In a time when political and geological uncertainties can make the cost of fossil fuels fluctuate wildly, wind power could offer a steady and predictable alternative source of electricity.
At least this is the argument made by the developers of a proposed wind turbine project in the towns of Readsboro and Searsburg. Depending on the number and type of turbines built, this could amount to a 45-megawatt electric generation facility.
“Rising and volatile gas prices will make wind energy more valuable because higher average gas prices raise wholesale electricity costs, increasing the value of energy produced by wind projects,” states a petition from Deerfield Wind, LLC. “In addition, because the costs of the wind project are not affected by fluctuating fuel prices, they are much more stable than the cost of generation with gas or oil.”
In a 31-page petition dated Jan. 8 and posted on the Internet, the developer details the advantages of the project to the Vermont Public Service Board, from which it is seeking a certificate of public good authorizing it to proceed with the project.
The project will be omprised of between 15 and 24 turbines on approximately 80 acres in the Green Mountain National Forest. Approximately half of the turbines will be placed on the east side of Route 8 on the same ridgeline as the existing Green Mountain Power Searsburg Facility. The remaining turbines will be placed on the ridgeline to the west of Route 8 in a northwesterly orientation.
In 1997, Green Mountain Power started operating the 11-turbine, six-megawatt Searsburg wind facility on private lands next to the Green Mountain National Forest land.
Deefield Wind, based in North Palm Springs, Calif., is the developer. It is owned and managed by PPM Energy, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Scottish Power, a Scottish company that provides electricity generation, transmission, and distribution services in the U.S. and U.K. PPM is headquartered in Portland, Ore. and is the second-largest marketer of wind-generated electricity and related renewable attributes in the United States.
The petition from Deerfield Wind states that the project would further help the state by increasing and diversifying in-state electricity generating capacity. It notes that the license for the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant is set to expire in 2012 and the amount of hydro-electric power available from Hydro-Quebec contracts is due to fall dramatically in 2016.
The project’s annual energy production could meet the energy needs of roughly 14,000 to 16,000 average homes in Vermont. The developer plans to sell the project’s electrical output to wholesale customers on the New England power grid. “The customers will include utility companies, power marketers or other service providers looking for a source of electricity produced by renewable resources.”
“There is a growing demand for electric power produced from green resources in New England,” the petition states. “The New England market for renewable energy is expected to increase by almost three times between 2007 and 2015. And wind energy is projected to fill a substantial portion of that demand.”
PPM Energy Inc. has signed a letter of intent with Green Mountain Power for the purchase of up to 50 percent of the output from this project. Other Vermont utilities have also expressed interest in acquiring a portion of the output from Deerfield Wind and discussions continue.
The vast majority of the project’s facilities and activities would occur on federal land in the Manchester District of the national forest. It would be built over nine months during the 2008 construction season and would employ dozens of workers during construction, according to the petition.
About five miles of all-weather roads will be constructed to serve both the east and west sections of the project. The towers would be about 260-feet high. Aircraft safety lighting will be mandated by the FAA, with some of the towers lit at night by a blinking red light.
The useful life of the project is expected to be about 30 years, after which it will be decommissioned and the strcutres removed. The project will require three to five permanent staff members for on-site operation. Public access to the site will be limited with gates.
Readsboro Select Board Chairman Teddy Hopkins said the attitude in Readboro toward the project is pretty much “full steam ahead” and the project will be good for the town. Last year, town residents took a nonbinding vote on the project and the tally was 191-31 in favor.
He noted, however, that some people in the Heartwellville section of town will be able to see the turbines. Generally, though, their houses face south, away from the ridgeline where the wind turbines are proposed.
State Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, said he’s generally supportive of wind projects and has heard little opposition to this one. What’s important to him with this project are what his constituents think and what benefits it will have for Southern Bennington County.
Despite being identified as an environmentally friendly technology, not everyone supports the idea of wind turbines. The organization Green Berkshires has opposed such projects in Berkshire County, Mass., including one on the Hoosac Range in the town of Florida.
“Wind turbines produce very little energy but lots of tax breaks, grants, subsidies, and price supports for the developers, at tremendous expense to taxpayers and electricity ratepayers,” Green Berkshires states on its Web site. “They are enormously destructive to the environment, requiring construction of access roads wide enough to accommodate 135-foot tractor-trailers, and extensive clearing for the turbine sites. Generally, they are located on remote, wild ridgelines that support diverse communities of birds, bats, and plants.”
A pre-hearing conference on the project will be held in Montpelier on Friday.
By Mark E. Rondeau
27 February 2007
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