WILMINGTON – Tensions were high Wednesday night as an audience of 50 residents and interested parties met in Memorial Hall to ask questions regarding the Searsburg and Readsboro wind project.
Neil Habig, a representative from PPM Energy, which is heading the project, was booed when he did not fully respond to various questions or provided answers that did not satisfy the crowd.
The information session panel was made up of Jim Matteau, director of Windham Regional Commission Executive, Rob McGregor of Fairwind Vermont, Sandy Wilbur of Vermont Energy and Conservancy and Habig.
The proposed project would include 17 wind turbines, each 408 feet tall, to produce alternative energy for the area. Matteau compared this to the Statue of Liberty’s 305 feet, but said that without the blade, the wind tower would be shorter than Lady Liberty.
There would be some lights required for the turbines due to their height, to protect low-flying aircraft.
While McGregor argued that he liked the site of the turbines, Wilmington resident Paul Kasanoff said the lights would be an issue, similar to a house a mile away from his with spot lights that he says have ruined his view of Vermont’s sunrises.
Kasanoff asked if the lights would be considered strobe lights, to which Habig responded that “conceptually, they’re not.” He compared it to a light on a cell phone tower, where there is “a flash and then the light is off for two seconds.” This appeared to anger and frustrate the crowd.
Resident Susan Haughwout said she’d heard rumors that the small turbines currently in place are no longer being made, meaning that if they stop working, they could be replaced by the tall ones, and a slippery slope would result in “the beginning of a much larger wind farm.”
Habig was unable to say for sure what would happen, but said that the company could have gone for a bigger project right now but did not find it suitable to its needs.
Resident Lynn Mathews was appalled that Habig did not know what classification the wind speed fell into. “This is something that I believe you should know,” she said.
“We know the wind speed, but I haven’t memorized the categories,” he said. “I would say that this is a very good site.” When asked for the information about the wind speed. Habig said he would not provide that.
He was similarly unable to provide information on whether the energy would be sold to local energy companies at a fixed rate. He said the company was “reviewing different terms” with Green Mountain Power.
However, Matteau said he believes the aesthetic issue “will carry the day. Wildlife impacts could.”
He said the project was in the area of a large bear habitat and would result in the removal of “495 bear-clawed beech trees.” This would be a debate, he said, since “the forest service owns the trees, but the state of Vermont owns the bears.”
Local resident Cliff Duncan said he was surprised Matteau was not more concerned about the environmental impacts that would occur if this kind of project, which he called “the tip of the iceberg of a lot more of the same.”
There was also a question of capacity. Matteau said that the smaller turbines in the area right now generate about 27 percent of their potential capacity, and the new, taller ones would generate roughly 33 percent. Coal, gas and oil, he added, put out about 90 percent.
It was a hot issue whether the wind farm would be able to compensate for Vermont Yankee’s production.
“Industrial wind can’t replace Yankee nuclear, but there are things that could,” Wilbur said. She suggested Vermonters work to reduce heating costs by starting a home insulation fund or deter pollution by taxing pollutants like cigarettes.
However, Matteau said, it is not an either/or discussion. “I don’t see us building any more big plants in Vermont. I don’t think big is beautiful in Vermont anymore, so I think we’re going to see a lot of small, dispersed projects.”
When VY’s license comes up for renewal in 2012, it is anyone’s guess what will happen. “Vermont Yankee’s future is unpredictable at best,” McGregor said. “It behooves us to make sure alternatives are in place.”
The town of Wilmington and WRC are both waiting for approval of party status for the project hearings. Even if they do not get it, Matteau said, he has found that the board that hears the projects thoroughly reads and considers all comments submitted by nonparty members.
Also, a second homeowner in Wilmington, Tony Lopez, said he’d made a Web site (www.clearskyVT.org) to allow anyone interested to keep up with the discussion.
By Nicole Orne
11 October 2007
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