinding” vote would in fact bind us permanently – and our neighbors in Sutton and Barton, too, not to speak of Kirby, Westmore, Lyndonville – to live with the consequences of Sheffield’s vote? When the Northeast Kingdom is ringed with turbines, perhaps only then – small comfort! – will the profound error of forcing industrial wind upon us become clear.
Climate change is the most urgent matter before us. We must deal with the real sources of carbon emissions– in transportation, space heating and industry. We must move quickly – not recklessly – to enact serious conservation measures and explore old and new renewable sources – including small-scale wind. But we must not strip our mountains for the pitiful amount of electricity gained. 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.
By Galway Kinnell
Galway Kinnell was the first state poet of Vermont after Robert Frost.
16 February 2007