The Vermont Public Service Board on Wednesday approved UPC Wind’s application to construct 16 420-foot-high wind turbines in Sheffield.
The board decided the economic benefits of the 40-megawatt wind generating project, as a source of renewable energy, outweigh its adverse impacts.
“It’s a good day,” Matt Kearns, project manager for UPC wind, said Wednesday. “We are pleased the Public Service Board recognized the economic and environmental benefits of the project.”
Kearns added there were “no surprises in the decision.”
When construction on the project will begin is still undecided, Kearns said.
There are a number of conditions set by the PSB which must be met before construction starts, he said. UPC will be opening an office in Sheffield and focus on finalizing construction plans, Kearns said.
“We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the people of Sheffield who supported this project,” Kearns said. “Their vote was a key factor.”
People in Sheffield voted in December 2005 to support the project 120-93. The town and UPC have worked out an agreement whereby the town will receive between $400,000 and $550,000 a year, if the project is completed.
“I see this as a win-win for the town and the state,” Sheffield Selectman Max Aldrich said. “This project is the right step forward.”
While gaining the approval of the PSB is a milestone, a key issue still to be determined is how much the turbines will be assessed for educational property tax purposes. UPC is still waiting to hear from the state on the matter, Kearns said.
A decision is expected by January, Kearns said.
While Kearns did not say taxes could be a show stopper, he said it is an important part of the project.
“We’re keeping a close eye on that for sure,” Kearns said. “Tax certainty will help. Passage of legislation supporting wind farm development will put Vermont on track as a leader in renewable energy.”
Ridge Protectors Respond
The Ridge Protectors, a group opposed to the wind project, said in a prepared statement they were not surprised by the PSB’s decision, but the fight to protect the ridge lines is “not over.”
“Any party can ask for reconsideration or clarification and an appeal of the PSB’s decision is also a possibility,” the release states.
The group says that the 32 conditions severely restrict UPC’s latitude in constructing and operating the wind facility.
“Conditions imposed on UPC Vermont Wind by the PSB appear to make the project infeasible,” the group contends.
Ridge Protectors will insist the PSB make UPC adhere to all 32 conditions, according to the statement. The group is concerned that UPC will construct and begin operating the project, and that “because of inadequate state resources, enforcement will be less than effective.”
The approval comes with 32 conditions relating to power contracts, noise, traffic and a decommissioning fund. The PSB also asked UPC to provide it with an update of power sale contracts the company has with Vermont utilities. Before construction can begin, copies of these contracts have to be given to the board for its approval.
Other conditions include the requirement that UPC use biodegradable fluids in the turbines’ transformers and submit a noise monitoring plan to be implemented during the first year of operation to the PSB.
When completed, the Sheffield wind project will produce about 115,000 megawatt-hours of electricity a year, enough to power all the homes in Caledonia County, according to UPC.
In February 2006, UPC filed for a certificate of public good to build a 52-megawatt facility in Sutton and Sheffield. USP pulled out of Sutton after the townspeople said they would fight the project. The wind farm has been a controversial issue dividing towns and pitting neighbor against neighbor.
The UPC decision comes just over a year after the PSB denied a certificate of public good for a four-turbine wind facility on East Mountain in East Haven.
People around the state have been waiting for the board’s decision to see if wind power has a future in Vermont. The PSB thinks it does.
UPC Wind is an American-owned company based in Newton, Mass., with offices in Maine, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, California, Oregon and Hawaii, according to the company’s Web site.
By Jeanne Miles
9 August 2007
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