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Sheffield wind project approved with conditions

The state Public Service Board granted conditional approval Wednesday to a 16-turbine wind power project planned for the northeastern Vermont town of Sheffield.

“The board found that the economic benefits and provision of renewable energy offered by the project as conditioned outweigh its adverse impacts,” including worries by some residents that it would spoil the view of mountain ridgelines, the three-member panel said in a statement.

The approval of Newton, Mass.,-based UPC Wind’s proposal came just 13 months after the state rejected a different Northeast Kingdom wind power proposal, the East Haven Windfarm.

UPC said the project would generate 115,000 megawatt-hours of power a year, enough to power all the homes in Caledonia County.

“We are pleased that the Public Service Board has recognized the value of this proposed project in providing clean and affordable energy for Vermont,” said Paul Gaynor, president and CEO of UPC Wind.

“We listened closely to the public and agency comments on the project and have made multiple adjustments,” Gaynor said in a statement. “These changes reflect the input of the surrounding community and several state agencies.”

Among the changes: UPC scrapped plans to put some of its turbines in Sutton, where there was stiff local opposition, and changed its proposal to a smaller number of towers in Sheffield.

The conditions include:

Limits on the noise the turbines can make.

Implementation of a wildlife management agreement it reached with the state Agency of Natural Resources.

Requiring protections for towns affected by construction traffic.

Establishment of a fund to pay for dismantling the project at the end of its useful life.

David O’Brien, commissioner of the Department of Public Service, called the board’s decision reasonable.

“I think they seemed to accept or incorporate many of the concerns we raised during the case,” O’Brien said. “I’m not surprised by their decision, based on the record that was in front of them. … I think it’s a reasonable decision.”

Robert Brown, a Sheffield architect who testified to the board about what he saw as problems with the project, said he was disappointed by the approval.

“It seems like they handed it to UPC on a plate, with very little protection for us,” Brown said. He said he also worried that the decision could set a precedent.

“It’s quite clear to me that we’re wide open for much further wind development all along the ridges that surround this one,” he said.

The wind farm will be “out of scale, out of character, a total anomaly” in its surroundings, he said.

By David Gram
The Associated Press
August 9, 2007